Around the World in Four Drinks

Bars
Around the world in four drinks at Employees Only
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Photograph: Supplied/Jude Cohen
Tacos at Employees Only
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Photograph: Supplied/Jude Cohen

Time Out says

Who needs an airport when this quartet of cocktails can whisk you far, far away?

While it’s hard to say with any certainty just how long our international borders will stay shut, some estimates suggest overseas travel could be at least three years away. In the meantime, Sydneysiders struggling with an excess of wanderlust should head to Employees Only. You might not be packing your suitcase anytime soon, but you can at least send your taste buds on a round-the-world trip with the CBD bar’s new internationally inspired cocktail experience. Via a flight (pun intended) of four carefully curated drinks, each paired with a corresponding snack, you’ll be transported by the flavours of far-flung destinations.

The accompanying morsels all come in the form of a taco, which could hardly be more ideal. By and large, cocktails deliver all their complexities and nuance with each sip, a balance mixologists work hard to keep consistent from the start of a drink to its finish. Likewise, these precisely constructed tacos allow all of their elements to be tasted at once; as close as you could come to a culinary equivalent of a cocktail.

First stop on this globetrotting itinerary is Hong Kong, courtesy of the Eau de Ambre, a knowing ode to the influx of European cultures flowing into Asia along the Silk Road trade routes. Little wonder then, that this cocktail’s finish is as smooth as that coveted fabric, with sparkling citrus notes of French Cointreau and Spanish Fernet Branca mingling with the rich, earthy tones of black Chinese tea. The accompanying taco reaches for more succinct flavours, via that classic Chinese combo of crispy duck, hoi-sin sauce, cucumber and chilli.

The trip takes a fiery turn in Mexico with the Oaxaca Express. The sweetly serrated edge of Espolon Blanco Tequila spars with the heat of jalapeno chilli, while fresh lime, pineapple, and an unexpected botanical burst of coriander and basil shimmer playfully beneath. A ‘carne asada’ taco – featuring marinated Wagyu striploin – is easy on the spice but still brings the fire, with charred corn salsa and hickory smoked hollandaise.

Next stop, the Big Apple, and the West Side does the swagger and sophistication of New York proud. This is an understated Up Town drink, marrying Ketel One Citron Vodka with lemon, fresh mint and a splash of soda; simple, refreshing, and unmistakably refined. Departing the isle of Manhattan, the other side of Yonkers stands proud with a taco inspired by the deli classic, the Rueben – melt-in-the-mouth Wagyu pastrami, sauerkraut, pickled mustard and delicately nutty Swiss cheese.

The journey ends in Japan with a cocktail that artfully captures the duality of a country that is as much a place of cutting-edge innovation as it is of tradition and ritual. The Kyoto Sour is a multisensory creation. The solemn aromas of roasted Japanese tea laid gently on a fragrant foam evoke the calm of a zen garden, before a thrill of lemon and prune bitters with Chivas Regal 12-year-old scotch whisks you straight into the frenetic heart of Tokyo. A panko-crusted tenderloin conjures the Japanese classic, Katsu chicken, brightened by a tart, crisp green apple and pickled cabbage slaw.

You can, of course, enjoy any of these cocktails in isolation, each is priced at $20, and you can also have just the four cocktails without their taco travel buddies, for $50. The full Around the World experience, including all four cocktails and tacos, will cost you $75, but be prepared – if you do choose to go all in, you’ll be putting away a pretty sizable helping of grog in a single sitting, and since this offer is only available on Wednesdays and Thursdays, you may well pull up a little dusty on a workday morning. The ideal scenario, in this scribe's experience, was to share this four-course travel-inspired mini-degustation with one other guest (health guidelines permitting of course; make sure they’re part of your household or inner-circle).

Regulars of Employees Only will know they're no strangers to a little whimsy here – they host regular tarot readings and burlesque revues after all. Guests enjoying all four cocktails receive a souvenir menu, and as each beverage arrives, your menu gets a stamp, much like your passport might as you pass through customs on your way to your next exotic adventure. Exploring the world in person may be out of reach, for now, but a night of multicultural discovery in one of the best bars in town makes for a pretty good stopgap.

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