Friday, October 4, 2013

Little Elephants, Cocktails and Baring One's Soul....

For many years  bars and their tenders have been known as places to go, to let it out, have a drink or two and get the advice of the all-knowing and all-hearing bar person. Cheers certainly comes to mind as that iconic bar. When it's time for a chat or advice or support, I often find myself at a favourite local watering hole with someone who I trust to "hash it out" and find a space that leaves me further ahead than when I walked in. Such was the case recently. As I have written, lots has been swirling in my head of late precipitated by all sorts of events happening in my life. Writing here has helped, but seeking the advice of good friends always brings some clarity too.

A new place has opened in Victoria, Little Jumbo. It is the creation of Shawn Soole of Clives in the Chateau Victoria fame. Soole has spearheaded the cocktail movement in Victoria singlehandedly and given rise to the greater awareness and variety that now exists in town. He recently published a book on the cocktail culture to go hand in hand with his new bar venture. So armed with much to talk about and with a friend to listen and proffer up advice, it was time to check out Little Jumbo.

The bar is located down a hallway off of Fort Street close to the Keg restaurant. Hopefully it's obscuredness from the street will not mean people pass it up. When you enter, you feel like you have been transformed into a city anywhere, New York perhaps with a great bar, walls of liquors and just that perfect lighting. There is a din in the room that just speaks to groups of people chatting, giving advice, getting advice, enjoying each others company and plainly having a great time. The greeting at the door is warm and friendly, helped by the fact that Monica, whose broad smile helps to light up the room is a friend from the local crossfit gym. She is ready to seat us when Shawn Soole himself wanders up to the front and says hello. His Aussie accent is endearing and he makes you feel welcome as if you were coming to his house. He is excited about the wines he has on enomatic (there are four that rotate consistently) and quickly launches into how good they are. You can see that he is as excited about this side of things as he is about the cocktails Little Jumbo creates so adeptly.

The menu is varied and interesting. The key being that the prices are reasonable both for food and for alcohol. The bar is awash with action, but not intrusively so.I get down to talking about what is going on in my life and waiting to hear the advice. Some of it, I know is coming and I am ready for, some of it, I know is coming and do not want to hear, but all of it feels right for discussion at the bar!

The duck fat frites arrive with homemade ketchup and aioli. They are crisp and decadently yummy - I judge a restaurant, fairly or not, by its frites, a simple dish, but a deal breaker for me. So far - two thumbs up.
The winelist that Soole has compiled is varied, interesting, reasonable and offers everyone something to choose from. I am lucky to get a taste of the '99 Chianti on enomatic and then another beauty from Lebanon.  I opt for a glass of the Terravista Fandango - not to be found too often in Victoria at restaurants and settle back into the conversation. My friend had a Paulo Cohelo (?) - its frothee pinkness providing a great visual in the cocktail glass.

Soole checks back in - everything OK - as if he has been in the kitchen cooking up our food and just wanted to ensure he was doing a good job. You could be at his house as much as you are sitting at his bar. The bartenders play off each other well and are not afraid to ask each other questions or to simply play tag team with our orders. We opt for more food, this time the grilled kale and the gnocchi. I have always been a fan of Orofino winery and so go for the Gamay Noir next - it is fabulous!

The food arrives on one platter rather than two, well done barmen on the ordering and kitchen on the plating!
The gnocchi are pillowy and buttery while the kale has a fabulous spicy sweet sauce. It accents the wine well. More chatter, more advice, this time a bit hard to take, but necessary. Why is it that some of the more important things in life cannot be just a little easier?

The fun part of the evening was letting the bartenders know that there was a cocktail party happening later in the week where each guest had been assigned a particular bottle of alcohol to make cocktails from. All of a sudden cocktails were being thought of, created and offered for tasting. Clearly the bar staff were having fun and were pleased to challenge their minds in coming up with something unique - fun, interesting and playful. Certainly not necessary, or expected, but appreciated tremendously!

The "show" made the conversation, as tough as parts of it were, far more easy to swallow. The hospitality and friendliness made it a place to return to for future conversations. The variety means that no matter who I come with, there will be something to choose from.

As much as the name and the stir sticks are Little Jumbo, truly this is "Shawn's Place", he has made it his own and very successfully. Definitely worth a visit and then another...well at least that is my advice!

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