Swine & Co

Terry Durack
Swine & Co's beautiful 1938 art deco space has been rethought as a three-level pig-out.
Swine & Co's beautiful 1938 art deco space has been rethought as a three-level pig-out. Photo: Steven Siewert

16 O'Connell Street Sydney, New South Wales 2000

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Permanently Closed

In the world's central business districts, the beasts that matter are the bulls and the bears. In Sydney, however, it's the pig that's big. Roast suckling pig has long been a signature at Pilu at Freshwater and Paddington's Four at Hand, but whole piggies are now de rigueur at pop-ups and chop-ups all over town, from Jared Ingersoll's Bottle & Beast to Bondi's Da Orazio. Not to mention pig's tails, pig's ears and, of course, bacon, which God invented because there were too many rocket salads on earth.

Next up is the Urban Purveyor Group's newly arrived Swine & Co in the heart of the CBD, not far from the group's Ananas, Sake and The Cut. Not only is there a whole six- to eight-week-old suckling pig turning on a spit under the watchful eye of chef Robert Taylor, but the menu is studded with piggy bits - tails are crisped, blood is turned into black pudding, necks become steaks for the grill, and rumps are crumbed for schnitzels. And yes, there is pork belly. It's a given.

Originally a bank and most recently the group's Bavarian Bier Cafe, the beautiful 1938 art deco space has been rethought as a three-level pig-out. At ground level is a magnificent island bar, complete with a mezzanine champagne bar, and a clever little New York deli-style servery dishing up pork belly rolls, and pork and veal meatballs. Drinkers congregate on the street and diners head downstairs to the low-ceilinged, moodily lit basement restaurant, teeming with young staff clad in short skirts or shorts and leather-bound aprons. It's as if the '80s never actually went away, but lurked instead in boys' own basements, preserved alongside the heavy reds and big prime cuts that fuel the so-called masters of the universe. That disturbing non-fictional character the Wolf of Wall Street would feel quite at home in one of the deeply comfortable dining chairs here, a sassy waitress resting her hand on his shoulder.

Go-to dish: Milk-fed Macleay Valley suckling pig.
Go-to dish: Milk-fed Macleay Valley suckling pig. Photo: Steven Siewert

There are things other than pig, such as king salmon and aged rib-eye, and some cleverly composed entrees of interest such as sea-sweet Hervey Bay scallops teamed with black pudding and quinoa crisps ($22), and crisply crusted lamb's brains served on a plank with a swipe of beetroot puree.

But, as the perky waitress says: ''It's all about the pig.'' The milk-fed Macleay Valley suckling pig ($40), to be precise, spit-roasted over coals and sliced into fingers of milky, rich flesh topped with shards of bronzed skin that crack to the bite like kindling to the axe. A pleasant, deeply flavoured jus, a fresh tangle of fennel and a side order of peas, almonds and lemon butter ($10) round out the offering, but it's Miss Piggy that's the star of her own show.

Schnitzel ($28) is done in the Austrian style; beaten out, crumbed, deep-fried and as big as the plate. There should be a door prize for anyone who completes it, but such one-dimensional eating soon palls.

Head chef Robert Taylor with a suckling pig.
Head chef Robert Taylor with a suckling pig. Photo: Steven Siewert

While blokey, big-bodied reds loom large on the solid, reasonably priced wine list, more subtle, pork-friendly labels feature as well, including an elegant, spicy 2012 Sorrenberg Gamay ($68).

There's no law of economics or nutrition that says you should follow blood pudding, pork schnitzel and suckling pig with doughnuts, but perhaps there should be. Three sugar-dusted powder puffs ($14), topped with a tart apple sorbet and a disc of dehydrated apple, are cracking good.

With Swine & Co joining Mr Wong, the new Rockpool and the new Bentley Restaurant & Bar in the suit-and-tie end of town, the market for business dining is looking up. An economist might even call it piggish.

Best bit:
More new life in the city.
Worst bit:
Tables are too close for comfort.
Go-to dish:
Milk-fed Macleay Valley suckling pig, $40.


Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic forĀ The Sydney Morning HeraldĀ and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.