305 Cleveland Street Redfern, New South Wales 2016
|Opening hours||Daily noon-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9699 3177|
Now this is a pub I like - something that hasn't been gentrified to death but offers slick, interesting food and more than a jug o' VB. It's been hipsterfied to death but I can handle that. The owners are James Miller and Jamie Wirth (from the Bang Gang DJs) and, with its nonchalance and location on the cusp of Redfern and Surry Hills, the flannie-wearing set has made it home.
IT IS A TALE OF TWO ROOMS, with half the hotel an old retro-Aussie pub with sporting memorabilia and photos of boobs on the walls and the other a slick, dark, newer space that slightly channels a trendy New York loft, with spirits stacked to the roof, funked-up music playing and neon signs shining on the bar. There's a sunken area for dinner tables, a polished beer garden with striped banquettes and leafy trees and an upstairs pool area, all of which make for some of the most inviting pub surrounds in Sydney. Still, it's bloody hard to get a table. Having been packed in like sardines on a Friday, we visit on a Tuesday night and still no luck. Eventually, we nab a great little spot in a corner bathed in a glowing red sign looking out to Cleveland Street.
WE LIKE THE MENU INSTANTLY. It's a mix of Spanish, Mexican, American and Aussie pub grub that works - tacos next to barbecued pork ribs, rolls with pork belly, crackling and slaw, Portuguese chicken, hot-dog sliders and deep-fried pickles with ranch dipping sauce. The cocktail menu exudes an equal amount of mismatch-American cool: lageritas, jugs of sangria, tequila with peppers, root beer and cherry cola.
FOR ALL ITS PROMISE, we're mildly disappointed with the end result. The seven-hour lamb sandwich ($17) is drab, with burnt bread, and the chips look and taste like cheapo frozen ones (plus the salad is a no-show), however, the potato skins with bacon, cheddar, ranch and scallions ($9) and spiced fries ($7.50) are delish. The soft-shell tacos ($5.50 each) with pork, fish, chicken, beef or vegetables are small but packed with fresh ingredients and tasty sauces.
The cocktails are made by a bartender we assume hasn't made them before because she questions her colleagues on every step. A Seamus' Sour (listed ingredients Jameson, lemon, apple and sugar but the bartender added an egg, $15) has none of the body and cohesion expected of an eggy cocktail. The Lagerita (Jose Tradicional, lime, agave and lager, $15) is a flop as well. It's too sour. Ditto the Blurple Urple (Beefeater, Hypnotiq, lemon and Welchs Grape Soda, $15); it's heavy on lemon rather than the fantastic, bubblegum-flavoured Welchs soft drink you can buy on its own (and I recommend you do). The cocktails have much potential. They're quirky recipes that die in execution.
ON ANOTHER DAY it'll be a different story. It's the sort of venue that has off days and on days. One night you'll snag a table and have a winning wagyu burger. The next night you'll get a snooty hipster at the bar and a terrible Margarita. Just to top it off on this particular night, there's no ice-cream for a Spiced Spider (Sailor Jerry, root beer and ice-cream, $15) or the only dessert, an ice-cream sandwich with toasted brioche, caramelised banana and dulce de lece ($12). It's got all the makings for the pub I'm always looking for. I'll just have to come back again.