Set in the fancy 80 Collins precinct, Nick & Nora’s fits right into the lineup of swanky venues that have moved into the Paris end of Melbourne’s CBD. Y’know – Society, La Madonna, Farmer’s Daughters. And much like its neighbours, it’s ritzy! But in a fun way, as opposed to an intimidating way, with a concept dedicated to the golden era of post-prohibition 1930s soirees and high society parties. Sticking to what they do best, Speakeasy Group (Mjølner, Eau de Vie, Pearl Diver, Boilermaker House) have tackled a theme – and completely and utterly nailed it. I’d say there’s nowhere like it, though there is, in Sydney, where the first Nick & Nora’s was born.
It’s all just grand. A grand staircase. A grand hallway lined with 400 bottles of Champagne on display. A massive grand marble bar with bartenders serving up libation after libation. The venue’s name was inspired by fictional detective duo Nick and Nora Charles from 1934 novel and film The Thin Man, who, in between solving murder mysteries, throw lavish parties in high society. The space is like a scene out of the book – glitz, glam and all.
Before you settle into the extensive cocktail menu, you may want to opt for something sparkling. In case the 400 bottles in the hallway didn’t give it away, there’s lots of Champagne. The comprehensive list of sparkling wines are broken up by flavour profile, ranging from “crisp & elegant” to “fresh & fruity”. The prices range too, starting from $80 a bottle all the way up to $2,400.
Most though, shoot straight for the cocktails, with the menu similarly organised by taste and each section playfully named after characters to help you make sense of it all. The waiters are très helpful too, who flip through the menu (best described as a book) and play matchmaker depending on your preferences. No matter which poison you pick, you’re probably in for a surprise. These aren’t your average cocktails. The Mista Asta ($22) is a deeply savoury Martini that balances vodka and aquavit with clarified tomato water and sundried tomato oil. It’s silky, perfectly diluted and a little bit strange, but it works.
The venue’s take on a Bloody Mary comes in the form of Sherlock’s Supper ($22). It reads like a food menu – as much of the cocktail menu does – with black garlic, kalamata olives, roasted tomato oil and tomato juice in the mix. While for every good Bloody Mary out there a dozen seem to miss the mark, this one’s moreish and, thankfully, seasoned and balanced all at once. The gilda (a skewer fit with an olive, pickle and anchovy) it’s adorned with doesn’t go astray either. See, it’s like a meal.
There’s also a section for the sours. A favourite, as the waiter tells us, is the Fugitive Fizz ($25), which tastes like a sherbet lolly in liquid form. It’s spiked with tequila and amaro Montenegro, as well as mandarin shrub among other things. It’s a little bit citrusy, a little bit bitter, and mostly a little sickly. On the other end, the Brown Butter Old Fashioned ($24) was as smooth as the operator gets. It goes down a treat with brown butter Zacapa aged rum and tastes just like a Butter Menthol. There’s madeira. There’s butterscotch. There’s spiced honey. It’s so rich, so buttery, so intense and makes you want to park yourself by a fire.
When it comes time for a nibble, there’s a French-leaning menu with snacks (Merimbula Rock Oysters served with a Champagne mignonette, obviously), canapés (think: chicken liver eclairs) and ‘plates’ (lobster rolls and the like) which are, for all intents and purposes, still the size of snacks. There’s a decent selection of charcuterie and cheese, some local, some French. If you’re living large, there’s also caviar service (Oscietra) served with blinis and crème fraîche ($240). You’re not at Nick & Nora’s to eat, though the food does the job. Some snacks – like the little beetroot and horseradish dip number – lack seasoning, while the plate of cured kingfish won’t blow you away. The food is neither here nor there, but between the clinking glasses, vibing atmosphere and impressive array of cocktails, you probably won’t care.
There’s no better proof of this than the fact that the place is heaving. It seems Nick & Nora’s draws the after-work crowd, the going-to-the-theatre crowd, the date night crowd, and, well, just about every crowd. The experience is an absolute show in and of itself and worth a visit regardless of the occasion. Just don’t leave scoring a table to chance and book ahead.