Merivale raises the bar with eight new Sydney openings

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Expect the best: Chefs Eric Koh (ex Mr Wong), Patrick Friesen (Papi Chulo), Christopher Hogarth (Papi Chulo), Sebastien ...
Expect the best: Chefs Eric Koh (ex Mr Wong), Patrick Friesen (Papi Chulo), Christopher Hogarth (Papi Chulo), Sebastien Lutaud (ex Felix), Vincenzo Biondini (Coogee Pavilion), Ben Greeno (ex Momofuku Seiobo) and Danielle Alvarez (ex Chez Panisse and The French Laundry) are the lieutenants in Merivale's army. Photo: Supplied

Justin Hemmes has long copped flack from keyboard warriors and pub politicians about "gentrifying" Sydney and promoting soulless "yuppie" culture. It's a bit of a rough call.

Would you rather have a supermarket-owned pub selling Shop A Docket schnitzel as your local or somewhere with a top-notch chef and floor your feet don't stick to?

Hemmes gives a genuine damn about making Sydney, a city a that he loves, a world-class food and drink destination, and the next five months are perhaps the biggest in Merivale's history. Here's what's on the cards.

From Mr Wong to the Queen Victoria in Enmore, dumpling master Eric Koh has a new home.
From Mr Wong to the Queen Victoria in Enmore, dumpling master Eric Koh has a new home. Photo: Supplied

J&M

Level 3, Angel Hotel, 125 Pitt Street, Sydney

Opening: Late October

The lowdown: This whisky bar at the Angel Hotel is a tribute to the late "Mr John" Hemmes (J&M stands for John and Merivale, you know). It has interiors inspired by old haberdashers, a drinks trolley named "the Sidecar", a long glass bar and chesterfield lounges (a prerequisite for any whisky bar). For its first three months, the bar will be a showcase for Chivas Regal 18 and provide a "unique, sensory whisky experience".

Why you should care: House of Merivale was a swinging, multi-level retail and dining hub when it occupied The Angel Hotel in the '70s. This a chance to sip a whisky and soak up Sydney history.

The Paddington

384 Oxford Street, Paddington

Opening: November

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The lowdown: Handsome French rotisseries will be the centrepiece of the pub once known as the Paddington Arms, and former Momofuku Seiobo​ executive chef  Ben Greeno​ will be roasting everything on them from whole stuffed fish, lamb rump and beef to Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac.

"It's food that's going to lend itself to a good time," says Greeno. There'll be a cocktail bar upstairs and punters are free to rock in for a quick beer as they like (it's still a pub).

Why you should care: Greeno is a terrific chef and very comfortable in a pub. Expect nothing but deliciousness to slide off those rotisserie shafts.

Oxford Street Chicken Shop

382 Oxford Street, Paddington

Opening: Late 2015

The lowdown: Greeno has fond memories growing up in Britain and visiting his aunt's chicken shop in Dartmouth. This takeaway (name TBC) next door to the Paddington is a chance for Greeno to relive those memories by selling rotisserie chicken, sandwiches and the kinds of salads Greeno likes to eat. "Ones with a lot of grains and pulses, that are fresh and light."

Why you should care: Too much takeaway chicken is greasy, tasteless and overcooked. This chook promises to be the kind of bird you can take to a Centennial Park picnic, eat in front of the telly or put on the table for a fancy long lunch.

Queen Victoria Hotel

167 Enmore Road, Enmore

Opening: January

The lowdown: Mr Wong's dumpling master, Eric Koh, is back on board the Merivale mothership and will be pleating up a sui mai storm at this Enmore pub.

Papi Chulo champions Patrick Friesen​ and Chris Hogarth will be joining him and looking after the barbecued meats and semi-traditional Cantonese side of things. 

"It will be like Ms.G's, but with Chinese food," says Friesen. "We'll have typhoon shelter crab, which is one of the best things ever.

"It's basically a deep-fried mud crab tossed in deep-fried garlic, chilli and black bean. It's so tasty and just makes you want to drink beer." There'll be plenty of it to drink too, because the Queen Vic wants to be a locals' boozer, first and foremost.

Why you should care: Because there's schooners, fried crab and Eric Koh dumplings, of course.

Newport Arms

2 Kalinya Street, Newport

Opening: January

The lowdown: Coogee Pavilion for the northern beaches. Merivale purchased the massive hotel in March 2015 and the first stage of the redevelopment opens in summer with a huge outdoor food and drink concept headed by chef Sebastien Lutaud. There will be a sunset bar, cocktail bar, burger shack, seafood kiosk and a Vinnie's Pizzeria. Summer starts here.

Why you should care: The Newport Arms is an institution of the north with stunning views of the bush and beach and this redevelopment will bring it up to speed with the current age of drinking and dining. Vinnie also cooks a mean pizza pie.

European Wine Bar

50 King Street, Sydney

Opening: February

The lowdown: Pop-ups at the work in progress site (currently occupied by Eric Koh and his bamboo steamers) will stop progressing in 2016 when a sophisticated European wine bar (name TBC) sets up shop for the long haul. Former Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide Sommelier of the Year, Franck Moreau, is in charge of the bottles. Huzzah.

Why you should care: There's very few decent wine bars in the CBD so a new one with a Master Sommelier-curated list is cause to take the champagne off ice.

Fred's

380 Oxford Street, Paddington

Opening: February

The lowdown: This produce-driven restaurant from Danielle Alvarez (an alumna of Alice Water's Chez Panisse and the three Michelin-starred French Laundry) is the third venue in Merivale's Oxford Street mini-hub.

Alvarez has been forging relationships with organic horticulturalists since arriving in Australia a year ago and will be sourcing heirloom vegetables and native ingredients from the Blue Mountains to be cooked using a wood-fired hearth and oven.

"Cooking with fire forces you to be a bit more vigilant," says Alvarez. "It's not just turning on a switch, it's not just pressing a button. You're constantly looking, you're smelling, you're tasting and I think that creates a perfect result."

Felix's head sommelier, Adrian Filiuta​, will be looking after a 120-strong wine list with a focus on small-batch drops.

Why you should care: Because there can never be enough restaurants showcasing beautiful produce cooked simply over fire. This one's going to be special.

Sussex 1854

Basement, 380 Oxford Street, Paddington

Opening: February

The lowdown: A prohibition-styletapas bar, similar to Palmer & Co. in Abercrombie Lane but with its own distinct flavour.

In the basement underneath Fred's Bar and Bistro, it will feature seasonally led cocktails inspired by Danielle Alvarez's philosophy of letting ingredients speak for themselves.

Why you should care: Palmer & Co. is the best bar in Merivale's portfolio and an Oxford Street version of the same adds further life to the area.