Top pub grub: the highlights

Mega-meaty: The burger at the East Village Hotel, Balmain East.
Mega-meaty: The burger at the East Village Hotel, Balmain East. Photo: Steven Siewert

At the Golden Sheaf Hotel in Double Bay recently, I discovered that, upstairs, there is a room resplendent with Florence Broadhurst wallpaper. There's also a cooler than cool upstairs terrace, a downstairs beer garden, a front bar with - well, let's just say the place is bigger on the inside than it appears from its street-front entrance.

The food's pretty schmick too, but how to get all that into one 100-word review? The answer is, you don't.

Once you've covered the food, the service and the ambience, there's not much room left to describe that stuffed moose head or the amazing loos or the Nut Gobbler beer logo designed by barman Stephen O'Callaghan at Harts Pub in The Rocks.

Hit the spot: Sliders at Woolwich Pier Hotel.
Hit the spot: Sliders at Woolwich Pier Hotel. Photo: Steven Siewert

In the past four years, Pub Food Guide reviewers have paid more than 2000 visits to hotels around NSW and most of what happens on the road stays on the road, because, well, it just doesn't all fit.

So this year we'd like to take you on a bit of a magical mystery tour of some of the quirkier moments that never made it into the guide and some of our all-round favourite moments. (If you hold this page to your ear and listen carefully, you should be able to hear the sound of lawyers running for cover.)

The Order Something Else, Why Don'tcha Award

A few years ago in London I tried to order a half pint of beer, but the words wouldn't come out of my mouth: I could only ever order a pint. The same goes for the lamb neck (collet d'agneau to moi et toi) at Le Pub in King Street. Frankly, it's getting annoying. But if they ever take it off the menu, there will be ramifications.

Best Use of Weird Ingredients

We love that you may need a dictionary for the Paddington Inn's new and winningly ambitious menu. Mojo picon, salmoriglio and baharat, for example. They are an unknown X-Man, Mozart's nemesis and a casino card game, or not.

The Diet, What Diet Medal

The Chocolate, Kahlua and Baileys Cheesecake at the Parkview Hotel, Orange, is minimal in terms of effort - the dish is delivered as a dash of cream alongside an uncouth slab of brown cheesecake - but the taste is exquisite.

The texture of the cheesecake is moist and soft, with the chocolate hitting the palate first, followed by the sensational undertones of Baileys and Kahlua. The perfect dessert to epitomise the pub environment: alcoholic, fun and a little naughty.

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Best with pets

At the Ruby L'Otel in Rozelle the manager came over especially and gave our reviewer's ''good-looking'' bulldog (an oxymoron, surely) a bowl of water and a bone from the kitchen. They also feed humans, we are told.

The Best Buns Award

Pub boss Anthony Medich at the Woolwich Pier Hotel has very particular tastes, especially when it comes to burgers. The pickles that come with his burgers are made in-house and the brioche buns took a whole year of testing and tasting before they were deemed good enough to be released to the unsuspecting public. It was worth the wait.

The Lou Reed Vicious Review 2014

This one didn't make it into the guide, oddly enough: ''Burns victims' carrots teamed with a salad left dressed in the bowl so long that the cherry toms had emulated ebola victims does indeed make for a special, but not in a good way. The half chicken was cooked to order - if the order had been 'flavoursome memories of the Red Sea, please' … Finally, a quintet of brown-bottomed spuds arranged in a mournful semicircle rounded out the plate.''

Thar She Blows! Best Gusher Review of the Year

''WOW WOW WOW. This is just incredible … the Canterbury Club Hotel bistro is quite a small space, tastefully updated on a low budget in a '50s American diner theme. The plating is funky (like onion rings come on a hoopla and a side dish of three homemade sauces, the burgers come with a steak knife stuck in the top and on a wooden board), but don't get me wrong, this is not kitsch. Can I say it again? WOW WOW WOW. The food is absolutely scrumptiously delicious. And there is so much thought behind it. AND this has has has to be the best-value pub in Sydney … everything is cooked properly and the Yorkshire pudding with the Sunday roasts is the best I have ever tasted. This is EVERYTHING a pub bistro should offer … LOVE IT! TOTALLY LOVE IT!'' (NB: see below)

Close But No Cigar Award

Sarah Knights (MasterChef: The Professionals runner-up; Australian Young Chef of the Year 2012; Appetite for Excellence Awards 2nd) and Scott Wade (Marco Pierre White; UK gastropubs) left the Canterbury Club Hotel (see above) just a few days before the Pub Food Guide went to press.

Not Baaaad At All Burger Awards

Our Best Burger this year went to The Commercial Hotel (Gerry's) in Millthorpe. Our reviewer said: ''The saltbush lamb is from Wellington in Central NSW, the patty is juicy and firm, conjured to perfection and clean on the palate. Then, stash layers of earthy beetroot relish, rich caramelised onions, crunchy greens and thick tomato slices between buttery buns and the whole package hits the tongue for six.'' The sheep in Wellington were last seen heading for the hills …

We also loved the burger at the East Village Hotel, Balmain East. It's a mega-meaty concoction with all the usual trimmings and just the right amount of chargrill on the outside to leave the inside perfectly juicy. Take a spare napkin; you'll need it.

Size Isn't Everything … Is It?

The burger at the Queen Victoria in Enmore, reports our reviewer, ''was the biggest I have ever seen - the only way it stayed upright was [with] a massive skewer - but each layer (beetroot, bacon, cheese, egg, tomato, onions, pineapple, lettuce) was something even Mirvac's engineering would have had a challenge replicating''.

It tasted good too.

Sex Sells

''Doing my happy dance!'' reported our choreographer, sorry, reviewer. ''I wasn't expecting much, but The London in Balmain is everything you want in a pub. Great menu choice, and the skill from the kitchen shone through every dish, from the scotch eggs to simple things like charcoal-scorched focaccia, which was so delicious [brace yourself, Dear Reader] you just want to smear yourself with fantastic smoky baba ghanoush and hand a wand of fluffy bread to your partner and have a great romp.

Yes, it was that good.''

So if you ever meet a baba-ghanoush-smeared journalist, she's one of ours.

The Seen But Not Heard Award

It's hard to think of a more child-friendly pub than the Taren Point Hotel, thanks to the soundproof playground adjacent to the dining area. Visit for Sunday lunch and the kids will also enjoy face painting, showbags and a petting zoo. Stacks for kids to do, but soundproofing? Genius.

Jelly on the Plate?

It was too late to make it into the guide, but the Oxford Tavern in Petersham, perhaps best known for its jelly-wrestling nights and noon strip shows, is undergoing a major revamp and will eventually open in early December as an American barbecue joint with a beer-barn vibe and late-night honky-tonk saloon. The big question, though, is: will there be jelly on the menu? C'mon, how could you not?

Jelly on the Plate (2)

This just in from Drink'n'Dine boss James Wirth re The Oxford: ''We are actually going to be doing a dessert called the Jelly Wrestle. It's a massive bowl of jelly, cream, peanuts and other bits served for four people. You have to eat it with gloves (no cutlery). It's our homage to the Oxford's shady past.''

No cutlery? Gloves? How could you NOT?

The Sydney Morning Herald Pub Food Guide 2014 will be available for $5 with The Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday, November 23 (from participating newsagents, while stocks last). It will also be available in bookshops and online at smhshop.com.au for $9.99.