Photo: Quentin Jones
An old man nurses a schooner in the bar in almost meditative fashion, his eyes fixed on the street, an empty pack of salt-and-vinegar chips by his side. It's the classic image of the Australian pub. Or at least, it used to be.
Sorry, old-timer, but it's ''time, gentlemen, please'' for the pubs of the past, as property developers and bar entrepreneurs see the local corner hotel for what it really is: a valuable piece of inner-city real estate that can be converted into a new style of eating and drinking venue. Examples include The Norfolk, The Beresford, The Abercrombie, The Excelsior, The Flinders and The Central … and that's just in Surry Hills.
Some of these pubs had already run themselves into the ground with pub rock, sports bars, pokies, you name it. With others, it was more a changing of the guard, as the old fellas died off and the young guns moved in. Three young guns are Jaime Wirth, James Miller and designer Michael Delaney, who have joined forces once again to breathe new life into The Carrington, an old corner boozer in - where else - Surry Hills.
Gone are the fluoro lights, the pokies, the beer posters, and even a couple of the walls. In their place are stuffed ducks, plush banquettes, a mounted mountain goat's head, splashes of colourful Moorish tiles and a wall of light installations designed to resemble the striped awnings of a hacienda.
The new Carrington is the missing link between the tapas bars of San Sebastian and the gastropubs of London. So the bar menu serves nose-to-tail beef pie and mash, and spiced lamb burger with fries, while the menu proper runs from pintxos (pinchos), the something-on-bread Basquaise style of tapas, to gurnard escabeche and braised cuttlefish, chorizo, chickpeas and mint. There's a dude-food wit about a calamari slider ($6) of fried squid rings, cress and aioli squished between a glazed bun of just the right softness and heft; and a fusionistic grilled paella onigiri ($4.50), a crisped triangle of chorizo-flecked paella rice topped with more aioli, and more calamari.
Other dishes are more recognisable as classic tapas, including tender, plump albondigas meatballs in a tomatoey stew ($15); bull's tail empanadas filled with rich ragu($12); and simple toasts spread with squishy sobrasada sausage ($3 each), dripping with paprika-stained oil.
The Carrington's embutidos (cold meats) platter ($22) is marked by freshness and variety. The glossy, full-bodied jamon Iberico, sweet and nutty Serrano, and spicy, richly textured morcon sausage and dried chorizo have been sliced to order and scattered with sharp, seedy caper berries. If you're a fan of the sweet richness of blood sausage - or even if you're not - I urge you to order the whole grilled squid stuffed with house-made morcilla, served on a hot-as-Hades tomato salsa ($18). It's terrific. A terracotta pot of breadcrumb-topped fabada ($19), a sort-of Asturian cassoulet of lima beans, chorizo sausage and pork belly, is droolingly full of sweet, slow-cooked, developed flavours.
It's good to have food like this - which is, too often, mayo-topped dross pumped out by unmotivated casuals - cooked by people who can actually cook. Head chef Jamie Thomas has worked at London's St. John and gastropub the Anglesey Arms, where he met second chef Luke Smith.
Like its sister pub, The Norfolk, the drinking is a bit loopy. There's good Spanish beer - Rosita and Estrella Galicia - and cheeky long drinks such as the Single Mother, a fake take on Sangria that mixes red wine, Southern Comfort, ginger beer and some completely extraneous nutmeg. A compact wine list combines commercial Spanish standards with some fun Australian labels, including a peachy Running With The Bulls Vermentino ($42) from Yalumba.
My neighbours groan with guilty pleasure as they dip deep-fried churros into thick chocolate and hoe in to honey-sweet Dionysus Martinis, with blue cheese on the side. I'm more taken with sherry trifle ($12), deconstructed by ex-Aria pastry chef Katya Arzhanaya into cava jelly, boozy raisins, blood orange and Pedro Ximenez-infused creamy foam at the foot of a divinely rich, sherry-soaked, olive oil sponge.
What a good move. We love our pubs, old and new, and this little beauty is a blueprint for the future. I like the party-time attitude, the easygoing staff and the super-professional kitchen. Yep, that's me in a few years, the old fella in the bar, nursing a Kalimotxos (port and cola), an empanada by my side.
Address 565 Bourke Street, Surry Hills, 9360 4714, the-carrington.com.au.
Open (kitchen hours) Mon-Sun, noon-10pm.
Cost About $70 for two, plus drinks.
- 02 9360 4714
- Cuisine - Spanish
- Prices - about $70 for two, plus drinks, about $70 for two, plus drinks
- Opening Hours - lunch and dinner, daily
- Author - Terry Durack