Less about exclusivity and more about fun: The Corner House, Bondi. Photo: Brianne Makin
Back when trams trundled down Bondi Road, the Denham Street stop was a hub of activity. It's no stretch to imagine the heaving tram pulling up there at the end of the day, workers spilling out and making a beeline to the Royal Hotel for the 6o'clock swill. Across the road, at 281 Bondi Road, a more "exclusive" offering was available, or so the Johnswood guesthouse spruiked itself in its two-line advertisements in The Sydney Morning Herald in 1939, with its credentials of an "excellent chef".
Many years on, and more than half a century since the last tram ran on the line, bar-restaurant hybrid The Corner House is less about exclusivity and more about fun, with some fine food and wine to boot.
Upstairs, drinks are the focus, including an extensive cocktail list. Animal lovers might shirk at the deer skull and antlers on the wall, but it's a comfy space to settle in, although it does get a bit noisy when functions are running at the same time.
Grilled market fish of the day with roasted heirloom carrot salad, toasted almonds and carrot puree. Photo: Brianne Makin
Downstairs, it's all about the food. There's casual dining along the Bondi Road street frontage, with a view of the open kitchen and large windows to watch the world go by. Out the back, in the more formal (but not really) "Dining Room", the stylish thirty-something and forty-something crowd settles in to the brown leather bench seats set along the whitewashed walls for multiple Italian courses and a bottle or two.
There's a good number of wines by the glass and the bottles are split into helpful categories such as "whites for the adventurous" and "crowd-pleasing reds". Can't decide? Ask for a taste. The staff are helpful, and passionate about what they're bringing to the table. This starts with the house focaccia, which sits like a tempting welcome mat on a wooden table near a doorway. Thick slices of the freshly baked bread topped with olive oil and sea salt come to the table.
The Crowded House wood-fired pizza is great to share. The thin, crispy crust is topped with four combinations, segmented into quarters. The rustic metal scissors supplied to separate it enable accuracy but it's messy work. Cue serviettes.
Of the four segments, the margherita (called Rita & Marg) is a favourite. The Gonzo is a mushroom-fest, so a good one for vegetarians (and can be ordered as a whole pizza). It's topped with Swiss browns, button and oyster mushies, thyme and a subtle garlic oil. For meat lovers, there's one topped with spicy salami and chilli oil, although the net result is more piquant than chilli-hot.
A dish for the winter hit list is the osso buco veal shin. The meat is flaked into a big serve of fettucine and served with the marrow-filled bone. It's rich and hearty, but also unexpected. The first flavour is orange, but this soon takes a back seat to the melt-in-the-mouth meat.
Another pasta dish, the spaghettini with Alaskan snow crab, chive beurre blanc and scallop tartare, is the complete opposite. It's a much more modest serve, and a beautifully balanced mix of sweet and acid flavours with the pop of a generous dollop of caviar.
For dessert, the creme catalan has a lovely thick top, which we crack to access the velvety orange-flavoured custard.
The food at The Corner is great, with options for different types of dining. But what makes this place shine is the service. Just don't go there on a Saturday evening for a deep and meaningful conversation. We shouted across the table for about half an hour when things built to a crescendo at the functions upstairs.
As we leave, the music is pumping across the road at the Royal. Change is a constant, or so the saying goes, but it's nice to know some things endure, even if the 6 o'clock swill, or the weekend equivalent, finishes a bit later than the name implies these days.
Wood-fired pizza, pasta and other Italian-influenced dishes. Plus great drinks.
Spaghettini with Alaskan snow crab, ossobuco veal shin with fettucine, the Crowded House pizza, creme catalan.
4 (out of 5 stars)
- 02 8020 6698
- Cuisine - Italian
- Prices - Starters $18, mains $27-$32, pizza $19-$23, sides $8.50, desserts $16.
- Features - Licensed, Vegetarian friendly
- Opening Hours - Tues-Sat, 5pm-midnight; Sun, 3-10pm
- Author - Sarah McInerney