Cindy and I found ourselves at a loose end on a Saturday afternoon and, rather strangely, her thought turned to cocktails. We used to semi-regularly attend a half-priced Sunday afternoon cocktail extravaganza just down the street from where we lived in West End, but since we moved down to Melbourne cocktails have only occasionally been on the agenda. We were fairly sure that Brunswick Street had more than just Polly to offer us boozy mixed drinks, and this review of Black Pearl, offering not only fancy cocktails but also the world's best chips, gave us a destination for the evening.
It's a cozy and comfortable place - at least in the afternoon. I'm not sure how pleasant it would be if it was jam packed, but when you can nab a couple of couches in the corner for yourself and chat quietly, it's a fine, relaxed venue. First things first: chips - the food menu wasn't substantial, but included a range of promising items (the feta and haloumi cigars were high on my list), but we had to make sure that The Age wasn't lying to us. Exaggerating slightly perhaps - although it's hard to think of better chips that we've sampled around the place (cue Cindy in comments listing all the chips that she's preferred to these). The fries ($7) had some sort of herb seasoning, generous amounts of salt and a scrumptious spicy aioli, and came in great numbers. Enough to put Cindy off dinner!
The cocktail menu is more substantial: around ten 'signature drinks', three seasonal choices and a few blackboard specials (the menu also promises that the bar staff will whip up whatever you fancy, so don't limit yourself). It's always a hard choice, and we spent some time tossing up our options. In the end, Cindy went for one of the seasonal specials: a Pimm's winter cup ($13), Pimm's No. 1, apple juice, fresh ginger juice and cinnamon, warmed up on the coffee steamer and served up as if it was tea. It was warming, fruity and nicely boozed. A good start. I went for a Sunday Best ($17): Martin Miller's gin, rosemary, mandarin, chilli and vanilla syrup, lemon juice and Angostura bitters. This was more citrus and tang than overpowering booziness, which suited me fine - the chilli didn't have quite the kick I expected, and I ended up drinking this more like fruit juice than something that cost the price of a good meal. Whoops.
Next up, Cindy went for something a bit more desserty - a Caribbean Monk ($17): Mount Gay Eclipse, caramel syrup, hazelnut liquer, fresh banana and lime dusted with cinnamon sugar. Something about the drink reminded Cindy of unripe banana, which put her off a little, but once she got a taste for it she quite happily knocked it back.
I decided not to repeat my earlier mistake and went for the most booze-tasting cocktail I could find: the Sazerac ($19): Gentleman Jack, Peychaud's bitters, sugar and absinth. This had about a third of the liquid of my first drink, but took me a lot longer to drink - it mainly tasted of strong. Strong with a bit of sugar. Thankfully Cindy had hit her limit and kept me in check - the main effect of a Sazerac seems to be increased desire for cocktails. Instead we made our way slowly home for leftovers and an early night.
Lazing around in Black Pearl was an expensive but winning way to spend a Saturday afternoon. The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, the snacks were great, the venue was comfortable and booze was plentiful. Still, it prompted a question: Melbourne's got blogs devoted to coffee, to breakfast, to pies, to wine and to vanilla slice, but none devoted to chips or to cocktails. If it wasn't so expensive I'd be agitating for weekly cocktail and chips outings just to fill the niche.
Address: 304 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Ph: 9417 0455
Price: Cocktails $13-$19, snacks $5-$16
Most definitely licensed