On Saturday the 1st of December the National Gallery of Victoria rolled out the red carpet for its second annual NGV Gala. The gala coincided with the opening of the Escher X nendo| Between Two Worlds exhibition in a masterful collaboration of spatial manipulation and optical illusion between artist and design studio.
Cocktail hour was hosted by The Bar at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal in collaboration with the NGV. Our world-class bar team developed, prepped, presented and served a selection of cocktails that represented Dinner’s culinary identity and cooking technology. The drinks were also inspired by the featured Escher and nendo exhibition.
M.C. Escher was a Dutch artist who throughout the 1900s worked as a printmaker creating some of the most celebrated prints of the twentieth century. After an initial period focusing on nature and landscapes he turned to introspection. He began producing ingenious optical illusions and tessellations that played with spatial manipulation. At first they were only taken seriously by mathematicians and scientists, but by the late 1960s Escher’s work had become widely popular, particularly with the counterculture movement.
When approaching the design for this collaboration, nendo made a conscious choice to look for inspiration in Escher’s world to create new work for the exhibition. Our bar team followed suit and incorporated all of these themes as well as inspiration from the gala event itself into the development of the drinks Dinner presented at the NGV Gala:
Olive Leaf Martini (c.1930): gin, dry vermouth, olive leaf. The Olive Leaf Martini is a clean, elegant twist on a martini. It's essentially a dry, wet and dirty martini all rolled into one; complex and beautifully balanced. Martinis are often associated with fine suits and formal events, tying in perfectly with the gala.
Chamomile Martinez (c. 1890): gin, sweet vermouth, Maraschino, chamomile. Widely believed to have preceded the Martini and evolved from the Manhattan, the Martinez is thought to have emerged in the late 1860s. The drink is significantly darker than a clear Martini, so the contrast between light and dark was our nod to the monochromatic nendo installations.
Strawberry Milk Punch (c.1860): gin, wild strawberry, clarified milk, vanilla, Suze. We developed this drink for the event for two reasons. Firstly, punch-style cocktails were often used in halls for banquets and were a means to cater to large groups of people. Also, Escher is renowned for being a master of optical illusion- something that the milk punch also suggests. The liquid in the glass is not what it seems, an almost crystal-clear liquid with unexpected depths of flavour and rounded texture.
This same attention to detail also went into the design of Dinner’s bar at the gala. It was important for our bar team to have a similar set up and layout as in the restaurant, down to details like coasters and printed menus. This would enable them to replicate the flow of service and maintain the same quality for such a large group of guests. Freezers to chill glassware to -10°C, fridges and equipment were all at arm’s reach to ensure the flow of service wouldn’t be broken.
Not only was the layout similar to Dinner but also the elements of design. The brass letters for the huge Dinner logos in the lounge area and to the side of the bar were die-cut especially for the evening. The dark bar with the dark bench top with the slightly sunken bar area emulated Dinner perfectly. There were even velvet chairs to match the ones in the restaurant and pineapples were brought into the floral arrangements mirroring Dinner’s pineapple spit.
Soon after the event we caught up with our two Assistant Bar Managers, Greg Thompson and George Cook, who did the development, prep work and bar tending at the event.
“We loved the fact that there was a collective of so many creative minds under one roof. Collaborating with such an amazing institution (NGV) of like-minded, passionate people was a fantastic opportunity for us and for Dinner. Everyone there understood us and what we needed for the event as they we just as exacting themselves. They were accommodating and understanding of our intricacies to the end of upholding standards. Nothing was an afterthought.
As soon as the prep was done, we both had a stress-free, confident feeling that all would go well as the setup was so flawless. It felt like home; like we were inviting people into our space. It was an honour for us to be able to open the doors and welcome people in."
- Greg Thompson
“To be doing what we do at Dinner in such a totally different environment but to the same standards was so rewarding. Our routine is so well drilled and we are so well coordinated amongst ourselves that moments when we got super busy were a lot of fun. We were each working on our own station but whenever any of us saw the other had a row of six or eight drinks in front of them we would jump in to help them out; falling into the normal sync of service as it would be in the restaurant.
The design of the bar and how every minute aspect tied in with the event, the installation, and the art was stunning. It’s amazing how everyone there worked so tirelessly and with such attention to detail.”
– George Cook