I know that when I walk down down a deserted alley, head up a set of dimly lit stairs lined with intricate photo frames and find myself at the doorway of a dark bar with jazz music, candle lit tables and a balcony onto Swanston St, I know I’ve stumbled on something good. I first ventured to Cabinet Bar and Balcony over three years ago, only because a friend’s boyfriends older brother had been recently employed there. Since then, the secret has leaked and what was once a quiet, exclusive and hidden gem is now bustling with people and overflowing with life. Never fear, the newfound popularity has only done the place wonders and the quality is as good as ever, if not better.
The location is prime. Rainbow Alley juts off Little Collins St and you’re smack bang in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD. My most recent visit was a Tuesday, and I was quick to make the most of all day happy hour. $5 house wines and $3 draft beers: the student’s dream. If your tastes are more refined, the large blackboards display an extensive wine and cocktail list. It was not my drink of choice on this night, but the Michelle’s Moment cocktail (named after a bartender and a signature at cabinet) is my ultimate favourite.
The bar menu at Cabinet is small but satisfying. Lamb shanks, gourmet toasties and cheese platters all feature. I opted for a bowl of the eggplant chips, recommended to me on my first visit all those years ago. I’ve never looked back and a trip to Cabinet isn’t complete without them. They’re served hot, I mean really hot, so try to wait a minute before digging in. The crunchy fried breadcrumbs contrast the fleshy roasted eggplant, the chips are thick sliced and the aioli has the perfect amount of tang. What’s even better? You can justify eating chips because the basic ingredient is a vegetable. That’s what I tell myself anyway.
On top of the bar finger food, Cabinet is (or at least should be) famous for its flatbreads. They come served on a wooden board and have a pita bread base. The topping options are sophisticated and my choice (duck with blue cheese, mushrooms, spinach and a plum sauce) set sweet with salty and the textures were divine. The four other combinations are just as tempting and, I can say from experience, just as tasty.
I’ve always thought of Cabinet as a great place to catch up with old friends in Winter with a glass of red wine, or the best way to make a good impression on a first date. The food is good, the drinks are better, it’s easily accessible, it’s warm, it’s comfortable and it’s relaxed. Despite being full, the service was superb and the food served quickly. Cabinet was one of Melbourne’s best kept secrets, but now I’d just call it one of Melbourne’s best bars.
Cabinet Bar & Balcony
11 Rainbow Alley
(03) 9654 0915