It must be said that the location of Sydney’s Absinthesalon, halfway along a steep hilly Albion Street, is well placed – given that the natural effects of gravity can only but assist the imbiber down the hill towards Central train station and other responsible forms of public transport. Let this be ample encouragement to leave the car at home dear absintheur, and enjoy the full experience.
Bad timing, pregnancy and the global financial crisis have all plotted against me in my efforts to be able to fly into Sydney to get along to the new Absinthesalon premises before now, but now I am here outside the dark grey toned establishment. You may sometimes read this in other reviews of the Salon, but I can myself verify that as you linger outside the door you may detect the tell tale aromatic signature of aniseed in the air.
Proprietors Joop van Heusden and Gaye Valttila are most welcoming and usher me inside into the front room of the salon – exposed rustic brickwork, displays of the extensive range of quality absinthe products and water fountains, a giant antique cash register adorning a counter serve as a prelude to the inner sanctum behind the draped curtain adorned doorway.
Behind the curtain is a most intimate and inviting environment that captures the feeling of a proper absinthe salon. Now, don’t get me wrong, Belle Époque in Brisbane is an excellent representation of retro-French dining, all gold leaf edging and fleur-de-ly’s, but Gaye and Joop have utilised the limited space typical of a period Surry Hills terrace to manifest a very different type of neo-Gallic experience. The interior is illuminated with a ‘petite’ version of wrought iron street lamp posts, tasteful minimalism to the interior decoration, round mirrors and sparing use of stylistic wallpaper. The far wall is adorned with a graceful mural of La Fée Verte, the Green Fairy herself, a fine rendition of one of the most famous representations of her from the original heyday.
With room for at most 30-odd patrons, all seating is set around a pleasingly non-crowded arrangement of small café tables adorned with 4 tap water fountains for the absinthe ritual. And let’s be clear, the experience and discussion of absinthe is not unlike that of wine, it should be shared amongst convivial company. The spacial design suitably encourages this.
Friday and Saturday nights are generally booked out in advance so don’t be surprised if you rock up on a whim and unable to satisfy your curiosity. Another aspect to be aware of is that there is a three drink limit per person. Some may find this as profoundly odd that a drinking establishment would be seeking to limit their own sales, but as any absintheur worth their salt will tell you, the consumption of each glass of absinthe should be prolonged, savoured, and well considered. When approached in this fashion most will be satisfied after two glasses, some even after one.
So as Joop himself may tell you, “Slow Down!”.
(I know this is counter-intuitive to most Sydney-siders, but advice well worth heeding. Hey, you got a booking, stay around and enjoy the ambience for a while.)
Also, don’t be surprised if your hosts take on the role of Sommelier, and in fact steer you away from initially diving head-first into the high-proof absinthe brands. They are there to help you enjoy the absinthe experience as much as possible, and as such they will guide you through appropriate entry level absinthes until you have a better appreciation for the flavours, the nuances and styles. There are many absinthes to try in a range of price brackets (from around $12 a glass upwards), many styles and regions to explore.
You’ll just have to keep coming back won’t you?
I know I will.
Stay tuned for review of Jade PF 1901 absinthe conducted in situ