Der Raum: MFWF Cocktails envelop the senses

It felt like I hadn’t seen my friend Maz in weeks. So when she suggested a MFWF event at Der Raum, it only took me a moment. Cocktails and a night out with one of my favourite people? I was definitely there.

So, Der Raum. It’s a cocktail bar in Richmond that’s famed for their innovative cocktails using high quality ingredients. They have stacks of awards. Despite everything I’d heard about the place, it was my first visit there. Mostly because 1: it’s in Richmond, and Richmond is a pain in the arse to get to from my house, and 2: I’m a granny and I like to do my drinking in the comfort of my own home. Alone. In the dark.

(Those last two sentences are a lie. I like to inflict my drunk self on others under bright lighting.)

Maz and I met up beforehand for a quick dinner at Love Pho, and then proceeded to walk up to Der Raum. And if I hadn’t heard about the place before, we never would have found it. It has zero signage and the door is locked – you need to buzz them on the intercom if you don’t have a membership. After being open to the public for many years, last year they implemented a membership system and non-members are only allowed entry if there is space or if they have a prior booking. (Members have a swipe card.)

I have no problem with the whole membership thing, though I must say it feels a bit weird to have to buzz to be allowed into a bar. 🙂

Once inside we were talked into a starting drink – a $10 gin and tonic for me (ouch) and a $10 vodka and lime for Mazzie. After we finished our drinks, we were ready to start our cocktail degustation. We were there for Cocktails envelop the senses, and would be getting six cocktail courses for $90. Our waiter told us that there would be a couple of solid courses – cocktails in a little food form – which sounded fine to us.

First out was a little palate cleanser – a brown bottle emitting dry ice vapour that contained a small amount of Italian vermouth and infused with lavender. It was interesting. I can’t say that I loved it.

(Also, it’s hideously dark inside Der Raum. We had a little candle on our table, that I accidentally put out in my excitement to get it next to the bottle so I could take a picture. BOO. Hence the iphone photo… with flash… oh the shame…)

Next we had something that came in solid form. It was a little strawberry puff that had been frozen with liquid nitrogen topped with basil gel and olive “soil”. We popped the whole thing into our mouths – and it melted instantly in a quick cold blast. The basil came in prominently at the end, and as Mazzie loves basil, she declared it a success. I also liked this.

We were told that the next cocktail was one of their most popular. Called Pharmacy, it came out in a medicine jar, a syringe and a little white pill. Inside the medicine jar was pear and roast capsicum gin, while the syringe contained Aperol, and the pill held citrus sherbert. We were then left alone to read the instructions on the bottle, which said to put all the syringe contents and the pill into the medicine jar, and shake it up. We were then to drink the liquid and chew the remainder of the pill.

At first taste, the capsicum was very prominent, leaving Maz to remark, “This tastes like school lunch!” (I don’t know what kind of school lunches she ate – mine normally consisted of dry ham and cheese sandwiches or on a “good” day, a searingly hot mince pie from the school tuckshop). After a couple more sips, the capsicum was drowned out by the gin’s herbal notes. Eventually, Maz found and chewed on the pill, giving me a running commentary as she went, “Found the pill. Almost swallowed it. Chewy. So chewy. Still chewy. Tingly, got the sherbert. OH!! Sour! Really, really sour!!!” (Bahaha.) So when I eventually finished my drink and ate the pill, I wasn’t surprised by the sour sherbert hit. (I also found the casing distractingly thick and chewy – I expected it to dissolve more readily.)

I had a couple of thoughts about this drink. The novelty was a bit fun, but there was no purpose to the way it was served. (Or maybe there was, but it wasn’t explained to us.) Why the syringe? Why wasn’t the Aperol already incorporated? Why put in the pill when it didn’t dissolve and add anything to the drink? As a gimmick it’s cute, but if it doesn’t add anything – then what’s the point? (More thoughts on this later.)

Our next drink was the Berry and the Bee, and we were told that the inspiration behind this drink was the current trend for local, foraged food. On top of the drink was honey coated wild fennel, a sugar coated blueberry, and in place of a normally foraged wild blackberry was a freeze dried strawberry. Unfortunately, the head bartender had a fall when out collecting the blackberries, so there wasn’t any available for the drinks. Inside the actual drink we had mint, crushed strawberry, fresh lemon, lemon myrtle, and honey sourced from Tasmania. We were told that the bees live next to a blackberry field, so the blackberry notes come across in their honey.

One sip of the drink and a common product immediately came to mind… lemsip. Mazzie disagreed with me so I suspect that I just have a terrible uneducated palate. 😉

Our next cocktail was another solid course – slices of Der Raum sashimi. Okay, not actual sashimi, but slices of watermelon that had been vacuum infused with sake and sour apple. The “wasabi” was made from olive oil, mastic and pistachio.

The watermelon, except for the bottom two slices, just tasted like watermelon with a hint of sour apple. Only in the last two slices did the sake come through. However, the “wasabi” was awesome – the mastic transformed the dust inside the mouth to something chewy and sticky.

Our last actual drink was a take on the Ben Shewry (named after the head chef at Attica). Inside the jar was rosemary and star anise that had been torched, creating a fragrant smoke. An ice cold flask of absinthe and plum wine had been dropped into the jar, which was then closed, allowing the drink to cold smoke and infuse in the rosemary/star anise vapours.

Here’s the flask out of the jar. This was the nicest cocktail of the night, though I did ponder whether the cocktail would be just as good without all the smoking palaver.

We had another little solid before leaving – no picture because our waiter demanded that we pop the entire thing in our mouth right there and then. Basically, it looked like a tablespoon of creamy looking foam. We put the entire thing into our mouths and let it dissolve, which set off a warm and cold creamy sensation at the same time. When all the cream had dissolved, pop rocks came into effect. Cute.

I enjoyed myself, but looking at the menu, I believe this is pretty much what they offer all the time – you can do a tourist degustation which has 5 cocktail courses for $90 (so we got an extra course). And while I had a good night and loved spending it with my friend, I don’t feel the need to visit again. I like a bit of theatre in my food and drink experiences and I like molecular cuisine. But I feel that if you’re going down that path, then there needs to be a reason behind it. It should add to the flavour or texture, or evoke a memory or create a specific sensation that adds to the experience, and not done solely for a gimmick. (And I’m not saying that’s their intention, but with some of the cocktails i.e. Pharmacy, the watermelon sashimi, even the Ben Shewry, that’s what it felt like to me.)

Certainly, Der Raum is considered to be one of the world’s best cocktail bars so I must be one of the few people who think, “It was okay. Didn’t love it.”

I do recommend checking it out at least once though. 🙂

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Der Raum
438 Church St
If you’re not a member, be sure to make a booking via the website.

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