Photography by Parker Blain
Words by Jane Ryan on 26-Feb-2020
211 La Trobe Street, Ella, Melbourne, VIC, 3004, Australia
Website: View bar's website
Hours: Mon-Sun 09:00-01:00
Style: Cocktail bar
Recommended for: Cocktails, Food
Price guide: Middling
Owned by: Luke Whearty and Aki Nishikura
Byrdi is a bar unlike any other, pulling the concepts of seasonality and locality together with culinary techniques, in a venue that is both day and night, café, restaurant, bar and science lab.
Located in the central foodie hub Ella, Byrdi looks like it's been flung into the corner of a shopping centre, which it kinda has. It's one of those spaces people walk by with a curious twist of their head. What was that? Which is exactly what co-owners Luke Whearty and Aki Nishikura, who were previously at the helm of Singapore's Operation Dagger, want.
Inside, Byrdi's layout evokes a minimal Scandi restaurant in warm wood and earthy tones with soft lighting and curved surfaces. When it's empty the bareness of the décor can impose a coldness on the space but with enough bodies, tables filling up with glasses and plates, the atmosphere is spot on. There's no back bar, but a stainless-steel workstation featuring an eye-catching slab of honeycomb and the odd label-less bottle half-filled with colourful translucent liquid.
Drinks here are based around pushing fresh, local produce in new directions and showing off Australia's plethora of ingredients. Fermentation is the team's key weapon in this task, and they experiment with year-long to month, week or even 24-hour ferments. A summer 2020 menu teased apart the complexity of bananas, fermenting their flesh and skins separately alongside yoghurt whey and banana mint to make a balanced, tropical yet pleasingly sour highball.
Plenty of other ferments act as main ingredients in the cocktails which over summer featured flavours such as peach, cherry and watermelon. Using fresh produce does mean the list changes regularly, so expect new experiences with each visit.
Fermentation isn't all they do at though, and the drinks list, full of unexpected textures, visuals and aromas, is a testament to the out-of-the-box thinking we've come to love from the owners and their team. Most of the menu is standout, super-delicious and comes simply presented. If you don't want to know about the in-depth process you don't have, giving the space a much more friendly atmosphere from what could have turned into a classroom. That said, all the staff are incredibly clued-up so don't be afraid to ask what lacto fermentation or karkalla is. They'll probably even let you taste some of whatever the mystery ingredient is.
Small plates on offer come from an impossibly small-looking kitchen and mimic the bar in its commitment to fresh, seasonal and local produce. Think lettuce hearts with pistachio and riberry vinegar, prawn toast with sesame and pepperberry mayo or Riverine blue cheese with local honeycomb. There are coffee and snacks during the day as well, and the venue seamlessly runs from daytime hangout to evening destination.
Tucked around the corner from the main area is Byrdi's aviary – that's what Whearty is calling the lab, complete with all fun culinary gadgets on display and a five-seat bar. Guests can even swing by for the team's open-door R&D sessions once a month and get an insight into how these fantastical drinks and concepts come together.