Located within a basement in the heart of King Street, lies the king of whiskey venues , ironically named Varnish on King. This dimly lit basement saloon exudes charm with exposed red bricks, vintage frames on the walls and an incredible array of liquors on display reminding me of a somewhat underground prohibition bar. Varnish is home to Perth’s most extensive range of whiskeys, bourbons and ryes which can be a bit overwhelming to choose from, however the staff are incredibly knowledgeable in this department so if you are undecided or don’t know where to start…no problems, the staff will lead you in the right direction!
To showcase their mastery not only do they have whiskeys from different regions (Kentucky, Tennessee, Canada, Oregon, Vermont, Indiana, New York and international whiskeys) but their famous Whiskey Bacon flight is an absolute must…yes I said whiskey and bacon! For $42 you can experience the unique pairing of 4 styles of pork with 4 whiskeys. House smoked hickory: Bulleit Bourbon, Pancetta: Woodford Reserve Rye, Dark molasses and vanilla infused belly bacon: Pike Creek Double Barrel Port Finish and Smoky BBQ streaky bacon: George Dickel No. 12 Tennessee Whiskey. If you are not a whiskey fan however, Varnish has still got you covered offering their Rosé Bacon Flight, paired with 4 rosés including: Sheerah ’18- Mclaren Vale, SA , Clementine ’17- Cote de Provence, France, Petal & Stem ’18- Marlborough, NZ and Ata Rangi ’16- Martinborough, NZ. When I went to Varnish last, we thought it was best to finish dessert with the rosé flight to end the night on a sweeter note. All the bacon is so perfectly flavoured and cured, my favourite was the house smoked hickory and the dark molasses, vanilla-infused bacon as the sweet and smokey flavours together went exceptionally well with the rosés.
Varnish cocktails are a must of course. All the bartenders are so passionate and knowledgeable about whiskeys but can also recommend which cocktail will fit best for you. I remember the first time I went to Varnish I didn’t know much about whiskey, but the bartender was so friendly and helpful with choosing the right one for me that I was pleasantly surprised. I told him I was a Fireball whiskey fan and he was kind enough to offer me some of his own homemade brew that was slightly cheaper and delicious as hell, which also had those spiced orange cinnamon notes. The bartenders also curate the cocktails at Varnish, many of them being very odd or quirky flavours on the ‘Not so Classic’ range that you would not usually see anywhere in Perth. I thought I would give some of these a shot and I’m so glad I did! Beginning with the ‘Beetroot Yourself’ and the ‘Oh Bee-Hive’, this home-made beetroot shrub cocktail was surprisingly delicious and probably my favourite cocktail of all. Garnished with fire-lit rosemary, this cocktail had such an unusually sweet yet slightly sour aftertaste. The bartender was kind enough to let me taste a swig of their homemade beetroot shrub by itself, and it had this bittersweet thick taste that was absolutely delicious. On the other hand, the ‘Oh Bee-Hive’ tastes exactly as it is describe; a sweet honey cocktail. With Buffalo Trace Bourbon, lemon and home-made honey ginger syrup, this short-style drink is garnished with a sliced cucumber and ginger jube.
The next round of drinks we moved onto were the ‘Ace High’ and ‘Rye of the Tai-Gurr’. The ‘Ace High’ was a Wild Turkey Rye, barrel-aged Chartreuse blend with Apricot Brandy, mint and lime. The Apricot Brandy was particularly outstanding in this lime coloured drink and I would definitely recommend this cocktail to the sweet drinkers (it goes down like lolly water). The ‘Rye of the Tai-Gurr’ consists of house spiced Bulleit Rye, pineapple shrub, earl grey syrup, lemon and Angostura Bitters. Packed with so many flavours, the sweetness of the pineapple and the boldness of the earl grey balances this drink perfectly. The razzle dazzle of the drink however, comes from its garnishes of crushed ice, candied orange and a fire-burning cinnamon stick that infuses the drink (and makes a killer photo).
Varnish has many statement dishes on their menu so we began with the bread: rye, seeded and cornbread with nacho cheese. With the choice of 3 dips (nacho cheese, whipped tarama, white bean) our nacho dip came with an olive and majo verde which melted both on the bread and in your mouth as soon as you consume it. The bread came with 3 seasonings to garnish: Himalayan salt, ground pepper and celery salt. It took all my strength not to eat the entire bowl of bread as I had to keep my stomach ready for the meals to come… A 350g Southern Range platinum yearling prime beef sirloin. Aged for 2 weeks and dry aged for 12 days, this beef was cooked to perfection. Sprayed with Bulleit whiskey every morning and served with Cafe de Paris butter and mustard, the meat was an infused sensation. The other main was a sensational beef short rib with a thick brown sauce that just melted in your mouth as soon as consumed. For the sides, we ordered the Wagyu fat washed potatoes (which I would highly recommend as the Wagyu fat makes them super crispy) and the Asparagus garnished with hazelnuts and burnt butter. These sides complimented the beef perfectly and will leave you feeling as full as ever.
Overall, I absolutely love Varnish and what it has to offer. The infusion of whiskey into cocktails, particularly their sweet cocktails is an incredible experience for a whiskey or a non-whiskey lover. Their hearty food is perfect for a lunch/dinner meal for a catch up over a few glasses of Bulleit whiskey. For an even more truly unique experience, Varnish offers their whiskey 101 Masterclass on the first Monday of every month which offers you the knowledge of American whiskey history, its productions, trends and of course… samples!