Sydney's obsession with renovating and rebuilding classic old pubs continues apace. No corner of the city remains immune to the pub refurb, including the Fairfield Hotel, a western Sydney stalwart fresh from an extensive makeover, with the jewel in the crown being a snazzy Thai and Laotian restaurant.
THE HOTEL WAS OVERDUE for a bit of TLC. It hadn't had so much as a lick of paint since the early 1990s, when it was owned by the Miller family and looked like a very sad and rough country pub. It has changed hands several times in the past 20 years and was bought last year by the O'Hara family, who have gutted the place and made it almost unrecognisable inside.
THE RENOVATION IS as you would expect, if most Sydney refurbs are anything to go by: bland, uninspiring and filled with plasma screens. The grand brick exterior is covered with shiny new signs and the bar and pokies room look very clinical, as though someone has gone through the old room with a gurney and slapped hospital-style grey paint on the walls. Nothing to see here, folks.
THE NEW RESTAURANT, however, is a different story. Where once a daggy front bar existed, now a sleek, airy, bustling room stands, decorated with long, black banquettes, high, echoey ceilings, decorative hanging bird cages and a life-size tuk-tuk at the door. Perhaps the budget didn't extend past the Green Peppercorn Thai and Laotian diner to the rest of the hotel. It certainly looks expensive here.
THE FOOD IS WELL PRESENTED and impressive. A huge menu of dishes has an emphasis on salads - from hot larb to cold raw beef - and seafood, including whole fish and mussels in chilli jam. A banana-flower salad brims with the fresh flavour of coconut, spice and banana flowers with lightly crumbed chicken ($14.90). A red curry is packed with duck breast and a kaleidoscope of colours - lychee, tomato, pineapple, chilli, cucumber and basil ($16.90). More unusual are the chargrilled ox tongue and do-it-yourself betel leaf wraps. The dessert menu is almost as long as my arm. It encompasses traditional Laotian desserts heavy on sticky rice, pandan and coconut, as well as waffles, crepes and glutinous sundaes that childhood dreams are made of. The fried ice-cream and banana fritters are good picks, if you can find room.
THE BAR INSIDE THE RESTAURANT beats anything else here. It does fruity, Thai-inspired cocktails, a few wines by the glass, a few Asian beers and authentic Thai fruit shakes. The cocktails are sugary-sweet but fun and easy, with a pleasing price tag of $12. A Lychee Martini (lychee liqueur, vodka, lychee juice, $12) and Mojito (lime, mint, rum, brown sugar, soda water, bitters, $12) won't change your life but go down well with my hot and spicy fish cakes. My companion sticks to red, with a 2011 Little Yering pinot noir ($9.50).
The wine list is pleasingly extensive, traversing Australian regions and price ranges. Otherwise, there are beers from Thailand (Singha), Laos (Beerlao), Singapore (Tiger) and Vietnam (333) - all served by young staff who are friendly, if not a little inexperienced.
The rest of this historic hotel might be in the drab basket along with half Sydney's refurbed pubs, but its restaurant is kicking goals.
YOU’LL LOVE IT IF you’re looking for a decent Thai meal and a cocktail.
YOU’LL HATE IT IF you want a pub with old-school character.
GO FOR banana-leaf salad, Lychee Martini, banana fritters.
IT’LL COST YOU cocktails $12, wine by the glass $6-$10, imported beers $7, traditional desserts $9.90-$14.90
Address 1 Hamilton Road, Fairfield, 9724 2131
Open Mon-Sat, 10am-4am; Sun, 10am-10pm
- (02) 9724 2131
- Opening Hours - Mon-Sat 10am-4am, Sun 10am-10pm
- Author - Rachel Olding