Gin Lane - A Dickensian Gin Palace in the heart of Central Sydney
Arriving at Gin Lane we were some of the first guests to be seated. By 5.45 the venue was abuzz with the sounds of happy patrons. Clinking glasses and chatter echoing through the barroom broken by the rattle of cocktail shakers and the occasional sound of a smartphone shutter capturing one of the venues show stopping drinks. When we left 3 hours later the venue was still full, well after Happy Hour had finished. For me this sums up Gin Lane beautifully, you might come for the show or the 'gram or the affordable Happy Hour but you'll stay for the hospitality and the delightful fact that the drinks taste as good as they look.
Gin Lane is a perfect addition to the trendy Kensington Street. A hidden gem nestled in a hidden gem. Built into an 1810 town house Gin Lane is exactly what you want it to be, a lavish Gin Palace capable of transporting you out of Central Sydney an into Dickensian era London. It has a plenty of tables and seats dotted through its two floors spaced apart enough to give you privacy but close enough to spot cocktails going to other tables that you'll want to try next. Although based on what I witnessed on this visit and the previous time I've drank at Gin Lane booking a table would be wise to guarantee yourself a prime spot especially if you're in a larger group. The outdoor seating at the front is perfect for people watching on the comings and goings of Kensington Street whilst the seating to the rear venue is situated in Spice Alley, ideal for when you realise you need pick up an early dinner before you taste the next item on the Gin and Tonic Menu.
When it comes to the drinks this is where Gin Lane really gets going. The menu of course features an extensive selection of Australian and World Gin (over 50 variants on the menu) along with 9 tonic options, but also has more than a dozen Whisk(e)ys and plenty of Rum and Tequila to satisfy your group's varying tastes.
Whilst this may be a styled as an old English Gin Palace at its heart its a cocktail bar. The menu is built on its the back of it's House cocktails and Specialty Gin and Tonics supported by a well chosen handful of classic cocktails plus sharing and a non alcoholic options. Needless to say you're spoilt for choice. The bartenders are happy and comfortable in helping you navigate the options if this all seems overwhelming.
A Gin and Tonic seemed like a logical place to begin the evening and after asking about the
difference between the House and the Premium G&T we went with the latter. The mix of Tanqueray, Aromatic Fever Tree Tonic Water with Lavender and Grapefruit Bitters didn't disappoint. I was interested the difference between the two drinks and was informed by the knowledgeable floor bartender that it's the high quality tonic water in the Premium version which includes botanicals that pair wonderfully with the ballsy Tanqueray all whilst decreasing the sugar in your glass by about 10 grams compared to the classic Schweppes in he House drink. We also accepted the suggestion of the cheese board which featured 3 well chosen cheeses, 2 kinds of crackers and a small mound of Olives and House Marinated Chilli Nuts. Given what was about to come this was a good decision. We were offered a top up of crackers after I polished of the ones on the plate with minimal effort which was a nice touch.
These drinks didn't last long and we moved swiftly onto two new Specialty Gin and Tonics that which after some consultation the bartender offered to test on us. We were served a Fennel G&T and a Watermelon G&T that are to be added to the Menu in the coming weeks. The Fennel G&T includes house made fennel syrup and the local Coastal Citrus Gin from Manly Distilleries finished with a floral and less bitter tonic water. The fennel taste was delicate, but with the drink being garnished with fennel tips the aroma was fantastic.The Watermelon G&T with it's bright pink colour and Watermelon Garnish has summer written all over it and a true crowd pleaser. The addition of a Watermelon Shrub that blends vinegar together with the fruit brings a small bite of acidity to add an extra layer of complexity to what is already a very beautiful drink. The finishing touch of a watermelon sliver with salt and pepper which we were informed should be nibbled prior to be sipping the drink adding another layer of flavour to the glass that was finished with Mint and Basil nestled in next to the paper straw.
From here the evening really started as we were introduced to the Gunpowder Plot. A
twist on a simple Gin Sour created to be reminiscent of Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night in England. This included a Gin infused with Gunpowder Green Tea and a splash of the bitter & herbal Fernet Branca is served in a smoking glass dome on a bed of leaves that is revealed at your table. Just make sure that you don't spend so long taking photos that you forget to take a sip because this drink is fantastic. The smoke infuses into the drink so that each time you bring the glass to your lips you get that smoky aroma again and again.
By this point an Uber was already the only way to get home so we delved further into the menu happy to try the recommendation of a Blue Magic and a Hibiscus and Rose Fizz.
The Blue Magic presented another spectacle with its Blue Magic and Lavender Syrup is finished at the table and changes colour from blue to purple before your eyes. The Hibiscus & Rose Fizz was served in a glass smoking pipe and frozen with minus 196 degree liquid nitrogen at the table. I took great delight in drinking this through the pipe but my favourite moment was when I used the provided teaspoon to eat a mouthful of the nitrogen chilled foam, only to find that the garnish sprinkled over the top were crunchy Rose and Hibiscus shards. A cocktail rarely surprises me these days but this really got me smiling.
Somehow we finished by trying the Smoking Treasure Chest, another look into the future of the next Gin Lane Menu. This sharing cocktail was presented to us in a bespoke Treasure chest before being doused in liquid nitrogen and finished with a pair of sparklers.
We were offered the choice between serving the punch into vintage looking ceramic Tea Cups or grabbing a paper straw and enjoying the drink face first. By this point the latter seemed the logical choice. The mix of spiced rum, apricot, pineapple and citrus tasted as good as its appearance promised and was a fitting way to end the evening. I was also pleased to be shown the larger version of the chest that serves 7-8, the smaller version that we enjoyed being recommended for 3-4. If you're booking a party here or in a group this is something not to be missed.
Whilst Gin Lane has curated a collection of show stealing drinks what’s more impressive is that they've managed to do so without any pomp that could so easily accompany such skill and spectacle. The drinks are delicious with the serve being the final touch of the drink rather that the purpose of it and this is all done with the bartenders tongue placed firmly in cheek. They don't take them selves too seriously and provide all of these moments with genuine hospitality.
When you combine that with a original venue, great value daily Happy Hours, a Wednesday Negroni Night and two bookable private areas in the upstairs rooms its safe to say that Gin Lane has everything that you could want in a small bar.
This was not the first time I have visited Gin
Lane and it definitely won't be the last.