Where: 357 Colombo St, Sydenham.
Service: Friendly and helpful. Could be more liberal with menus.
Prices: Tap cocktail $10, bar snacks from $5.
Ambience: Moody, contemporary and sophisticated.
Cocktails and dragons
People assume I am watching episodes of the popular television show Dragon's Den when I tell them where I am headed on a Thursday evening - the Dragons Den Social Lounge.
On arrival at the new Colombo St bar, my friends and I are spared the pitching drama, but still have to work our haggling magic. The menus are particularly nice and well designed, but we are disappointed not to be given one each, leaving us haranguing staff for two more.
The cocktail bar is Christchurch chef Andrew Brown's latest venture and sits next to his brainchild Burgers & Beers. The first thing we notice are the strobes of coloured lights, which change from red to green and later blue, then the groups on stools at leggy tables, sipping equally colourful drinks.
We are here for a snack, as well as a drink, so are ushered past the fun-time tables and into a quieter annex, with ornate fireplaces and chairs with red velvet cushioning. As a few tables are reserved, we are given the tiniest table imaginable. We are all leaning and awkward, like giants at a tea party.
From the creative designer cocktail list, Daisy's cocktail is a must for me, while Nikita opts for a Red Dragon. The vanilla sake with black doris plum is a rich and sweet mix designed for sipping. Daisy's (a gin, orange syrup, basil, lemon and soda concoction) comes with a cute striped paper straw. It is refreshing, but leaves me searching for the gin. Lucy's Paled to the Slaves, with its key flavours of rum, pineapple, coconut water and banana, evokes thoughts of the beach.
When the food arrives, we are grateful we have been shifted to a larger table. The Drachen Brot platter, which is a bargain $14, consists of bread and giant pretzels, served with ramekins of bacconnaise (supposedly bacon plus mayonnaise, but it tastes like a carbonara sauce), paprika mayo and herb hummus. The doughy pretzels pair perfectly with the hummus.
Instead of potato fries, which you won't see on this menu, we get crispy polenta fries - a pleasant alternative. The Dragon Ballz are a mystery, so we order them. The vegetarian option, with its mushroom risotto-like filling, is a table favourite. Steamed pork buns appear with intrigue; we lift the basket lid and expose a doughy bun, with cucumber kimchi, jabbed with a pipette of sauce. We oblige the novelty, injecting the bun with sauce before devouring. We only wish the pipettes were bigger.
The passionfruit delice with grapefruit sorbet and lemon meringue is a winner for dessert. It is a shame to ruin the artistic presentation with spoons. When we do, the meringue lacks crunch, but the delice (mousse) is creamy and silky.
Dessert pairs well with our second round of drinks. A smooth Dragon's Den Wheat Slayer beer is served on tap and is easy drinking, while the Dark 'n' Stormy tap cocktail (rum with ginger beer and lime) is a little heavier on the palate. Mandarin Cobbler is visually stunning - fruit juice-esque, complete with inedible floral decoration.
For most of the night, we rely on the waitress's opinion and, thankfully, she has good instincts. As we leave about 10pm, DJs are setting up the evening's entertainment and the stool people are still ordering drinks. They, too, must have faith in the staff, as there is barely a menu in sight.
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