Der Raum

March 24, 2012

438 Church Street, Richmond
Note: Der Raum has since closed.
My first visit to Der Raum was as part of a MFWF event, in which we were served a selection of three cocktails and a selection of inventive “tastes” in between. Having never been, I was eager to see what the famed and exclusive cocktail bar in Richmond was all about. In celebration, I decided to wear my Gin necklace, which was duly appreciated by the waitress!First things first. Der Raum is remarkably difficult to find if you don’t know where you’re going. Fortunately a friend of mine had told me to look out for a black shop front with closed blinds, no signage and a doorbell, about five doors up from Swan. The doorbell got to me for some reason. Apparently (and please someone correct me if I’m wrong) you are strongly recommended to book ahead to guarantee a seat at Der Raum. Though you are welcome to “try your luck at the door”. Also members (yes, members) get priority access. Slightly pretentious. Very off-putting, I find.

Also, a quick glance at their website makes it seem like they have something to prove. Quite desperately, in fact.

We concede that we don’t (and can’t) charge pubs prices but we set our rates at the lowest possible level to recoup the extraordinary costs* of bringing these drinks to you. Matt slept at Der Raum for 2 years to maintain his vision, so believe us when we say it aint about the money!

And then later…

We must charge a tad more because we use better raw products, better spirits, better techniques, better equipment and it takes 10 hours to prep the daily menu.

Um, you know what? I really don’t care. Why be so defensive about it? To me, the above statements are fine until they mention sleeping on the floor and taking 10 hours to prep. “PITY US!!”, those statements say. Der Raum, you are the country’s No. 1 cocktail bar (or so you claim), so start acting like you are! Feel free to charge me $22 a cocktail, just make it freaking excellent. And please don’t complain about the work you put in, because frankly, making cocktails to such a freakishly high standard was your choice. You could have made it easier for yourself if you’d wanted to.

The same argument applies for customers, in a reverse sense. They chose to go there, knowing full well the kind of establishment it is. So to the people who go to Der Raum and complain about the prices; you knew it wasn’t the local pub so suck it up, Princess.

Ok. So I was initially skeptical about the place, what with the exclusivity and all, but thankfully by the end of the night my opinion had changed completely and it turned out to be lots of fun and well worth it! The bar itself is very impressive, with its ubiquitous suspended bottles and dark wooden booths. The table service on the night was excellent and very friendly. It’s an excellent place for a date or an intimate catch up with a good friend, but I wouldn’t come here with more than two other people.

We began with a “taste” of white vermouth and lavender. My drinking partner T and I really enjoyed this little sampler. Initially it was sweet, but it gave way to a more savory bubbly-ness on your tongue, just delightful!

Next up was another small taster course of strawberry and tomato liquid nitrogen meringue with a basil gel, dehydrated olive and micro basil. While I enjoyed the textural sensation and the icy cold temperature of the meringue, all I could taste was an unpleasantly strong tomato flavour, with barely a hint of strawberry.

Our first cocktail was their famous Pharmacy: aperol syringe, roast capsicum and pear gin bottle, “surprise” pill. Squirt the syringe and pop the pill into the jar and shake till well mixed: the resulting drink was a refreshing citrusy blast, sour and tart. And the pill, once fished out and eaten, yielded a mouthful of sherbet which was a playful surprise.

Next up, a cocktail on the sweet end of the spectrum: the Berry and the Bee, consisting of their house-made lemon myrtle with freeze dried strawberries and a sugared blue berry crowning the drink. Like with the tomato meringue, I’m sure this is just an issue of personal taste, because I didn’t really enjoy this drink much at all. It was far too sweet for my liking, but then I suppose I generally prefer dry/sour drinks.

When the next course came along my first thought was “oh goody – sashimi! Alcoholic sashimi!” Fool that I was, this was actually dehydrated watermelon that had been rehydrated with sake and a sour apple juice and arranged to mimic sashimi. The “wasabi” was actually olive oil, pistachio and mastic paste, and the whole thing was delicious. Those tricksters…

Our final cocktail was my favourite from the evening: the perfectly balanced Ben Shewry, named after the chef at Attica (which I visited two days later – INCREDIBLE – on the blog soon). This fabulously complicated concoction was a cold smoked umeshu absinthe with basil, burnt rosemary and star anise. The smell was incredible, like a fire at school camp and my mum’s roast lamb and that cheeky dash of absinthe I’d had on a French ski trip all in one. Also, check out the rosemary twig in the ice cube!

To end we had a hot/cold pina colada spoon: a white rum and pineapple foam was the cold element, which contrasted with the warm foam of coconut and chocolate. There may also have been some popping candy hiding underneath. I may have squealed.

So what did I think? Honestly, it was brilliant, such an excitement for all your senses. The workmanship that goes into each drink is astounding, and Der Raum really do deserve their high accolades. Yes, it burns a bit of a hole in your wallet, but I still think it’s well worth a try for a special occasion!

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