Byrdi is far from a traditional cocktail bar. In fact, there’s barely a bar at all. Laid out like a modern bistro, the space’s dark, recycled-cork walls and stainless steel finishes are softened by the dried bundles of native scrub hanging from the ceiling and recessed lighting that casts a moonlight glow across the walls. The “bar” is more of a waiters’ station, with ice wells in the middle of the open-plan room. There is no backbar displaying bottles and no mention of spirits on the menu, a trend among forward-thinking bars in recent years. Considered one of Australia’s most progressive cocktail venues, the Melbourne bar’s prime directive is to showcase native ingredients in unexpected ways.
Byrdi’s cocktail list changes with the seasons, focusing exclusively on produce offered up by the landscape of Victoria, the state that houses Melbourne. While only Australian spirits are used, it’s the non-spirit ingredients that are the stars of the show here. Every part of every fruit and vegetable finds a home in the drinks, limiting food waste.
The theme of the current menu is “summer nostalgia,” and the drinks draw from the staff’s diverse background for playful yet inventive creations like the Zooper Dooper, a reference to a popular brand of colorful ice pop ubiquitous during Australian childhood summers, made with black currant leaf and caramelized fennel, and the Husk, which is based on the flavors of Filipino corn treats. “Because we have staff from diverse backgrounds—France, the U.K., Australia, Indonesia and Japan—everyone’s experience of ‘summer nostalgia’ is different,” explains Byrdi’s owner, Luke Whearty.
Byrdi’s Peach Boba is “our take on bubble tea refined into a modern cocktail by looking at all the elements—different textures, flavors, etc.,” says Whearty. Byrdi starts with chewy, edible boba, creating two different types. The first is a traditional tapioca pearl, flavored with native Australian wattleseed—the nutty, chocolatey seed of our native acacia tree. The roasted and ground wattleseeds infuse a rich sugar syrup, which is then used to rehydrate the pearls.
A second kind of boba is made via the reverse spherification of clarified white peach juice. In this process, the juice of local white peaches is clarified with an enzyme that breaks down the pectin and allows the removal of solid matter, resulting in a clear, fresh juice. Next, calcium chloride is dissolved into the juice, which is then dripped into a bath of sodium alginate solution. As the calcium chloride and sodium alginate react, the outside of the juice drops solidify, creating a soft shell around the liquid interior that pops between the teeth like salmon roe.
“I’m going back into my bag of tricks from the molecular gastronomy era,” says Whearty. “These techniques have their time in the sun then fall out of fashion, but I find it interesting to bring them back in a different format.” While touting molecular techniques like reverse spherification and liquid nitrogen baths may no longer be in vogue, enterprising bartenders like Whearty still use them behind the scenes, with great results.
For the milk element of the tea, Byrdi sources local, full-cream Jersey cow milk, which is cooked sous vide with toasted peach leaves, lending the liquid a toasted marzipan note. Sweetness comes from a peach stone amaretto that’s made by resting raw peach pits in a neutral spirit for 72 hours, before being cut with clarified peach juice and vanilla syrup. The peach leaf milk and peach stone amaretto are then batched together with more of the clarified white peach juice and an Australian agricole-style rum, which counters the sweetness of the drink with its grassy bite.
To serve, the drink is topped with an airy foam made from the salted, clarified juice of another Australian native plant, the bush tomato. A close relative of common tomatoes, the bush tomato is more savory, less acidic and has a pungent aroma. Infused into the foam, it lends a salty, umami funk on top of the sweet, peachy tea.
“We have a lot of regulars with East Asian backgrounds, so we knew if we were going to do a boba tea, we’d have to nail it,” says Whearty. “There’s a patron from Taipei who comes in a lot who’s pretty passionate about bubble tea, and she gave us the tick of approval, so I hope we got there.”
Digging into this drink with the little wooden spoon provided, popping the peach boba and chewing on their rubbery, nutty wattleseed counterparts while sipping the peachy, milky tea through salty foam, it’s easy to feel silly, sophisticated and nostalgic at the same time. And that’s exactly as Byrdi intended it. After all, says Whearty, “the idea was to make it really fun.”
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