The Duke of Clarence review

The Duke of Clarence in Sydney. A cosy spot with lots of wooden surfaces waiting to be anointed with pints of Lord Nelson.
The Duke of Clarence in Sydney. A cosy spot with lots of wooden surfaces waiting to be anointed with pints of Lord Nelson. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

152-156 Clarence St Sydney, NSW 2000

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Opening hours Mon-Sat noon-2am
Features Bar, Groups, Pub dining, Late night
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)

An English pub in a Sydney alleyway, wot wot? It's true, old bean, and it's a bloody nice place.

Sydney-based bar bloke Mikey Enright says "proper pubs" are what he misses most about his homeland. To that end, the Liverpudlian has created his own British-style tavern with business partner Julian Train in the CBD, next door to the gin-focused Barber Shop, also co-owned by the pair.

The Duke of Clarence is a handsome, cosy spot with lots of wooden surfaces waiting to be anointed with pints of Lord Nelson Three Sheets ($12) and Speckled Hen ($13). Building materials have been sourced from English pubs, churches and warehouses and the venue is unrecognisable from its previous incarnation as the American diner-channelling Easy Eight. Walls are covered in Dutch golden-age-style prints of villagers going about their daily duties of smoking pipes and looking at windmills.

Sardines on toast at The Duke of Clarence, Sydney.
Sardines on toast at The Duke of Clarence, Sydney. Photo: Supplied

You can calibrate a spirit level on the Guinness here ($12), pulled with a head that's perfect, creamy and still. A moment of Irish zen with half-a-dozen Pacific oysters ($24). Potted crab ($18) is just as comforting – a glossy spread of blue swimmer, fennel, lemon and creme fraiche engineered to be slathered thick on soda bread with cultured butter. Kilojoule counting, be damned.

Other fork-optional, London-calling share plates include roast marrow on sourdough with parsley salad ($16) and fish finger sandwiches ($15) straight out of the "Mum's working back, Dad's on dinner duty" school of cooking from my childhood. The pieces of fleshy blue-eye trevalla entombed by salty, crunchy crumbs are a world away from oven-baked hake fingers I would eat in front of the television as 10-year-old, though.

A lunch menu that launched last week is where English chef David Penistone showcases the best of British pub food. There's sardines on toast with horseradish creme fraiche ($18), lamb's liver with smoked bacon, shallots and brandy ($18), and chicken tikka masala ($22) – England's national dish after curry sauce on chips. Gammon steak ($24) is cured in apple brine by free-range Victorian butchery Pacdon Park and served with rather excellent hand-cut chips and your choice of poached duck egg or pineapple to cut through the pork leg's salt and fat.

Classic British comfort food: fish Finger sandwiches.
Classic British comfort food: fish Finger sandwiches. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

There are more than 500 unique spirits behind the bar, and 80 per cent of them from the British Isles. As a point of difference to The Baxter Inn, which shares a spot in the same laneway and stocks an eye-watering number of Scottish whiskies, Enright has loaded his drinks list with a tidy selection of harder-to-find Irish drams on top of the usual Speyside suspects. Kudos, too, for a small showing of English fizz on the wine list.

The Duke is also the only joint in Australia where you'll find Young Henrys Newtowner pale ale ($12) pulled from a hand pump. Unfiltered hand-pumped beer that's been yeast-conditioned in its cask makes for a fuller-flavoured pint, and in the case of Newtowner this means heightened biscuit notes and a malty sweet finish.

Bar manager Steve McDermott looks after a cocktail list that twists classics with grapefruit tincture, lemon oil and nettle distillate. The custard ale flip ($19) is a milkshakey mix of cask ale, marmalade custard, Talisker, allspice and demerara. It's a way to end an evening, not start one. For a more lively time, the pineapple julep ($20) is a tropical storm in a pewter cup of gin, pineapple, orange, raspberry, maraschino and sparkling wine.

Gammon steak with pineapple ring to cut through the pork leg's salt and fat
Gammon steak with pineapple ring to cut through the pork leg's salt and fat Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

It's very easy to while away an evening at The Duke, meditating over a pint or getting your Bertie Wooster on with a Pimms or six. I look forward to returning with a crossword and a pencil and an empty dance card. Unlike an actual British pub, there's also zero chance of spotty chavs belting each other with pool cues most nights The only brawls breaking out will be over who gets that last fish finger sanger.

If you only drink one thing: Young Henrys Newtowner from the hand pump ($6.50/$12).

If you only eat one thing: fish finger sandwiches ($15).