Australia's best kept secret? (Fidel's)

Fidel's in Melbourne is giving Australia's finest city a taste of true luxury – but don't tell anybody. Naren Young reports
By Naren Young
The Macallan 1946 at $210 a pop. Mmm, nice. The Glenfarclas 40 year old at $352 a nip. Things are getting serious. The Glenfiddich 50 year for $495. Wow! The Glenffidich 1937 – yet to be priced, but while still waiting for further offers, is estimated at between $20,000 and $30,000AUD for the bottle.Okay, now you have my attention. Welcome to Fidel’s, the eponymous and widely lauded cigar lounge tucked away inside Melbourne’s Crown casino complex.The irony with Fidel’s, however, lies in the fact that despite this range of super deluxe hooch, which you’d imagine would attract publicity and patrons alike, the place is still an inconspicuous destination for the bon vivant in a city renowned for its saturation of bars. And therein lies the intrinsic beauty and attraction of Fidel’s – that it is still a hidden secret, even to the locals.And I suspect this is exactly the way the staff like it and ensures that their loyal throng of regulars continue to come back to a place where they know they’ll always be guaranteed a seat, a well made drink sipped from fine glassware, and the server will probably know their name.Comfort here is paramount, with huge leather sofas and ottomans providing seating in the main room, complementing the private rooms down the back. But more than that later. Needless to say Fidel’s is not the kind of place you’ll ever see people queuing up outside or propping up the bar.In fact there is no bar. Don’t fret. There is a bar, but sadly it’s hidden behind a wall adorned with liquid delights such as Remy Martin’s Louis XIII, Hennessy Private Reserve, Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia and Patron Anejo tequilas. So while the theatre of bartending is obsolete, your drinks do appear from nowhere... like magic.And for the whisky lover, what magic it is. It may not have the biggest range in Australia (although it goes bloody close), but it certainly has the best and most diverse. With 84 whiskies from around the globe on their drinks list, the category is certainly no afterthought.Listed in alphabetical order, more than half that number is dedicated to the single malts of Scotland, ranging from the hard to find Islays, to nine varieties of Glenfarclas via the full portfolio of Glenfiddich.With such an imposing range – and with a lack of any sort of tasting notes – you’d hope the staff knew their products. Being more of a cocktail man, I ordered a Manhattan rocks and a Glenfiddich ‘essential serve’ – the 12 year old stirred over ice and teased with vanilla liqueur. Consequently I never had the chance to test their expertise but the drinks were superb.But I will say this. The staff were very attentive, polite and through my uncanny knack of eavesdropping on other tables, they seemed to know their stuff. And judging by the connoisseurs sinking constantly further into the leather lounges, customers don’t seem to need any more educating or advice on their dram of choice.In fact most are probably regulars and have their own stash kept under lock and key in temperature controlled ‘keeps’ – personal liquor cabinets that are hired by customers who, more often than not, use the service as a way of entertaining and impressing clients. There are 42 beverageonly keeps and 21 combined beverage/cigar keeps that also have in-built humidifiers. It’s a lovely touch that gives the place an extra air of style and exclusivity.As mentioned, Glenfiddich have a significant presence here with their Fine & Rare Collection taking pride of place at the front of the menu – with detailed tasting notes and the 1937 proudly displayed in its own glass cabinet.There are also six simple ‘essential serves’ – cocktails that are only slightly bastardised with flavours that still highlight the subtle nuances in the 12 year old. Each one also has a cigar match, a nice, if expected, touch.My Manhattan was delicious although I wasn’t asked which whisky I’d prefer. Only when the drink was presented was I informed that it was Canadian Club, a drop too light to be used in such a sublime drink. Yet bartenders still persist in using it as the ubiquitous choice. Well they do down-under. This is an even stranger choice when you’ve got the likes of Basil Hayden, Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve – as they do here – that make much nicer heroes in the drink.The waiter also asks presumptuously – as I notice they do with everyone – if I’d like a cigar. I politely decline (only because I don’t smoke) but it’s divine moments like this that I wish I did. Either way it’s impossible not to be impressed by a cigar list that would rival most bars on the planet. Nicaraguans, Dominicans and a plethora of Cubans will appease any palate or level of experience. Staff definitely know their stogies and approach the serving of each one with a certain degree of theatre and dexterity.If there is a bar in Melbourne that is totally conducive to kicking back and enjoying some of the finest spirits – especially whiskies – in the world, then Fidel’s is it.Quiet contemplation, soothing libations and the steadily rising cloud of cigar smoke filling the room – while the mayhem of the casino outside might as well be in another country – are just some of the luxurious things to look forward to. FIDEL’S CIGAR LOUNGE
Crown Casino, Lower Level,
8 Whiteman Street, Southbank,
Tel: +61 3 9292 6885 GREAT WHISKY BAR AWARDSThe Great Whisky Bars of the World award was introduced by us at the start of the year. Each bar receives a certificate to display in it bar.The latest inductees are:
Altera Venizelou 81, Thessaloniki, Greece
Distiller, Thessaloniki, Greece
Fidel’s Cigar Lounge, Melbourne, Australia
Hotel Skansen, Farjestaden, Oland, Sweden
Mandragoras Mitropoleos, Thessaloniki, Greece
Road Hole Bar, Old Course Hotel, St Andrews, Scotland
Vincent Kalamaria, Thessaloniki, Greece