I have to admit that my month of absinthe was a little disappointing. I had hoped that someone, somewhere had managed to track down some of the really good stuff (such as something by Ted Breaux), but no: the best I could find was La Fée Parisian. That was on offer at the French (Simply Paris, Le Métropolitain) and New Orleans (Sweet Mother's Kitchen) establishments, as well as most of the top cocktail bars (Matterhorn, Imbibe, Hawthorn Lounge). Surprisingly, Motel serves Pernod 68, which one might expect to be top quality, but turns out to be characterless and not much more than a strong pastis. Other places settle for even lesser imitations of absinthe, such as Absente, Trenet and the almost undrinkable Dedo or Hapsburg.
In the absence of anything truly outstanding, maybe mixing is the best approach, and I drank my share of absinthe cocktails during July. My favourite Sazerac was a beautifully-balanced concoction at Matterhorn, though Sweet Mother's wasn't far behind. Hawthorn attempted a half-way house between a Sazerac and the old-style Sazerac Rex, but I think it just shows that blending Rye and Cognac isn't such a good idea. Much more appealing was Matterhorn's take on that other classic absinthe cocktail, Hemingway's favourite, Death in the Afternoon. It's not on the menu, but I went along with Jamie's suggestion of Prosecco in place of Champagne, and it seems to work a treat: light and refreshing, and without the clash of flavours that a yeasty, toasty Champagne might produce. I wish I could tell you about their Soul Manhattan, and how well absinthe goes with bourbon and Cherry Heering, but I'm afraid I can't remember much of that night. That's an occupational hazard of the professional absintheur.
Or perhaps not. Absinthe should actually be thought of as an ideal aperitif, taken at l'heure vert to relax the mind and stimulate the appetite, rather than just as a quick way to get well and truly wasted. That seems to be the attitude that some bars take (such as the Southern Cross, where the bartender said that they had no absinthe, but if I wanted a strong shot, how about some Jägermeister?), and it may be the reason why it's so hard to find good absinthe here: if you're not going to taste it, why bother with the real stuff? Really good absinthe is no more expensive overseas than a good single malt or Cognac, so given that some bars go out of the way to track down and import rare and exquisite spirits, one might hope that someone would take absinthe seriously enough to do the same.