Drinks News

Four Pillars’ three-in-one gin venue opens in Sydney

A cocktail bar, a retail shop, and a space for masterclasses. The celebrated Victoria distillery has landed in the harbour city, just as lockdown restrictions ease.

Eileen's Bar, Surry Hills, Sydney.

Anson Smart (main)

As far as rough rides go, the first half of 2020 has been one of the bumpiest for chef Matt Wilkinson. His Melbourne restaurant Crofter, which garnered glowing reviews after opening, closed just four weeks later, itself a casualty of the Made Establishment group’s collapse in February. Then licensing and building delays, combined with a certain global pandemic, pushed back the grand opening of their Four Pillars Laboratory in Sydney, originally slated for February.

“It’s been a rollercoaster, but I’m not sure yet if it’s one of those ‘world’s best’ ones, or those crappy ones in north England’s Blackpool Pleasure Beach,” says the Yorkshire-born chef. (He would know. As a child, a malfunctioning safety rail caused his 11-year-old self to fall out of a pirate-ship ride.)

But things are looking up with the opening of Four Pillars’ Gin Laboratory in Surry Hills. It’s a three-in-one venue combining a gin retail shop, a “lab” for masterclasses, and a cocktail bar from the team behind the original celebrated distillery in Healesville, Victoria.

Chef Matt Wilkinson.

(Photo: Steven Woodburn)

Although social distancing restrictions have imposed caps on the number of patrons allowed in restaurants and bars, Wilkinson says now is as good a time as any to launch. At maximum capacity, cocktail bar Eileen’s (named in honour of co-founder Matt Jones’s mother) can accommodate 60 people. Current restrictions have limited this to 20, with guests required to book ahead of arrival. “Being able to open with these restrictions is quite a good time to test out things – with limited numbers, we can ease into it,” says Wilkinson.

The Four Pillars Gin Lab.

(Photo: Anson Smart)

Just before the March lockdown, Wilkinson (who also owns Melbourne’s The Pie Shop) and James Irvine (Four Pillars’ drink director) embarked on a three-day bar snack research tour of Sydney, sampling some the best in bite-sized food at Poly, 10 William St and Momofuku Seiobo. “It’s interesting to see how Sydney sees bar snacks. Melbourne’s are more canape-style, one-bite snacks, while Sydney’s are larger,” says Wilkinson.

To wit, the bar menu features bites from across the snack-size scale. Most, too, contain elements of gin or botanicals leftover from the Four Pillars production line. See the salt and gin-vinegar chips, the seasoning rendered from dehydrated gin botanicals; plump anchovies, sprinkled with gin-salt, on a sliced baguette with Pepe Saya butter; and whipped taramasalata with focaccia and smoked Atlantic Salmon caviar – the cured fish eggs are rinsed with Four Pillars’ Rare Dry Gin, then smoked with pellets made from compressed iron bark and gin botanicals.

The mortadella and mozzarella jaffle with the Mini Snapper cocktail.

(Photo: Steven Woodburn)

On the more substantial end of the menu, there’s a serve of steak-and-pepper party pies, inspired by those served during late, heady nights at The Melbourne Supper Club in the early 2000s; and a jaffle. The filling will change every month, though the début iteration comes stuffed with smoked mozzarella, free-range mortadella from Pino’s Dolce Vita Fine Foods and a black-olive salsa, with bread-and-butter pickles on the side. “It’s a great late-night snack,” says Wilkinson. “It’s a stoner’s delight of a jaffle, I reckon.”

This is after all, a bar, and a gin bar at that. The winter drinks menu includes a paddle of mini-G&Ts, a spiced Negroni, and – Wilkinson’s favourite – the Purple Yamos cocktail, all shook up with shiraz gin, ube whey (a “milk” derived from ube, a purple yam), egg whites, lemon and ruby grapefruit. “It looks like a strawberry milkshake in a glass, and it’s so bloody good.”

The Four Pillars Gin Shop.

(Photo: Anson Smart)

Entry to Eileen’s Bar is via a door on the corner of Fitzroy and Crown Street, marked by the Four Pillars “four dots” logo. The Gin Lab, accessed via Crown Street, holds gin masterclasses for groups, and also serves drinks, cocktails and snacks to walk-in customers. The ground-floor retail space sells Four Pillars’ full spirits range, merchandise and food products from its Made from Gin range.

For Wilkinson, the first six months may have been a bumpy ride in, but there’s a lot to show for the final destination.

Four Pillars Laboratory, 406-410 Crown St, Surry Hills, NSW, (02) 9062 8430, www.fourpillarsgin.com

Opening hours

Gin Shop: Mon-Sun, 10am-6pm

Gin Lab: Mon-Sun, noon-6pm

Eileen’s Bar: Wed-Sat, 5pm-midnight. While social distancing restrictions remain in place, bookings are essential.

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