342 Darling Street Balmain, NSW 204102 8084 8185
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat noon-midnight,Sun noon-10pm|
Minutes from Sydney Harbour, the Cottage Bar & Kitchen resembles a buzzy countryside saloon. No cows or tractors loiter at the door but this wide two-storey house, fronted by pastoral gardens, a rooster-topped weathervane and outdoor seating, exudes an alluring provincial vibe.
DARK-OLIVE TONGUE-AND-GROOVE PANELLING clads walls, bar and kitchen. Rustic farm equipment - a two-handed saw, kerosene lamps, meat scales, kettles - hangs on walls or coat hooks. A long communal table and smaller metal-topped tables are set for dinner in the front bay-windowed room. Across a corridor are wooden-topped bar stools with curvy iron legs in front of a bar and a fireplace set with vintage plates and teapots. Even the bathrooms, with white butler sinks, old-fashioned taps and vases of country roses, are bucolic.
WE'RE EATING HAND-CUT CHIPS at a metal table below a rusty rabbit trap and upside-down floral teacup lights near the kitchen. If tipples were our only aim, we'd be on the stools across the hall, or upstairs in the psychedelic-rustic lounge area featuring curvy lamps, rococo-esque sofas upholstered in bright pink and green floral fabrics, Persian carpets and electric-green Boston ferns. If it was Sunday lunch we'd nab the alfresco courtyard framed by glass doors with potted ivies, curly iron garden chairs and a big rustic table.
BUT BESIDE THE KITCHEN'S hanging meats and wheels of cheese - 11 varieties available - thoughts of food are uppermost. Our waitress - swift and almost unnervingly polite - brings wooden boards holding salt and pepper squid with lemon and chilli aioli, and wood-fired pork belly on fennel and a thick pea and pear puree. The pork is excellent stuff and puts the too-fried squid in the shade. A wood-fired margherita pizza - one of six varieties baked in an enormous wood-fire oven left by the building's previous occupants - is lush and sparky with Grana Padano cheese. Marinated Italian olives are good but four spinach and smoked mozzarella arancini are underwhelming - impressive looking but lacking in flavour.
PRESSING ON WITH THE DRINKS MENU there's a hefty choice of 60 wines (24 by the glass) from Australia and New Zealand, with a couple from Italy, France, Argentina and Germany. The Pitchfork chardonnay from Margaret River is a hit, as is a bottle of McLaren Vale ''Drk'', a lush and earthy American dark lager. There are 20 bottled beers - featuring Bighead, James Squire, Tsingtao, Murray's Whale Ale and local brew Balmain Pilsner - and five ciders including cult Swedish drop Rekorderlig. Cocktails aren't a big feature - classics available on request - but there are punches: peach sangria or Pimm's cup. Altogether, this rural oasis has merged visiting country relatives with Alice's Mad Hatter's tea party - with lashings of tipples, provisions and a quirky buzz.
YOU’LL LOVE IT IF you want a homey yet elegant country vibe.
YOU’LL HATE IT IF you’re after a shiny, uber-hip tipple spot.
GO FOR rustic decor, swift service, a variety of eating and drinking spaces.
IT’LL COST YOU wine by the glass $7-$13, beer $5-$10, cider $7-$14, food $6-$24.
The Cottage Bar & Kitchen
Address 342 Darling Street, Balmain, 8084 8185
Open Mon-Sat, noon-midnight; Sun, noon-10pm