Melbourne shook when Andrew McConnell announced a companion venue for his wildly successful Russell Street fine diner, Gimlet, late last year – and the wait is finally over. A couple of doors down on the corner of Flinders and Hosier Lanes, Apollo Inn made its official debut this week from the ground floor of a grand neo-renaissance building, and takes its name from the public house that once stood where Gimlet stands now.
Gimlet drinks supremo Cameron Parish brings the New World touch to a sharp list of Old World classics at the 30 seater, rebooting some of history’s favourite cocktails with premium ingredients and more than a few house-made elements; here he is now with the three drinks you must order when you come through.
Our Picon Bierre is a nod to Gaëtan Picon’s iconic French aperitif and is the first drink I started thinking about and developing as soon as Apollo Inn was an idea. It’s the hardest I’ve ever worked on a cocktail to get it just right. It started by sourcing chinotto fruit from the Alpine Valleys – I tried them and instantly knew what I wanted to do with them. We macerate the fruit in juniper spirit (the batch we’re currently working with has been macerating for 12 months). We then add blood-orange distillate, artichoke and smoked rhubarb and serve the drink as a Shandy. It’s a really fun way to start – super refreshing and it transports you to summer in France.
Martini, four ways
Running the bar at Gimlet, I noticed how popular the Martini is and how more than any other drink: our guests know exactly how they like their Martini to be served. For Apollo Inn, my aim was to create four versions of the Martini that I felt were the best expression of their type and would suit 90 per cent of Martini drinkers – Dry, Dirty, Gibson and Café.
For the Dry Martini, I focused on the choice of vermouth as the key element, so that rather than leaving out the vermouth to achieve the dryness we use a skin-contact vermouth that is extra dry and unfiltered, so it doesn’t add sweetness to the drink but brings a dryness and tannin that is extremely savoury and textural.
We use the same vermouth for our Gibson, another dry style of Martini which would traditionally be made with onion brine. Instead of this, we make our own brine from pickled seasonal fruit – something that we have in abundance in the kitchen at Gimlet. Currently our brine is one we made at the end of summer from the bounty of cucumbers we had at that time.
Our Cafe Martini is for Espresso Martini drinkers, but it drinks more like a true Martini in that it’s much lighter on sugar, is stirred rather than shaken, and we use cold brew for the coffee flavour rather than espresso. All this helps the spirits to be the high notes with the sweetness and coffee flavour in supporting rather than dominant roles.
And for the Dirty Martini, we use both vodka and gin, and we ferment the olive brine to intensify its flavour. This means we use less of it, which means the base spirits are less diluted and really come forward in the flavour profile.
A Lucien Gaudin is somewhere between a Martini and a Negroni. It’s a delicate combination of two drinks that I love, with the richness of a Negroni tempered by the dry and savoury character of a Martini. For me, it’s a better aperitif than a Negroni because it’s bitter and light rather than sweet and full-flavoured.
We use our house-made orange liqueur with whatever oranges are in season (currently that’s the Cara Cara and the Poorman’s orange, which is technically a grapefruit native to New Zealand but grown locally). We ferment the citrus with shio koji, which is then washed into a blood-orange distillate and cognac. To make the drink this is stirred with dry vermouth, Campari and gin. This is a great winter cocktail and really at its absolute best when blood oranges are at their peak.