1 September 2023

Five minutes with Ricky Liau, Alcove

| Claire Sams
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man surrounded by kitchen items in a restaurant

Ricky Liau in the middle of food and drink prep for another night at Alcove. Photo: Claire Sams.

Who are you?

I’m Ricky Liau, owner, chef and bartender at Alcove.

What is Alcove?

Alcove is about the merging of food and drinks, so we specialise in pairing. At the end of the day, we are a cocktail bar, but we do have an amazing food and dining program.

Traditionally, pairings are done with wines. A couple of years ago, we had an epiphany: if the food was from scratch, which is custom, then you could find a drink to pair with it. So, at Alcove, we develop the cocktails and the food together to really showcase what combined flavours can be and to enhance the experience.

cocktail on marble table

For Ricky, the food and drink we consume can be matched carefully to reflect the best flavours of both – just like completing a puzzle. Photo: Alcove/Facebook.

What does your day-to-day look like?

It’s quite long hours, but usually the day starts with getting the stock. Most of our stock is fresh and we get it daily, depending on what is going on that night.

We then start prepping. We do food prep first, which tends to start around 10 am and goes until 3 pm-ish. It is then drinks prep. We open at 5 pm and work until later that night. We end up going home around 1 am to 2 pm. It’s just rinse and repeat.

How did you get involved in the hospitality industry?

When I was at uni, I became an events manager and became a bartender. I eventually got scouted and moved back to Asia for six years and worked as a consultant in Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taiwan and other places. When I came to Australia, I stayed in Melbourne for a couple of years and then an opportunity came up in Canberra.

It’s really the people that got me interested in hospitality. My job is to put a smile on your face, and the food and cocktails are just a tool that I use. It’s really people that I’m passionate about – but also the fun things of the techniques, the ideas behind the food.

What are the top menu items that really show what Alcove can do?

The first one would definitely be the tomato cocktail paired with a savoury custard; that’s the first permanent item that we decided to include on the menu. Another is the deconstructed pumpkin pie dessert with the orange chai wine. It’s a little bit of a winter-style dish, where you have the sweet spice from the dessert and then you’re almost tasting pumpkin in the orange wine. We also do a savoury macaron with a jalapeño meringue with a Mexican twist and pair it with a jackfruit cocktail.

Besides the pairings, we also do normal cocktails.

Melo is honeydew with whisky and tequila for a drink you can sip on. There is also the Strawberry Cheesecake cocktail, which is probably the sweetest cocktail on the menu, where we took some inspiration from bubble tea. The third is a nautical martini, where we infuse our gin and add herbs.

cocktail and cake on a plate

Ricky says Alcove is the place for pre-dinner drinks, dinner or something special near the end of a night out in Braddon. Photo: Alcove/Facebook.

What is Canberra’s best-kept food secret?

I think those are the places that are kind of tucked away, they’re the hidden gems of Canberra. Wine Room [in Braddon] is tucked away, but it’s really good. White Chaco [in Braddon] is also really good.

What TV show or movie are you watching right now?

Recently, our wind down is Grey’s Anatomy. It’s our first time watching it. So I said, ‘Honey, let’s put the series on’. Now, we can’t turn it off and we’re at the beginning of season four.

What is your comfort food?

Sushi. I don’t have a particular order, I just eat what looks good.

Where do you dine out for special occasions?

I think Wine Room on Mort Street is a great choice, with great food, great wines and great service. It’s one of my top places in Canberra, personally. I go out to eat with my wife at a place called Chomolungma Nepali Cuisine [in Manuka] sometimes, and they serve traditional Nepalese food. We used to eat Nepalese food when we were in Hong Kong, and we just found it by chance.

We try to go out, but when it’s busy, you don’t have the time!

An easy one to finish – what’s your go-to coffee order?

It changes! It’d either be an iced long black or – on a really cold winter’s day – it’d be a double or triple shot latte with one sugar.

Alcove is located at Shop 105/16 Lonsdale Street in Braddon and is open Thursday to Saturday, from 5 pm to 8 pm.

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