Friday, July 5, 2013

The Lobo Plantation: Sugar, spice and all things rum

Sydney CBD's newest small bar – The Lobo Plantation – opened its lovely, arched doorways just last week, joining what’s becoming a hub of new small bars on Clarence and Kent Streets, just south of King Street.

The Lobo Plantation, Clarence Street, Sydney
The Lobo Plantation is definitely my kind of place, and it’ll be yours too if you like themed bars, Caribbean hospitality and eats, and great drinks. Oh, and rum.

Located in a former basement hairdresser on Clarence Street across from seminal hidden CBD bar The Baxter Inn, The Lobo Plantation is a rum drinker’s haven with over different 150 bottles on offer, most of them Caribbean rums uncommon on Australian shores.

Entry doors
I'm a little in love with the entry foyer just past the iron gates before the white-painted doors, which is a bit like a transition space for drinkers entering off the CBD street into mid-20th century good times in the Caribbean.

Step down the winding staircase into the atmospheric, jovial space and The Lobo Plantation's dedication to the rum is clear, lining several shelves of the back bar.

Seats at the bar
Seating at the long, wide bar is ideal for bartender and cocktail watching; otherwise there are small tables, small group lounges and a red leather Chesterfield-style banquette that spans the width of the venue where larger groups can congregate and imbibe.

Like The Baxter Inn, general manager Jared Merlino (ex ivy Pool) explains that The Lobo Plantation does not take bookings at all; large groups just have to get there early – and damn early on Friday evenings if their first week of trade is anything to go by.

Raised seating section
I've not been so smitten by a thoroughly, all-out, themed venue like this since Mr Wong. As the menu explains, the bar is named after Julio Lobo, a wealthy Cuban sugar trader from the mid-20th century.

There’s a lovable, hedonistic feel as the venue is decked out as if it were his private refuge: boldly colourful with Caribbean influences and worldly touches of aged, shabby opulence, representing his collections from travels around the globe.

The relevance is all things rum – a spirit made from sugarcane by-products or juice, then typically aged in oak barrels.

Plan-Ting cocktail
The long-winded cocktail list is a good starting point for rum newbies, with the likes of the strong but easy-drinking Plan-Ting cocktail mixing ting, a Jamaican soft drink, with Plantation Over Proof (OP) rum and lime.

Another soft drink plus rum cocktail combination is the Shore to Shore cocktail, featuring American root beer with Havana 3 rum and Angostura bitters, also served tall with lime.

Almost all drinks are served in faceted crystal glassware, including water and rum (neat, on the rocks or otherwise).

But not the coupe-glassed Millionaire cocktail of Appleton VX rum, house-made Lobo liqueur, sloe gin and grenadine which is served with a sour, fruity log rolled up in a miniature bank note print and pegged to the edge of the glass

Table and banquette seating
From the back bar of rums, we sampled the most uncommon Cor Cor Green Okinawan Rum from the southern Japanese island; a remarkably dry white rum with a smoky kicker at the end of each sip.

At the extreme other end of the spectrum was the Gosling's Black Seal; a dark rum with sweet caramel and vanilla tones that made it easy enough to drink neat.

Baked cheese balls with guava dipping sauce
For a small bar there’s a fairly decent menu of nibbles in addition to the complimentary fried plantain chips; best had when generously tossed in their jerk spice mix.

The food offerings are actually done by Darlinghurst's Food Society, reducing the pressures imposed on the small kitchen and allowing The Lobo Plantation team to focus purely on the drinks and the experience.

The well-priced baked cheese balls are served with the most wondrous sweet guava dipping sauce that goes deliciously with the gluten free, lightly cheesy balls.

Pork crackling rolled in spice, black pepper, garlic and vinegar side
The steamed, dried and fried chicharrón style pork rind has been seen increasingly around town, but the vinegar dipping sauce was a surprise pairing, cutting through the oil and fat of the naughty but tasty snack.

Just don't let the crackling dip in the liquid for too long, lest the crunchy, airy pork skin goes soggy.

Tamales en Cazuela
I've had one prior experience with tamales and never wanted to return. For The Lobo Plantation's tamales alone, I'll return to the bar time and time again.

They are amazing little packages of varied ingredients and flavours, possibly healthy too. Wet but crumbly polenta (not masa harina as is traditional), corn and pulled pork are steamed within a neat corn husk sheet.

The package is then topped with soft black beans and a beautifully fresh, chopped salsa of cucumber, tomato, coriander and chilli with a bit of kick in the latter. A tomato-ey sauce brings it all together with every mouthful of soft polenta highlighted by at least one of the salsa ingredients.

Although The Lobo Plantation isn't really a proper dinner destination, they round out the menu with two dessert choices. The flan is an eggy baked custard infused with Cuban rum, and it's plain spectacular.

It's doused in a caramel sauce that has the perfect edge of burnt toffee notes while the hint of coconut flavour I detected in the firm custard was just divine.

The archway on Clarence Street
I think there's a lot of capacity for more themed bars in Sydney, and with The Barber Shop on York Street (by ex Merivale group bars manager Mikey Enright) and Papa Gedes on Kent Street due to open soon, it looks like these city streets, which become awfully quiet after work hours, are set for some enlivening.

In the meantime I'm more than happy to work through the cocktail and rum menus at The Lobo Plantation, where it's sugar, rum and all things nice.

The Lobo Plantation on Urbanspoon


Jarhead said...

Those pork scratchings look very tasty, especially with the vinegar dipping sauce! Thanks for the great find :)

Lisa said...

This place looks awesome! Definitely have to go and check it out soon.

Missy Piggy said...

You know as much as I LOVE the small bar revolution in Sydney's CBD I don't think I've actually visited one...yet! I'd be tempted here more by the pork scratchings though - LOL.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

It's good to see that the snacks look good! I can't go to bars that don't have food :P

Beryl said...

Yum those pork scratchings look amazing... could do with some about now!

Amy zhong said...

i love the decor of this place, there is so much potential for small bars in sydney! hope many more are in the planning!

Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

Pork crackling! And nice touch that you can order desserts too.

Ramen Raff said...

Oh yum! Pork crackling as bar food is awesome!

Tina@foodboozeshoes said...

Hi Jarhead - No problems (and great blog concept too!)

Hi Lisa - Hope you like it too!

Hi Miss Piggy - Oh, well that definitely needs to be rectified!!! So many great places, many with interesting food options too!

Hi Lorraine - Luckily for us all, most bars have a decent nibble or two these days (even if it's just pretzels! I love pretzels...)

Hi Beryl - A great bar snack ;)

Hi Amy - So do I..! I fell for Lobo like I fell for Mr Wong the first time (as odd/risque as that sounds)

Hi Helen - Yeah, not too many bars do dessert too..!

Hi Raff - Agreed! But don't go past the tamales either - so good!


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