Almost any bar in Sydney will make you a great bone-dry martini. Crisp, cold and humming with gin; very little vermouth. But a bone dust martini? Well, that's something else entirely.
"Victor Churchill butchery in Woollahra creates an incredible amount of bone dust from sawing meat every day," says cocktail wizard Matt Whiley at Re, the bar he's officially opening on Tuesday, April 13 at the South Eveleigh redevelopment near Redfern. "Rather than let it go to waste, we're planning to roast that powder and use it to enhance a martini."
Re might be the most ambitious bar to open in Sydney this millennium. Not only is the 80-seat venue built on diverted waste – from benchtops made with recycled milk bottles, to banquettes clothed in pineapple-leaf fibre – it's Whiley's aim for Re to be 100 per cent waste-free and a blueprint for how bars can operate in the future.
"More than 5 million tonnes of food in Australia ends up in landfill each year," says the UK-born bartender. "We have a responsibility to look hard at what we're not using and find ways to make it desirable.
"Traditionally, the bar industry has been incredibly wasteful. I'm not saying that we're going to be zero-waste from day one, but we're going to try bloody hard to get there."
Icebergs Dining Room and Bar restaurateur Maurice Terzini is Whiley's partner on the project. "Every day I'm learning something new from Matt," Terzini says.
I'm not saying that we're going to be zero-waste from day one, but we're going to try bloody hard to get there.Bartender Matt Whiley
"We've always practised some level of sustainability with produce and wine at Icebergs and CicciaBella [Terzini's modern trattorias in Bondi and Parramatta], but with this project I'm going back to school. The best thing will be passing that knowledge on to my teams."
Terzini met his new business partner three years ago at an Icebergs pop-up for Whiley's sustainability-focused boozer Scout, which opened in London in 2017 and entered The World's 50 Best Bars list at 28th place.
The hospitality heavyweight was blown away by Whiley's drink ideas, such as using leftover cheese whey to bolster a cocktail and making syrups with banana skins and surplus fruit.
"Within 10 days of that pop-up, we signed a deal to open a Scout in Sydney, upstairs at The Dolphin," says Terzini. "Matt and I have a great relationship and respect for each other, so when Scout closed in Sydney at the end of 2019, he still did a few things for me on the side."
Although still actively involved in Scout London, Whiley has settled full-time in Australia. Re came about after property developer Mirvac approached Whiley to open something in a former locomotive shop at South Eveleigh, set to accommodate 18,000 workers across anchor tenant Commonwealth Bank, Channel 7 and other businesses. Kylie Kwong will open a casual eatery at the precinct mid-year.
"When the venue came up, Matt asked if I wanted to partner with him and I loved the idea," says Terzini. "I was instrumental in negotiating the lease and putting Matt in touch with the right accountants, architects and builders, but that's basically it. This is the first time I've been involved in a project where I've done the back of house, but not the front."
Terzini and Whiley have collaborated with creative production company Alfred to push the boundaries of sustainable design while ensuring Re still looks and feels like any other bar.
"We want to serve great food and drinks and make sure people leave happier than when they arrived," says Whiley. "That should be the name of the game at any bar. People don't want a lesson when they go out, and we certainly don't want to preach zero-waste to anyone. If guests ask about what's happening behind the scenes, however, we're more than happy to tell them."
Food waste accounts for 8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and costs the Australian economy $20 billion a year. According to the 2019 National Food Waste Baseline report, the two largest sources of this waste are household food sent to landfill and harvest-ready produce that remains unpicked or in the ground.
"When the market is plentiful with a particular product, sometimes the growers won't even bother harvesting because they know it will most likely get dumped," says Luke Kohler, owner of Sydney Direct Fresh Produce, which supplies fruit and vegetables to more than 800 restaurants and food-service businesses in NSW.
Kohler is now having a weekly discussion with Whiley about what surplus produce is available from growers. "If passionfruit is oversupplied, for instance, I can take some boxes, pay the grower a few bucks, and Matt can use the produce for cocktails or bar snacks instead of it going in the ground."
Re's initial menu wouldn't be out of place at an English pub: Welsh rarebit flatbread inspired by St John restaurant in London, togarashi-spiced puffed beef tendons, and wild deer 'nduja with a 63-degree poached egg and chips.
"It's our version of steak, egg and chips, but with spreadable sausage," says Whiley, who has collaborated with Icebergs Dining Room and Bar executive chef Alex Prichard for Re's food. "Just because it's made from offcuts or seconds doesn't mean it needs to be virtuous."
Guests can also expect many dishes using unwanted fruit and vegetables not classically attractive enough to be taken by other professional kitchens.
"I was at [Flemington] market last week and a grower told me that boxes of his fresh zucchinis were destined for the bin because they didn't 'look right' for restaurants," says Whiley.
"Our goal is to develop a solid system for ordering and using this produce and showing other bars and restaurants how they can benefit, too. There are still many ways to use a sweet potato if it has an odd shape."
According to Kohler, chefs keen to save more food from landfill only have to talk to their suppliers. "Frequent communication is all you need," he says. "There's plenty of excess produce out there."
The number of Australian cafes, bars and restaurants aiming to reduce waste is growing. At the high-profile end, trailblazing waste-warrior Joost Bakker opened Future Food System with chefs Jo Barrett and Matt Stone at Melbourne's Federation Square in February. The 10-seat restaurant is part of a closed-loop, off-grid house growing its own food and fish in the middle of the city.
Meanwhile, Cornersmith in Annandale has long promoted the benefits of pickling surplus fruit and veg. Randwick's Cat and Cow Cafe opened two years ago with a strict no-disposable-cups policy, and kudos goes to the myriad Sydney bars that ditched plastic straws in 2018, supported by councillor Jess Miller and the #SydneyDoesntSuck campaign.
Whiley hopes to build on the movement with the Never Wasted initiative, asking Sydney bars to separate any food waste or byproduct from daily service so it can be repurposed into something delicious by a neighbouring venue.
"We're starting small, with 10 bars in the CBD such as Old Mate's Place, Maybe Sammy, Continental Deli and PS40," he says. "One bar may have a load of cucumber offcuts, and another might be left with heaps of oranges after making negronis all night. Once or twice a week they can walk that waste over to another bar, which can utilise those offcuts in a drink."
Ketel One Vodka is supporting the initiative and will supply participating bars with stock to create a cocktail using the saved produce. "We want people to report back on everything that was good and bad about the process after the first four weeks so we can learn from it," Whiley says.
"We want the initiative to be bigger and better across more suburbs, bars and eventually restaurants. The goal is to reduce the food waste in each venue by 75 per cent, which is going to save everyone a lot of money."
Back at the Re mothership, former Bulletin Place fruit whisperer Evan Stroeve is on board as operations manager. Joining him behind the bar is Jake Downe (This Must Be The Place, Scout London) and Ho Song (Cantina OK, PS40).
Whiley says the drinks menu will seem familiar, with a spritz selection, a few classics, and eight house drinks using saved fruit, vegetables, herbs and other ingredients. Banana-skin syrup is used in an old-fashioned, for example, while salvaged mushrooms provide a umami-rich base for a Manhattan-ish cocktail featuring blackcurrant-leaf vermouth, honey dashi and ant tamari.
Punters can also expect a sprig-free experience. "I don't see the point of putting a garnish on a drink for no reason," says Whiley. "It has to be edible."
"Martinis are something we have to figure out and, at the end of the day, a little lemon coin might be something we need to compost. We still have to provide a great bar experience. If a guest wants a super-cold martini with a twist, I'm not going to say no."
Paper and plastic waste aren't too much of an issue at Re. Hand towels and napkins are made of linen and he's working with suppliers to reduce cardboard and plastic packaging for deliveries. Glass, however, is a much larger problem. Globally, more than 40 billion spirits bottles were shipped and disposed of in 2020, creating 22 million tonnes of emissions. Surely there is a more efficient way to supply 100 litres of gin than in 100 one-litre bottles?
"I've spoken to [global liquor company] Diageo about how I can buy 1000 litres of vodka at once," says Whiley. "Then it's a question of where to store it and how to access it. Maybe we can keep it in a nearby warehouse and refill a barrel with vodka as needed. It should be easily done, but I don't think many bars in Australia have asked the question before."
In the meantime, house wine will be poured from 10-litre goon bags from Latta Vino near Ballarat. Whiley is also using a glass crusher and sending Re's single-use bottles to be recycled.
"But I want to know the exact place our glass is being delivered, rather than sending into a recycling abyss with no idea of the endpoint," he says. "There's a company in Melbourne that makes bartops out of recycled glass, so we're starting conversations with them."
Re is also pouring Never Never Distilling Co gin from 4.5 litre totes, designed by Singapore-based company ecoSPIRITS. The new shock-resistant totes are returned to a local processing plant to be refilled after use, creating a closed-loop system with potential to reduce a bar's glass and cardboard use by 95 per cent.
"There's no extra cost to the operators. They just order a case of spirits but in the ecoTOTE format instead of a carton with six glass bottles," says ecoSPIRITS co-founder Paul Gabie. "The same truck that delivers the new totes collects the used ones. We're doing for spirits what the beer industry has done for decades with kegs."
Gabie started developing the ecoSPIRITS system in 2016 and it is now used by more than 500 bars, restaurants and hotels throughout Asia-Pacific. Never Never is the only Australian spirit available in tote format at the moment, but more local distilleries are set to come on board.
"Later this month we'll announce the opening of ecoSPIRITS more broadly to producers and distributors," Gabie says. "We want this to become an open system the industry can embrace."
As Re evolves over the next few months, Whiley will be documenting his mission to be 100 per cent waste-free on the bar's website.
"We'll update it every time we have something to share, which will probably be every day," he says. "There will be posts such as, 'We're really sorry – we wasted this glass, but here's what we learned from our mistakes.' Or, on the flipside, 'We did this today and saved hundreds of plums from landfill, bloody good one.' We know there's going to be loads of failures, but we're hoping for a lot of big wins, too."
An Autumn Americano at the Eveleigh venue. Photo: Brook Mitchell
Tips for low-waste cocktails at home
- Keep the tea bag after your daily cuppa and infuse it in gin or vodka overnight, says Re bar manager Evan Stroeve. "Green and herbal tea bags still have so much flavour in them after one use and can really enhance a martini or gin and tonic."
- Don't be put off by strange-looking fresh fruit and vegetables. "Wonky, ugly and blemished produce can be just as tasty as the 'normal' stuff, if not more so," says Stroeve. Harris Farm Markets' Imperfect Picks section is a great source of fruit for making juice for cocktails.
- For people who prefer their drinks delivered, Sydney-based company Sophisticated Cocktail Co. pre-batches margaritas and cosmos with sustainability in mind. Founder Vicki Lyon uses ecoSPIRITS totes to ship her base spirits and delivers the cocktails in 1.5-litre stand-up pouches, which have an 80 per cent lower carbon footprint than their glass bottle equivalent.
- Build your drink around a syrup made from fruit skins and peel that usually end up in compost or the bin, says Stroeve. "Pineapple-skin syrup is a great one to make at home. Just heat and dissolve one part water with one part sugar in a saucepan with the skins and let it cool. Apple pulp from a juicer also makes a beautiful syrup you can add to a gin and tonic or vodka and soda."