The Oyster Room at The Morrison. Photo: Jennifer Soo
Opportunities to eat well in Sydney pubs have never been better. Investors are scoping the inner city for cheap pub licences and the list of boozers with serious menu action keeps growing. The CBD isn't immune, either, and now you can add The Morrison.
In a previous life it was the Brooklyn Hotel, home to generations of after-work types in short-sleeved Whitmont shirts. New owner Fraser Short and chef Sean Connolly have tilted it towards a perkier, prettier crowd with no time for used-to-bes. They subscribe to Griffin's Universal Law - that if there's a champagne cork popping every two minutes somewhere in the world, it might as well be at your table.
The high-street oyster room and bar at the Morrison is Connolly's natural habitat. Think bivalves, crab toasts, grass-fed pork chops, burgers, fish cooked on the bone. Connolly's at home with this style of food. He calls it "girl-friendly".
It's Friday night and we're upstairs in the Oyster Room, all concrete, wood panelling and quirky harlequin tiles. I'm at the bar with the Midnight Cowboy and a few hundred boisterous office folk. We're sucking down platters of shimmering fresh oysters: creamy Sydney rocks, briny Coffin Bay Pacifics and meaty angasis ($45.60 a mixed dozen).
The Midnight Cowboy has an unslakeable thirst for Bloody Marys ($16) and he's getting loose-limbed. He's already ponied up to a haughty lawyer in a pencil skirt with that fail-safe warm-up line: "If there's been a murder, it's better to hang the wrong person than nobody. Don't you agree?" Not successful.
Next, to the Conservatory - a glass-roofed bar and dining area with views to the lifts and lobby of the Grosvenor Tower. Brooklyn fans will recall this as the old outdoor courtyard. Tonight it's a crabfest: firstly crab "tacos" - iceberg lettuce canoes stacked with a tangle of fresh snowcrab meat, chardonnay vinaigrette and salmon pearls ($17.50) - and then more crab, this time tossed with creme fraiche, lemon and chives, heaped on black rye toast ($18). Then, a "study'" of imported charcuterie: aromatic jamón serrano, sweet prosciutto and nutty pata negra ($28). All generous portions, quality produce.
Laughing too loudly and waving his arms about, the Midnight Cowboy is smooth-talking a table of businesswomen. He's saying something about "crashing through" and "glass ceiling", which appears to be a lame joke about the room. Cue incredulous stares. Our mains arrive, Lord have mercy.
Hospitality industry veteran Howard Saunders has taught the young staff to interact with diners in a relaxed way, without taking liberties. I like that they ask permission to top up the Fuel Bakery bread and I like their shtick when they "sell" daily specials, like plump, salty Diamond clams from Cloudy Bay ($2 each), which run out in a flash.
We're sharing a tail of whole kingfish "saltimbocca" - prosciutto, sage, red wine, capers, parsley ($56) - which slides off the bone in moist fillets. To follow, a Flintstones-sized grain-fed pork chop ($28) with a zippy chimichurri sauce, and a side of "grandma's carrots" ($8), cooked soft to be kind to Gran's teeth.
I'm welcoming the oyster's friend - chardonnay - with a Mandala 2010 from the Yarra Valley ($10). The Morrison has an impressive range, alongside one of the city's better selections of wines by the glass.
Dessert is the least straightforward course, but the "deconstructed" lemon and raspberry cheesecake ($14) is a witty riff on a pub classic - and delicious.
We've reached that point in the evening where whenever the Midnight Cowboy opens his mouth, it's only to change feet. "I was being girl-friendly," he's protesting as I bundle him through the downstairs parlour bar and out into the night.
If you toil in the CBD, I know you're going to like the Morrison. Just remember, always be ready to exit stage left before the Morrison stops liking you.
Gorgeous lawyers who lunch; after-workers.
What everyone is eating
Oysters and clams; fish of the day cooked on the bone.
Surprisingly extensive local and European selection - great for chardonnay.
- 02 9247 6744
- Cuisine - Seafood
- Prices - Entrees $16-$30; mains $20-$95; desserts $10-$14.
- Features - Bar, Licensed
- Chef(s) - Sean Connolly
- Owners - Fraser Short
- Opening Hours - Mon-Wed 11.30am-midnight; Thur 11.30am-1am; Fri-Sat 11.30am-2am; Sun 11.30am-10pm.
- Author - Guy Griffin