The Dolphin Hotel Dining Room

The pizza marinara is the go-to dish at the Dolphin Hotel.
The pizza marinara is the go-to dish at the Dolphin Hotel. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

412 Crown St Surry Hills, NSW 2010

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Opening hours Sat-Mon 11.30am-10pm; Tue-Fri 11.30am-midnight
Features Accepts bookings, Bar, Groups, Licensed, Pub dining, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Monty Kaludrovic; Dan Medcalf
Payments eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 02 9331 4800

There's graffiti everywhere you look; chipped plaster on the walls; chairs and banquettes covered in shiny plastic; and non-essential wiring exposed against bare brick. If you're wondering what the born-again Dolphin Hotel will look like when it's finished, you can stop wondering. It's finished. 

And it's gorgeous, in a crazy, anything goes, pool-playing, pizza-eating, sangiovese-sniffing house party kind of way. Now less pub and more interactive art installation with food and wine attached, it's a joint effort from Icebergs Dining Room & Bar and the nearby Hotel Harry.

Working with Iceberg's Maurice Terzini, Sydney architect George Livissianis has channelled Keith Haring and Christo, collaborating with artists Beni Single and Tracy Deep, and finding new uses for rope, calico, strategic lighting, and lots and lots of whitewash. Four dramatic and distinct areas have been created – a bar, a dedicated wine room, an upstairs lounge, and a lively dining room with its open kitchen and wood-fired pizza oven taking centre stage on a raised platform overlooking the room.

The pub's new look is by George Livissianis (who designed The Apollo and Cho Cho San).
The pub's new look is by George Livissianis (who designed The Apollo and Cho Cho San). Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Icebergs' chef Monty Koludrovic and head chef Dan Medcalf have welded together a sort-of Italian, sort-of Baby Boomer menu that runs from Sao crackers with anchovy and pickled onions ($12 for four) to crisp, thin Roman-style pizza. The pizza chef knows what he's doing and a classic, nicely intense, cheese-free, pizza marinara balances its tomato, anchovy, capers, olives and oregano ($18), while staying crisp to the end.

From the dedicated salumi cabinet, LP's Quality Meats deliver a classic, well-made mortadella ($18) scattered with crisp little fritti of mashed potato and green olive for contrast.

Spaghetti with blue swimmer crab ($26) sees a heady, smoky, crab-flecked tomato sauce nicely fused with judiciously cooked pasta; the grated cured bottarga (mullet roe) adding savoury, umami character. So simple, so good.

Old-school comfort: the wood-fired lemon pudding.
Old-school comfort: the wood-fired lemon pudding. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

I can't remember when I last saw chicken cacciatore on a menu  – Carlton? 1988? – but this "hunter's stew" ($32 half, $56 whole) is neither hunted nor stew. A big, muscly slow-roasted Holmbrae chook is jointed and served in a pool of juices with button mushrooms and wilted greens; great for sharing. Slow-roasted pork belly ($32) is a straight-up main course, firm of flesh and crisp of crackling. Wood-fired lemon pudding riffs on Aunty Daph's lemon delicious with its gooey, lemony pud beneath a crisp brulee crust.

While the dedicated Wine Room shows next-level commitment to storage temperatures, and the bar proudly promises "no post-mix", the restaurant features an approachable list from sommelier James Hird in the dining room (approachable as in a bright, ripe-cherry, pizza-loving 2014 Babo Chianti, for $10 a glass and $52 a bottle.)

Terzini, for whom it is not too early to apply the term visionary, has done that thing – that Harry's Bar of Venice thing – where getting through to the bar or a table is a bit awkward and you have to brush by people, and knock elbows and engage with your fellow human beings. Which means in spite of the active-wear crowd, the natural wines and the top-dollar local produce, it's still, thank the lord, a pub.

From the salumni cabinet: LP's Quality Meats mortadella and olive
From the salumni cabinet: LP's Quality Meats mortadella and olive fritti. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Best bit: The house party atmosphere
Worst bit: It's hanging-from-the-rafters busy

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system

Go-to Dish: Pizza marinara with tomato, anchovy, capers, olives, oregano, $18.