When a chook shop has a burlesque night have we reached peak burlesque saturation in Sydney? This question was on my mind when I accepted an invitation to preview The Birdcage, a new dinner and burlesque cabaret show at Whirly Bird in Pyrmont.
Kicking off this Saturday evening (14 April), The Birdcage is intended to be a weekly affair. It will delivers you dinner (a three-course meal) and a show, for just shy of $90, with your spend including a welcoming flute of Mumm 'Grand Cordon' Champagne (normally $18/glass) to get you in the mood for titillation.
If this is your first burlesque adventure, and you feel the need for more lubrication, you’ll find The Birdcage bar in full cocktail-making operation.
They’ve got a short list of burlesque inspired drinks, like Shaken & Fun ($18) a gin, grapefruit, peach and bubbles combination that wasn’t my thing; and a more complex Stirred & Serious ($18) affair of gin, Champagne and dill reduction, Suze Gentian and grapefruit bitters, that I enjoyed. You can also order from Whirly Bird’s regular list – my go-to is Frank’s Wild Years ($18) a smokin’ blend of Scotch and Suze Gentian with ruby grapefruit. I tried to like Dusty in Memphis ($18), which sees rye, Cocchi Americano and lemon mingle with beetroot Fanta Tang, but despite the burlesque-appropriate deep magenta hue, and my own propensity for weird cocktails, the bafflingly salty drink was a bridge too far.
With the 1920s Great Gatsby-style theming to the night, I was surprised the bar ignored the obvious classics, like the French 75, Mint Julep and South Side. You can however opt for a pre-Prohibition era drink in the form of the House Martini ($18). With the house pour – Tanqueray gin - and thyme-infused vermouth, it’s an easy-drinker, though for once, I’m going to say the Ketel One Vodkatini ($18) was better.
Sufficiently lubricated, I finally take a good look around. For a chicken restaurant, Whirly Bird scrubs up a surprisingly well as a cabaret club.
The night is actually a strange collision of worlds for me, as I’ve booked burlesque acts for over two decades in my own monthly club night, The Sydney Hellfire Club.
Former-showgirl, dance choreographer and “showgirl fairy godmother”, Wendy Brown has put together the show via her company WB Productions. Wendy is best known for putting on larger scale shows in suburban clubs, like Marrickville RSL's topless review, Canterbury Leagues, Bankstown Sports and Revesby Workers.
From her performers, including hostess Robyn Loau, you get a lot of spinning, singing and sequins for your spend.
Wendy has pitched her show directly at mainstream audiences, using popular (though not era specific) numbers like Chita Rivera’s All That Jazz, and Carmen Miranda’s earworm, I, Yi, Yi, Yi, Yi (I Like You Very Much).
By and large the show is light-hearted, upbeat and coy, bar from an out-of-place chair dance by Ivy Mystique that broke away from the coquettish charm of classic burlesque.
From the two star acts – Porcelain Alice and Diesel Darling – you get a real glimpse of what Sydney burlesque is capable of. The featured performers, who are both responsible for their own spectacular costumes (a cut above those of Brown’s showgirls), both work the audience with nuance and sophistication.
Alabaster-skinned Porcelain Alice outdoes Dita Von Teese in a spectacular pale pink sequined outfit, complete with flouncy ostrich feather hat, undulating fans, and an air of lip-curling contempt that's quite compelling; before returning to the stage later in the evening with a serpentine reptile.
Similarly, Diesel Darling does a beautifully costumed, classy number with well-placed fringing and light up wings to showcase her strength and powerful allure.
In between sets you’re served a meal in three stages. The shared entrée platter featuring mozzarella and saffron arancini, treacle-cured salmon, salumi and antipasti, duck liver parfait and crushed edamame and jalapeno guacamole with tostada chips; is generous, if incoherent. Some platter elements, like the grey, oxidised parfait, would benefit visually and texturally from being pulled out of refrigeration later, though it still ate well with date relish, smeared onto lavosh crackers.
The kitchen missed some obvious puns by moving away from their do you prefer breast or thigh, poultry stomping ground.
That’s not to say the apple and fennel-stuffed pork and the well-rendered slow-roast duck leg weren’t tasty.
Both ate well against chilled green bean salad, with fennel, hazelnut and tarragon; roast carrots with pomegranate, pistachio and mint yoghurt; and duck fat-roasted potatoes with Parmesan and thyme that would have been excellent if they were hot.
While non-heated plates were a problem during my visit, because I’ve already dined here, I’m inclined to say they likely won’t be when you visit, as this was the restaurant’s first whole-of-restaurant gig.
Do remember that this isn’t Whirly Bird food, but banquet food, so if you’re keen on really seeing what this restaurant can do, The Birdcage isn’t the night to come.
With the decimation of Oxford Street from the Liberal Lockout Laws, the advantage this spot has over similar offerings at Slide, is better food, and the opportunity to kick on at The Star afterwards if gambling and drinking is your thing.
Oh and don’t fret a “bad” table, the show roves all over the dining room.
Before you cringe, the audience participation is quite minimal, bar from my dining companion having tequila free-poured down his throat.
Nothing the performers did required anyone to leave their seat - and after all the cocktails you will undoubtedly consume, that's probably safest. Plan to arrive and leave with Uber, because even the concluding banana semifreddo hides a little rum kick.
84 Union Street, Pyrmont
Ph: (02) 9660 7134