These days, when nearly every piece of PR related to restaurants, cafés and bars inevitably peddles some degree of ‘sustainability’, it’s hard to peg who’s really going the extra mile. You know, the folks going further than bamboo straws, honey from the rooftop hive and flicking the lights off for Earth Hour.
On the surface, Re may not appear to be doing anything too different. It’s a stark, borderline brutalist cocktail bar occupying a former locomotive workshop – all hard lines, sharp angles, soft curves and gritty industrial details given warmth with glossy design magazine styling. But that bar top, which looks something like terrazzo on an acid trip? It’s a mass of recycled plastic milk bottles and containers. Those light fixtures and wine coolers? Made with mycelium, the vegetative, thread-like part of a fungus. And the leather that upholsters the banquette? Not leather at all, but pineapple-leaf fibre.
Nearly everything you come into contact with, in fact – from the salvaged Maison Balzac glassware and Mud ceramics formed with excess clay to the imperfect produce in the drinks and Latta Vino wine poured from ten-litre casks – aims to minimise environmental impact in some way. The eventual goal, says co-owner Matt Whiley, is to be completely waste-free.
Sydneysiders first got a taste of Whiley’s regenerative school of thinking at Scout, the Surry Hills outpost of his groundbreaking London bar, which he opened with Icebergs restaurateur Maurice Terzini on top of the Dolphin Hotel. Re finds the duo partnering once more and pretty much picking up where things left off when Scout shut up shop at the end of 2019, reexamining fermentation, distillation and flavour combinations in ways that defy expectations.
Clock the lab-like setup in the back corner. It’s where you might find Whiley or Evan Stroeve (Time Out’s 2019 Bartender of the Year and winner of Australia’s 2021 Diageo World Class competition) tinkering with ingredients that feature in the ‘Re-search’ section of the 15-strong cocktail list, where the team is given carte blanche to explore a concept and push the limits.
Right now, that concept is our Solar System, which seems fitting given the sparse, out-there description of a drink named Mars: “Bulleit Bourbon, Silicon, Magnesium, Iron”. Enquire further, and you’ll learn the latter three elements are found in and extracted from pepitas, nigari (a tofu coagulant) and red rice, respectively. Together, they make what’s essentially an Old Fashioned taste like sweet red miso, high-quality almond butter and cocoa powder in a single sip.
At the other end of the spectrum, amongst a trio of Highballs and Spritzes, there’s the Mandalorian – a curiously pale, near translucent and garnish-free concoction built with gin, grapefruit vodka and mandarins. The burst of carbonation and brightness of the winter citrus will jolt you to attention, but then the addition of smoked wattleseed grabs hold and steers it to a long, salty finish that takes a minute to wrap your head around, but may ultimately remind you of roasted sunflower seeds.
Make no mistake, these cocktails are challenging, some perhaps even a little confronting, but each and every member of the team is happy to break down their complexities without a shred of preachiness or pretence. Know, too, that if you’re not the risk-taking type, there is easygoing pleasure to be found in a delicate Daiquiri variation with charred pear and, believe it or not, tree resin. Same goes for a shaken, strained and surprisingly balanced mixture of vodka, white chocolate, mountain pepperberry and apple butter, finished with droplets of lemon-myrtle oil drawn from trees down the road.
The snacks menu – overseen by ex-Icebergs and Quay chef Lewin White and crafted largely from food waste and secondary cuts – reads very “restaurant”, pitting miso pumpkin salad up against pasta shells with XO sauce made from charcuterie trimmings. A tricked-up eggplant “ceviche” proves that ambition sometimes gets in the way of execution, but an LP’s pig’s head sausage with salted onions on a soft potato roll doused in tonkatsu sauce keeps it simple and hits the bullseye.
And then there’s the location, in Mirvac’s billion-dollar South Eveleigh precinct, which is something of a head-scratcher. Shouldn’t a bar this avant-garde be in the CBD or a similarly edgy suburb? Maybe. But then, shouldn’t developers be looking beyond soulless chains to invigorate the untapped pockets of our city? Re is a bar daring to ask the big questions, serving up some very convincing answers, and we’re lucky to have it, in any neighbourhood.