Keith Austin

The grass-fed beef burger at Woolwich Pier Hotel. Click for more photos

Ten of Sydney's best pubs

The grass-fed beef burger at Woolwich Pier Hotel. Photo: Steven Siewert

It's no easy task to nominate your favourite pubs - especially when you've given over so much of your life to ''researching'' the subject. But it's something that, as editor of the SMH Pub Food Guide, I get asked a lot and always preface the answer with ''you realise this is like asking a mother which of her children she loves the most?''.

A preference for one pub over another might come down to the staff (a friendly bartender can make all the difference), an attentive guv'nor, the beer selection, the decor, or the food, or a combination of all of these. Very often it merely comes down to geography - which one is closest to home?

For instance, one of my favourite watering holes is The Commercial in Millthorpe where the host Gerry Faulkner holds genial sway. I'd go there just for a bit of craic with Gerry and another crack at his food. Sadly for me, Gerry's, as it is affectionately known, is just outside Orange, and therefore a bit of a trot from my home in Bondi Junction.

The Oaks in Neutral Bay.
Eat, drink, be merry: The Oaks in Neutral Bay. Photo: Edwina Pickles

With that in mind, then, here's an utterly personal ''Top 10 Pubs I Use'' list (in no particular order) - and bearing in mind that the guide has almost 400 ''children'' and we love them all equally.

Le Pub

66 King Street, Sydney

Le Pub hotel in King Street, Sydney.
Slow-cooked lamb neck, eggplant fritters, tomato dust, herb pistou and shaved cauliflower salad.
Slow-cooked lamb neck at Le Pub hotel on King Street. Photo: Steven Siewert

I've said it before and I'll say it again here - the lamb neck with crunchy quinoa and herbs at Le Pub is one of the best pub dishes in NSW. Beautifully garnished, it also goes on to taste as good as it looks. When was the last time you had lamb that tasted of lamb? The decor is urban and urbane Parisienne and the service is effortlessly top notch. Tres chic, and they serve Leffe on tap.

Woolwich Pier Hotel

2 Gale Street, Woolwich

Art in The Nelson.
Art at The Nelson. Photo: Nick Moir

It's probably just as well this old-world gem is so far away from me or I'd be in there all the time. A major and thoughtful refurb last year took the place to another level. There can be few better places to sit on a Sunday lunchtime than the upstairs verandah with its view of the harbour and the city skyline. Good cocktail selection, relaxed atmosphere and great food.

The Nelson

232 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction

A marvellously unreconstructed working man's art deco pub that's still all beige and green Tooth's Brewery tiles. The back bistro has been tidied up and the food is simple but good. I love the more relaxed back bar - and always expect Poirot or Miss Marple to wander in for a quick G&T - while the front bar is always full of colourful locals and tradies. A real gem.

The Tea Gardens

2-4 Bronte Road, Bondi Junction

This is another piece of glorious art deco architecture and is a bit of a home away from home for me when I need somewhere to write or read after doing the shopping. Downstairs is a little too noisy for my tastes but the upstairs Balcone bistro and bar area is excellent. The food's possibly a little on the expensive side for what it is, but the balcony overlooking the street is excellent for people watching. Go the jugs of Fat Yak - I do.

The Centennial

88 Oxford Street, Woollahra

Only just re-opened at the time of writing but one Sunday lunchtime visit was enough to know this will definitely become a regular favourite. Of course it helps that the 378 goes right past it and my house. Now owned by Anthony Medich, who also has the Woolwich Hotel, the renovations have done wonders - and executive chef Justin North's menu helps, too. The shepherd's pie is a wow.

The Duck Inn Pub and Kitchen

74 Rose Street, Chippendale

The Duck Inn Pub has great food, good beers (try the Chuck Norris red ale or the Vale IPA if they're on) and a great, friendly atmosphere.

This is a pub that really connects with the local community and holds plenty of events and special food and drink nights/weekends. I once took my entire football team there for an end-of-season dinner. This is another one that, were it at the end of my road, my liver would be in deep trouble.

Watsons Bay Boutique Hotel

1 Military Road, Watsons Bay

Last year's multi-million-dollar renovations have done wonders for a hotel that had rested on the views and its laurels for far too long. The garden area is pleasant to sit in and the food has come on in leaps and bounds. The little ''public'' bar out the back/front (depending on how you look at it) has been kept much the same, and the bit facing the harbour is now a delight. If the beer garden doesn't appeal, then try the pleasant bistro area, which is a mash-up of Laura Ashley and a Cape Cod weekender.

The Oaks

118 Military Road, Neutral Bay

With a menu by chef Danny Russo and an in-house butcher in the Bar and Grill, the labyrinthine Oaks has everything going for it. I still dream about the steak with bone marrow I had there last year. Of course, you can cook it yourself, too, but why ruin a good piece of meat? The beer garden under that wonderful old oak tree, with some very nice drops of beer and a good wine selection, is the stuff of legend for a long weekend lunch.

The Local Taphouse

122 Flinders Street, Darlinghurst

Beer, beer and more beer. Three floors of it. Though it must be said a recent visit was spoiled by the staff not mentioning that the steak came on its own and that any sides needed to be ordered separately. (There is nothing so vulnerable looking as a steak on its own on a bread board.) That said, the Taphouse is a real pub, a true home-away-from-home experience that's always looking at ways to entice the locals with special events such as the rooftop silent cinema.

The Henson

91 Illawarra Road, Marrickville

Yet another pub revamp and yet another triumph as the Henson has managed to remain all things to all people. Parents have the kid-friendly courtyard out the back where a mini playground provides a safe area for the littl'uns while the bistro area serves really good food. The old pokies room now boasts pinball machines and the unadorned front bar is still perfect for a beer while watching the footy.