Pearl diving is hard work. It takes a good eye, patience, and a passion for oysters. Coincidentally, these are three traits shared by Alex Boon and Pez Collier, the lauded Brisbane bartenders who spent two years gently buffing their idea for a shucking great oyster bar into a polished pearl.
It also took funds to kickstart the duo’s foray into bar ownership. That’s where 50 per cent partner, The Speakeasy Group (Nick & Nora's, Eau De Vie, Mjolner), steps in. The collaboration is part of the brand’s Pathways to Partnership program, an initiative to bankroll visionary venues of hospo-preneurs. If Pearl Diver is anything to go by, the scheme could birth a whole new slew of city go-tos.
Stepping into the space is like being catapulted back through the decades to a soirée on the Titanic, hosted by Gatsby. The elegantly nautical fit-out by Studio Y (whose creds include Nick & Nora’s and Lûmé) features cheeky touches like palm tree coat hooks, old-timey ship paintings, and a blingy gold diving helmet. Grey mesh drapes billow from the ceiling like a ship’s sails, and after a few Honeydew Swizzles, you might even feel like you’ve been scooped up into an oyster net.
Stop by the bar’s glass cabinet to eye four different oyster varieties from a smattering of Aussie states. Each is designed to be enjoyed natural with mignonette and lemon, or tricked up with a choice of three different dressings. The refined apple, anise and cucumber pairing has a long liquorice finish, and is the perfect foil to oysters’ bright brine.
There are cooked options too, and the crispy fried oyster is a showstopper. Velvety on the inside and coated in a crunchy crumb, these salty moreish bites are made for mopping up lashings of caper-jewelled gribiche.
The broader menu smacks of New Orleans flavours run through the French Quarter, and while seafood snacks sing, a date with fish-fearing friends won’t result in mutiny. The unsung hero of the menu is the waffle fries. These crisp thatched chips are deceptively fluffy inside, and come dusted with generous shavings of comtè cheese.
If food is the captain of Pearl Diver, the cocktails are a worthy first officer. The eponymous Pearl Diver is a riff on the Tiki classic, blending Bacardi Oro Rum, Tasmanian honey, butter and spices with a citrus medley. The result is a tropical-tasting drop with enough piquancy to make it dangerously drinkable.
At times, the cocktail list veers sweet. The Peanut Butter + Jelly is a jammy take on a Sazerac that demands to be slowly savoured to avoid a saccharine sucker punch. For those wanting to stick to safer waters, the 50-strong wine list is a good place to start.
Any venue that puts ‘Cocktails and Oysters’ in its name is making a big promise to deliver on two fronts. At Pearl Diver, it’s a challenge they sail through.
PDCO will no doubt be in high demand this summer so make sure to book here in advance.