Malt Bar

28 Market St Brisbane, QLD 4000

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Opening hours Monday-Friday 11am-midnight; Saturday 6pm-midnight; closed Sunday.
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone (07) 3236 4855

If cocktails are clothes, the mojito is a bright silk maxi-dress, fun and breezy and not too sweet. A Manhattan is a beautifully tailored three-piece suit. And a daiquiri is a linen shirt and khaki shorts. (I'm don't want to picture what a Cosmopolitan is, but suffice to say it involves sequins and synthetic fabric).

So what are we doing wearing bright silk maxi-dresses on a chilly, drizzly late-winter evening?

We're at Malt Bar, recently opened on quiet Market Street in Brisbane's CBD, perusing their cocktail menu and puzzled by the seasonally inappropriate, but delicious-looking, offerings.

A pina colada would be delightful, were it 30 degrees outside, as would a peach julep with Maker's Mark, peach liqueur, apple juice and fresh mint, or a margarita sweetened with agave nectar.

It's a pity that nothing on Malt's cocktail list is enticing us because it's a thoughtful and well-designed list: the mai tai is a proper mai tai, made with the oft-forgot but essential orgeat syrup; the Bellini has peach puree, not juice; the pina colada shuns the sickly coconut cream for coconut syrup.

But today it's cold and dark outside, and we want to be warmed, not refreshed. We settle on a mojito and a negroni (both $16), and they're both well-balanced and enjoyable.

What we should have done - in a bar called Malt - is ordered something dark and peaty. Though almost half of the nine-page drinks list is dedicated to cocktails, there's also a very good selection of whisky, with Scotch offered by region (Islay, Highland, Speyside, Islands), plus American whiskys and blends. There's also good tequila, all the usual liqueurs, classic aperitifs and digestifs, and a decent choice of beer and a few ciders, though the short wine list could use a bit more imagination.

With its soft, amber lighting and brick and wood interiors, the bar is exactly as snug as we'd hoped it would be. (In summertime, I can imagine its cosiness will translate to a cool, dark bolthole from the searing concrete heat of the city). We'd arrived about 6pm to a full house, but an attentive bartender approached us immediately, sensed we were looking for somewhere quiet to sit, and led us to a hidden nook at a window facing the street. Malt is actually a three-storey establishment - the ground level bar with a restaurant upstairs and a private dining room below ground.

While the cocktails are about three months premature, the bar food menu is perfect for cold-weather snacking: fontina, fetta and potato croquettes, fried green olives, confit octopus and chorizo. We devour a delicious, if over-salted, plate of buttermilk fried chicken ($14) and a smooth chicken liver parfait with raspberry jelly vinegar and toasted brioche ($12).

Malt is a very welcome addition to a CBD awash with enormous, noisy pubs. If it can tailor its cocktails to suit the season, it's set to become a new after-work favourite.

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