A Melbourne based writer who is a travel junkie, dedicated foodie and emerging photographer.
Published October 29th 2018
Clooney kicks cocktail goals in busy Bay Street
Open just six weeks, Clooney Kitchen and Bar is quickly establishing itself as a stand out cocktail bar. Clooney offers innovative cocktails, as well as mainstream favourites, made with expert care by experienced barmen Will Crennan (also co-owner of Clooney) and Shannon McFarland.
It's an interesting experience just walking into Clooney. The owners have taken a decision to have the entrance via a laneway, rather than through the main doors which front bustling Bay Street. The reason is a practical one, as I learn from Will; the wind whips through when the front doors are open, creating an unpleasant experience for those seated at the bar. Walking through a gate and past the toilets and the 'engine room' of Clooney is not the way to get the best first impression of this venue, however, once inside, it's a different story. 'Plush' is the word that comes to mind, as we're shown to our booth at the front of the bar, with its red velvet covered seats.
The plush decor inside Clooney Kitchen and Bar. (Image credit: Kevin Li.)
Sitting in Clooney feels to me like being in a small, exclusive club, so it's no surprise to learn the inspiration was a Prohibition-era speakeasy. The name 'Clooney' comes not from the actor, but his aunt, the 1950s American jazz singer, Rosemary Clooney, whose portrait adorns the wall.
Bar tender Shannon McFarland shows his skills
But to business and Shannon asks what cocktails (from the extensive drinks menu) we'd like to try. We (partner David and I) are fans of a good martini and mention this. So we are given a 'Shannon special' martini, and a 'Will special' martini - the former a vodka-based drink garnished with a pickled onion, the latter gin-based, enhanced with a hint of pastis, an aniseed-flavoured liqueur. While it would be difficult to steer me away from a traditional dry martini, it was interesting to try another take on this classic.
Turning our attention to the menu, created by head chef Leigh Stanic, it was clear that the creativity isn't confined to the cocktail menu. While it's not an extensive menu, it was nevertheless difficult to choose what to order, as it all sounded so interesting and tasty. Clooney is targeting an under-developed section of the market, and that is, pairing food with cocktails. It offers a four-course cocktail and food matched degustation menu (choice of four food/cocktail combinations for $100, $120 with dessert), which would be a great special occasion treat!
NYC Clover Club cocktail. (Image credit: Kevin Li.)
While waiting for our food to arrive, Will offered to whip up another round of cocktails. This time he suggested something 'lighter and fruitier' for me, and I ended up with the NYC Clover Club, with gin, raspberry and lemon, "served fluffy". Tasting more like a fruit smoothie than a cocktail, I loved this drink! In the cocktail/food matching menu, it's paired with the salmon crudo (served with Davidson plum, cherries and beetroot), but it worked well with our dishes.
Chicken liver cannoli
From the menu, we selected Peking duck terrine (with duck skin crackling, green onion and apple) ($16), and chicken liver cannoli with Iranian fig vincotto ($13 for two pieces). Both were impeccably presented. The cannoli arrived in a square ceramic box, the lid removed with a flourish when it was served to our table. Biting into the cannoli, we found the pastry to be light and crunchy, the pate rich and flavoursome. It worked well with the sweetness provided by the fig.
Peking duck terrine
The photo doesn't do justice to the duck terrine, which is served wrapped in finely sliced cucumber and sprinkled with herbs and green onion. The terrine was full of succulent pieces of duck meat and packed with flavour. A big fan of duck-based dishes, I was in heaven with this one.
While it is essentially a grazing menu, if you wanted a more substantial dish, there are a couple that sound promising. For example, there is the Wagyu bresaola (with mushroom consommé, charred shallot and pickled radish) ($12 each), or the smoked BBQ pig cheek ($14).
While there's emphasis on cocktails, Clooney also has on its drinks list a wine selection which includes French, Italian and Australian varieties, and Italian and local craft beers.
I recommend Clooney for a visit. Let Shannon or Will surprise you with a cocktail, or go for the matched food/cocktail pairing for something a bit different.
Clooney Kitchen and Bar is located at 171 Bay Street, Port Melbourne. Clooney is open from 4pm until midnight on Tuesday and Wednesday, and 4pm until 1am on Thursday - Saturday (closed Sunday, Monday). There's not currently a way of making online table reservations, but you could call on (03) 9645 1568 if you wanted to book.
Except where indicated, the images in this article were taken by the writer.