Henson Park Hotel review: Thriving revival

Lenny Ann Low
The Henson,  Marrickville.
The Henson, Marrickville. Photo: Fiona Morris

The Henson used to be the Henson Park Hotel, a large 1936 two-storey pub with fine art deco fixtures and the unofficial headquarters of the Newtown Jets for decades. Just over a year ago it was closed, a neglected beauty facing redevelopment.

Then, in May, newly bought by Ray Reilly of Trinity Bar in Surry Hills, it reopened to the delight of locals who had campaigned to save the 78-year-old hotel. Reilly revamped the back bar and beer garden but left the front bar largely untouched save for a freshen up.

His policy included retaining and reviving the hotel's aesthetic, welcoming families, respecting regulars and focusing on sustainable, free-range and local product.

Megan McCulloch, who has worked with Heston Blumenthal and was behind the food at Reuben Hills in Surry Hills, is head chef.

There are traditional and craft beers including Young Henrys, Murrays and Killagh Stout from St Peters Brewery. A small list of Australian, French and South American wines is matched by some lip-smackingly inventive cocktails whipped up with panache.

Try a pickleback - pickled cucumber, red veg or fennel caraway with a shot of whisky or ''house hooch'' - for a bracing tipple.

On this sunny Sunday The Henson is thriving. The middle bar, with twinkly lights, forest-green walls, reclaimed wood, chevron tiling and sections of polished pressed tin suspended from the ceiling, is packed. An open kitchen and bar faces communal tables, small cafe tables, booth seating and high tables. Black and white photographs show the history of Marrickville.

We're in the beer garden knuckling down to a rich and creamy duck shepherd's pie, luscious Malaysian-style kim chee goreng with pork belly and fried egg, and plump roast pumpkin ravioli.

All are marvellous - generous and cooked with pizazz. The duck pie's tenderness inspires a reverent silence as everyone has a bite. The ravioli comes with kale, zucchini blossoms and charred asparagus, plus extra zing from eschallot butter, mint and labna.

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Service is fast and amiable. Food orders are taken inside and dishes appear promptly.

Above us, flag bunting flutters over the reclaimed wood tables, remodelled beer barrel stools and bench seating. A stretch of old wooden doors forming a back fence leads to a playroom decorated with Mr Men characters, a rock-climbing board and a ball and foam pit filled with children.

Children are a big part of visiting The Henson. There is dedicated pram parking, safety fencing, plenty of high chairs and a kids' menu featuring ''real'' fish and chips, tempura chicken nuggets, frozen banana chocolate pops and inventive milk shakes.

But if children give you chills, The Henson's front bar with tables, Jets paraphernalia and a pool table, provides a haven.

We have moved on to dessert, ordering everything - date and orange bread-and-butter pudding, churros ''chips'' with dark chocolate fudge, espresso and marsala sponge, and a lychee sago, mango, coconut and lime creme brulee trifle. They are fab.

Like these puddings, The Henson succeeds because it deconstructs expectations, offers something for everyone and mixes quality with fresh thinking.

The pub hasn't been hijacked by a theme or blanded into samey oblivion. And its quirkiness, in food, drink, decor and service, has depth and a community focus. The families, old blokes and locals of every age filling every corner suggest The Henson is here to stay.

THE HENSON

91 Illawarra Road,

Marrickville, 9569 5858

Mon-Thu, 11am-11pm;

Fri, 11am-midnight;

Sat, 8am-midnight;

Sun, 8am-10pm; licensed

Menu

Contemporary.

Value

Good. Entrees $3-$15, burgers $15-$16, mains $19-26, desserts $3-$12.

Recommended dishes

Duck shepherd's pie, crispy-skin snapper fillet, date and orange bread-and-butter pudding.