Cocktails and tapas by the book
Upstairs, 53 Courtenay Place
Ph: 382 8593
Open 7 nights
Price range of savoury dishes: $6-$19
Cost: $99 for two (excluding drinks)
As Anthony Powell famously wrote, books do furnish a room.
And very cheaply too, I might add. Since the modern world is awash with unread, unreadable books, they can now be bought at church fairs practically by the tonne.
Little wonder then, that some bright spark has put them to good use as construction material: at The Library, row upon row of books prop up the maze of rooms that comprises Courtenay Place's coolest bar.
So cool that on some weekend nights punters are prepared to join a queue out the door for 30 minutes just to get in.
Thanks to its solid lining of tomes, The Library's roomy main bar effortlessly captures the atmosphere of an English country house, all the more because in shape it very nearly forms the ideal double cube of Georgian architecture.
As in the chambers of some bibliomaniacal professor, there are stacks of books everywhere. Beneath the bar and in obscure corners, works of pulp fiction have been tossed into untidy piles, their covers warping and bending nicely in anticipation of their future use as fire starters - a fitting end, given that they were a waste of forest products to begin with.
Having come ahead of my pack, I let them know about the 7.30pm table booking for Eva and settled into a stool at the bar for a cocktail.
The week previously I'd chanced upon The Library's two-for-one cocktail deal, so I was already acquainted with their list. However, pleasant though my peach mule had been, I wasn't now in the mood for something girly.
Challenged to come up with a masculine whiskey-based cocktail (something missing from their list), the bartender muddled some cucumber and mixed in some lemon, which had the curious effect of accentuating the smokiness of the single malt. The creation, I was told, had yet to be named.
But enough experimentation: time to examine my mixologist's knowledge of the classics. I'm not sure what he might have made of my friend's intention to drink Freddy Fudpuckers ("Freddy Pudfocker? That's a bit before my time") but he certainly understood (indeed approved of) my request for a Negroni: one part gin, one part vermouth, one part Campari, over ice. After all, wasn't James Bond known to drink these when he wasn't having a martini?
When Eva arrived, it appeared the staff had not set aside couches in one of the side rooms for eight people, as she had been promised when she had phoned to make a booking three days previously.
First we were given a booth, which wasn't big enough, and which left me standing awkwardly at the end.
Then we were reassigned part of a banquette. Just as we were squeezing ourselves in, the couple next to us conveniently upped and left, much to everyone's relief. Sorted.
While the Library clearly isn't a restaurant as such, it has a 27-strong tapas menu extending well beyond deep-fried bar snacks.
Manuka-smoked salmon was neatly laid out in wafer-thin slices, enough to line a small platter, with caper berries and mayonnaise subtly spiked with horseradish.
Chicken liver pate was topped with port wine jelly, as current fashion dictates, its richness offset with pickled onions and salty little cornichons (French gherkins).
Library fries were merely OK, but parmesan and herb pastry straws were hot from the oven - big, chunky and tasty.
Served with slices of good sourdough, French farmers terrine was suitably dense and porky. Curious to know what else might be in it, I scanned the shelves above for Jane Grigson's classic, Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery (London: Michael Joseph, 1967).
ONE THING YOU SHOULD TRY
Chocolate truffle tart
Perhaps because many cocktails sit comfortably with the sweetness of desserts, The Library's menu begins with a section headed "Sweet". All the old faves were here - creme brulee, warm chocolate fondant, sticky date pudding - and all were to our satisfaction. But the standout was chocolate truffle tart, with its creative rearrangement of several famously complementary accompaniments: raspberry sorbet, kirsch pannacotta and dark cherry compote.
The Dominion Post