The Rover review

Boston vibes: The comfortably genteel surrounds of the Surry Hills venue.
Boston vibes: The comfortably genteel surrounds of the Surry Hills venue. Photo: Edwina Pickles

75 Campbell St Surry Hills, NSW 2010

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Opening hours Tues to Thurs, 4pm-late, Fri-Sat noon-late
Features Bar, Licensed, Accepts bookings, Outdoor seating
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 02 9280 2235

Sitting in the Rover's refined rustic front room, late afternoon sunlight warming its tall titian curtains and exposed brick walls, you'd think staff knew everyone who came through the door. 

"Heyyy" they say, hailing arrivals like the Fonz greeting his mirror reflection or Norm turning up at Cheers.

Everyone from solo diners bearing a paperback to date pairings, mate catch-ups and after-work groups, are immediately put at ease after pushing open the big, green, battered, potted tree-framed front door, with a "Heyyy".

Lamb sausage roll.
Lamb sausage roll.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

It's a staff tradition formed when the Rover was the Wild Rover, a 10-year old semi-landmark in Surry Hills, founded by Warren Burns and James Bradey of hospitality group Liquid and Larder.

That Rover merged secret den with neighbourly Irish bar, offering Scottish whiskies and Irish and American whiskeys framed by jungle animal wallpaper and plates of peppery house made sausage rolls.

In April, Liquid and Larder, who swelled to include Grandma's, Bistecca and the Gidley, removed the wild, and the wallpaper, and re-opened as the Rover, a refined re-take that is, in Bradey's words, "more than a lick of paint".

Potted pig rillettes.
Potted pig rillettes. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Entering the low-lit high ceilinged front room ("Heyyy"), the exposed brick walls, glowing wall sconces and old wooden train station indicator are still in-situ but more comfort and elegance is afoot.

Large window booths have swapped red upholstery for soft indigo fabric, the floor is tartan not concrete and the alcove-laden wooden shelves behind the bar are now a towering monument to well-stocked civility. This is not a simple gussy up.

The first indicators are lovely linen napkins, gatherings of tiny driftwood-like arrangements in vases and staff members who know every detail of every menu item down to the level of dill aiding a raw scallop. 

Standover Man and No-Groni.
Standover Man and No-Groni.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

Designed by group executive chef Pip Pratt, the menu melds English with New England flavours and offers a snacky but filling range of 12 dishes, plus sides and desserts.

Starting with six luscious varieties of Pacific and Sydney rock oysters including Moonlight Kiss, Rusty Wire and Coffin Bay, there's also raw scallop licked with horseradish and dill, Southern-style fried oysters with mussel tartare and hot smoked sardines with cultured butter.

Things could get very expensive if you agree, as I did, to every delightful suggestion the smiling staffer explains. 

Southern-style fried oysters.
Southern-style fried oysters.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

It gets more thrilling with a potted pig rillette, spread lustily on shoe-size slices of crusty bread with pureed Branston pickle, and scattered tiny pickles. "Dig deep," says the staff member, explaining how to scoop more than the top layer of apple jelly. It is dreamy, fragrant, luscious stuff. 

Fans of the Wild Rover can revisit old times with the lamb sausage roll with beetroot ketchup (made on the spot, allow 20 minutes). Still peppery, still buttery pastry succulent excellence.

Word is Pratt's curried fish finger roll, with curried papadum, is worth a visit alone but a true menu high point is the St Clement's posset with ginger biscuit. Served in a weighty glass goblet, the kicky slender biscuit balanced atop, this creamy magnificence, a balance of citrus and velvety dairy, makes you want to smear fingers through its delicate curds.

Hot smoked sardines.
Hot smoked sardines. Photo: Edwina Pickles

But decency, and the Rover's abounding refinement, restrains such activity. There are still Scottish whiskies and Irish and American whiskeys here, but they, along with a wine list curated by group sommelier Kyle Poole, and cocktails by award-winning bartender Alex Gondzioulis, mean it's a place to dig in and explore the 12-page drinks menu. 

Cocktail signatures include the delicate but chutzpah-esque Mary Celeste, combining gin, sherry, dill, watermelon and olive oil, and Standover Man, a fragrant, long-sip mix of Pampero Aged Rum, pineapple, peated whisky, coffee, ginger, citrus and whey leading the pack.

Also fab is his non-alcoholic range including the No-Groni, its bitterness, provided by non-alcoholic vermouth along with Seedlip Grove and Spice and orange, tricking the mind into thinking its hard liquor.

So, come for the the beautifully curated food, expert drinks and comfortably genteel surrounds. But stay for the honest camaraderie every time you open the door.

The low-down

The Rover

Vibe Welcoming New York-style local bar with expertly tuned food

Go-to dish Potted pig rillette with pureed Branston pickle

Insta-worthy dish St Clement's posset with ginger biscuit