The Wild Rover

Rachel Olding
A touch of class: The Wild Rover isn't your average Irish watering hole.
A touch of class: The Wild Rover isn't your average Irish watering hole. Photo: Marco Del Grande

75 Campbell Street Surry Hills, NSW 2010

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Opening hours Mon-Sat, 4pm-midnight; Sun, noon-10pm
Phone 02 9280 2235

Sometimes it feels like there are more Irish bars than Irishmen in Sydney but I've never come across one quite like this.

The boys from Grandma's Bar on Clarence Street have broken out of the basement and traded tiki drinks and knitted blankets for hard whiskey and oysters in this grand two-storey hideaway that is more Surry Hills than Scruffy Murphy. . . in the best kind of way.

How on earth they casually stumbled upon this amazing building I'll never know.

Behind huge unmarked double doors are two floors of dark wood, crowded bar tables, grand bars and plenty o' stout.

In the words of the owners, it's an Irish folk barn "with a touch of New York chic" where the "craic" is always 90. That's Irish for "it's bloody good". And I'd have to agree.

Hearty Irish fiddle music plays over the sound of people getting rowdy on a Friday night. The whiskey cocktails are aflowin' and that is where we start.

Like the wine, beer and whiskey menus, the cocktails are uniquely divided into "light", "medium" and "heavy" and are all $17 or under (hallelujah).

The Crusty Tail (blended Scotch whisky stirred with Tennessee honey, topped with honeycomb, $17) is a beaut pick from the latter – a very strong cocktail that gradually mellows and sweetens as the ice melts.

For something a little odd, there's the Root of the Earth (beetroot-agave-pinot reduction, shaken with vanilla and rum, $17), which was slightly more hit than miss, or the Kilpatrick Bloody Mary (bacon-washed vodka, Wild Rover's own Kilpatrick Mary mix, $16), which could double as a meal.

Old train timetable boards list a rotating cast of excellent international beers, including Doss Blockos, Newcastle Brown, Wells Banana Bread Ale and Trois Monts, and there are no prizes for guessing what's on tap: Guinness, McLaren Vale Pale Ale and Monteith's cider at $7.50 for the tankard.

Where it starts to get really serious is with the whisky.

The Wild Rover Whisky Companion lists page upon page of the stuff, helpfully separated into Scotch, Irish, American, Australian, Japanese, light, medium and heavy. It is a mind-boggling selection.

Start easy with a spectacular Green Spot – one of Ireland's only pure pot still whiskeys with only 6000 bottles produced annually ($11) and finish with a chest-shuddering Scottish Ardbeg Supernova ($23), described as one of the peatiest whiskies on the market and certainly "not for the girls".

The food is an odd but simple mix of oysters, sausage rolls and pasties.

The oysters are usually fresh Sydney rock, ordered daily and shucked to order, but our half-dozen ($18) weren't quite the hit I was hoping for. The made-to-order lamb sausage roll, however, was possibly the best I've ever had in Sydney.

You can't really go wrong with a simple, genuine Irish bar and I dare say these lads have even improved on the archetype with some nicely refined touches.

A flagon of beer, a sausage roll or two, a tiny touch of Irish rowdiness and an elegant whiskey to wash it all down. It's all good Irish craic.

YOU'LL LOVE IT IF . . . you're up for trying whiskey in a more-refined Irish bar.

YOU'LL HATE IT IF . . . you're more inclined towards the messy, drunken kind of Irish bar.

GO FOR . . . Crusty Tail, Kilpatrick Bloody Mary, Green Spot whiskey, lamb sausage roll.