While it cannot compare in age with some of the world’s oldest cities, Sydney has a lot of history in its streets. Originally, the aim was not to build a great city, but to establish a prison settlement for British convicts. However, by the end of the 19th century, Sydney was one of the largest cities in the Western world. Sydney is arguably up there as one of the world’s most recognisable cities in our land girt by sea. With this in mind, I’ve put together a list of some of the venues that incorporate the history of the convict prison, er, city, we all know and love.
Customs House Bar
Nestled on the edge of Macquarie Place Park in Circular Quay, Customs House Bar is a serene escape from the bustle of Sydney. The iconic venue is over 160 years old, and while it has been recently refurbished it makes its way onto the old venues list with its rich history. Customs House is an historic landmark that served as the headquarters of the Customs Service in 1990.
With the refurbishment came a revamp of the food by Executive Chef Hemant Dadlani, introducing a gastro-pub menu to the iconic establishment. Pubs are of course an important part of Australia’s rich drinking culture and the rise of the gastro-pub means you can get high quality food to accompany your beverage of choice. In an area so rich in history like Circular Quay, Customs House Bar fits right in. The pub is open from 11am until late daily, serving food from midday until 9pm.
We order a Trio of Bruschetta to start ($15), which includes breads topped with smashed avocado, olive tapenade and a tomato mozzarella melt.
The trio gives a nice variety for a starter or light share. I did find the tapenade a little too salty and full-on for my liking, but then, I’m not a regular olive-eater.
The food is good quality; which is to be expected in a gastro pub. On our lovely waitress’ suggestion, I went with the beef brisket in ciabatta ($20), which is braised overnight and comes with chipotle BBQ sauce, slaw and lime aioli. The meat is super tender and moist, while the chipotle BBQ sauce and aioli give it a good punch of flavour. The chips are thick cut, cripsy outside and soft and golden inside.
I’m always concerned when something shows up on a breadboard. While it is a lovely way to present things, I, as the messiest eater possibly in existence – something that is perhaps summed up in the decisions of both my parents and former housemates to not allow me to eat while sitting on their respective new lounges – am afraid that the lack of edges will cause excess spillage. Luckily for me and everyone else involved, I managed to keep it all on the board. Phew!
My companion chooses the grilled chicken breast burger ($19) which comes on a brioche bun with smashed avocado and peri-peri mayonnaise.
Unfortunately we made the classic mistake of filling up on too much bread before-hand and neither of us quite finished our main meals. Something that really cuts me deep, believe me.
Atmosphere: Sitting outside in the sunny courtyard is definitely a good way to spend lunch, and there is a nice relaxing vibe within the white picket fences. While it wasn’t very busy on a Tuesday lunch, I imagine it would pack out later in the week once 5pm hits.
Drinks: There’s plenty of variety in the drinks menu, with over twenty different beers to choose from as well as a dedicated beer tap for boutique craft beer, which regularly features a different microbrewery. There are also plenty of options on offer with the Wine and Cocktail menus. The Strawberry Basil Margarita is refreshing with the combination of lime and basil, with the strawberry giving just the right hit of sweetness.
Variety: The menu is divided into four sections to help you out; Foodies, Pub Grub, Local Market and Shares. Within each section there are several options to cater for your mood, whether it be a light share plate with some drinks or an Instagrammable main meal.
Value for money: The prices are reasonable for the good quality food – win win! The servings are generous and well-presented. You know anything with actual flowers as a garnish is a little bit fancy.Customs House Bar Macquarie Place, Circular Quay, NSW 2000 Phone: (02) 9259 7317
History and culture are so often intertwined in the rich tapestry of the human race. And the perfect culmination of history and culture can be found at Governor’s Table. Located on the site of the first Government House in Australia, now the Museum of Sydney, it doesn’t get much more historical or cultural. Dining at Governor’s Table means exactly that; dining in the spot that Australia’s first Governor indulged in his first meal in Australia.
Governor’s Table is open every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner and the menu boasts plenty of options.
The sharing options are varied. To start we ordered the Charcuterie Plate for 2 ($29), which comes with a selection of salami, pickles, baby carrot and sourdough.
This is fine dining, but the staff were so lovely and welcoming that we felt at home straight away. I am somewhat of a hypocrite; when working in hospitality I can’t stand those super indecisive diners that just can’t sort their stuff out, but, as soon as it’s my turn to dine out I turn into Miss Indecision 2014. Our waitress however, was patient with my umm-ing and ahh-ing and finally we settled on a selection of shares.
The Manager, Zelka, very kindly arranged for some extra dishes to be sent out for us to taste, including Duck Liver Parfait ($19) with peach butter, cherries and sourdough, and Confit Salmon ($22) with blood orange curd, soy bean, tomato and roe.
For mains we can’t go past the Roasted Lamb Back strap and belly,with peas, mint, shallot and lettuce ($38), as well as Cep Scented Pork with butternut squash, caramelised endive and lavender jus ($36). We also go for green beans in almond butter and chilli ($10) as a side , because we’re good and eat our veggies!
The food is high quality. The servings are all well-presented and decent sized. It is my personal opinion that lamb and mint just go together, having grown up on my mum’s roast lamb with mint sauce. So I was delighted at the minty lamb dish, with the peas and shallot giving a nice contrast in texture with the tasty tender meat. The pork is deliciously juicy and with the butternut squash it makes a hearty but not too heavy dish.
Atmosphere: The sandstone building is conveniently located a few minutes walk from Circular Quay, and sitting outside it is a nice spot to while away the afternoon watching the world go by. It might sound a bit weird but I think that often the toilets of an establishment give a good reflection of the fancy-ness. And let me tell you, Governor’s Table does have oh-so-fancy restrooms. Make of that what you will.
Drinks: The drinks menu is varied, with a decent selection of wine, draught and bottled beer, cocktails, cider and non-alcoholic beverages. There are also a good range of teas and fresh juices of the day.
Variety: The menu is designed to allow for sharing, with most meals served on platters. There is an extensive selection, divided into small plates, large plates and sides; cue paralyzing indecision! There are also banquet options for groups of 10 or more.
Value for money: The quality of the food and fresh ingredients make this a high class experience. The prices are definitely not unreasonable; sharing is a great way to try a range of dishes and works out to be quite good value.
Governor’s Table Cnr Bridge Street and Phillip Street, Sydney NSW 2000 Phone: (02) 9241 1788 Web: www.thegovernorstable.com.au
The Fortune of War
I love The Rocks because it is a piece of old Sydney. While it is of course quite touristy, it is quaint and it has atmosphere in its winding back alley ways and cobbled streets. I’m a sucker for cobblestones. It makes sense that The Rocks would house some of Sydney’s more historic venues. The Fortune of War claims to be the oldest pub in Sydney, established in 1828 by former convict Samuel Terry. It doesn’t get much more authentic than that; the land of plenty was built on convicts.
Dining at the Fortune of War is fairly relaxed, with the option of eating downstairs in the front bar or upstairs in the First Fleet Bistro. There are a range of light meal options and bar snacks such as sliders, cauliflower bites or a traditional pork pie. For more of a meal, there are burgers and sandwiches as well as main meals. In-keeping with the historical Australian venue, I thought I better go for the Kangaroo Burger ($18); you can’t get more Aussie than eating one of the animals off our Coat-of-Arms! Mmm… tastes like freedom.
The burger contains a herbed mince patty nestled on a brioche bun with cheese, tomato and spiced tomato relish. I’ve had kangaroo steaks before, and while I don’t mind the taste, find the meat a bit too chunky for my liking. This, however, is tender and delicious, and I would even go so far as to say it was the best kangaroo I’d ever had (sorry Mum). My companion had never tried kangaroo before, and despite his initial refusals I managed to force open-mindedness and he was pleasantly surprised. (I hate to say I told you so but…)
Barramundi with house made tartare and chips ($21)
I am a firm believer of the ‘there’s always room for dessert’ mantra, so we opt for some sweets. I figured I might as well continue the Australiana theme with dessert, going for an ANZAC crumbed macadamia ice cream with rum butter sauce ($6).
The dessert selection is modest but solid. The Bread and Butter Pudding ($8), served with brioche, custard and cinnamon ice cream is a classic traditional sweet, although my companion did find it a little bit tough.
Atmosphere: The age of the pub is apparent in the decor and appearances. It was actually surprisingly really busy when we arrived, considering it was a Tuesday lunch time. The crowd actually seemed to be made up of seasoned regulars, kicking back in the historical watering hole. The history is displayed on the walls of the hallway, and provides a fascinating insight into the pub’s colourful past if you have time to peruse. The dining room is relaxed and offers a picturesque view out over Nurses Walk.
Quality: The food is hearty and delicious, and is good solid pub fare. The burger was cooked to perfection and the servings are generous.
Drinks: The pub has 15 beers on tap and a reasonable selection of Australian wines available by the glass or bottle. It is clearly favoured with the locals so the drinks are doing their job.
Variety: The menu has decent options that should satisfy most tastes, but like most pubs is not overwhelming in too many choices.
Value for money: The prices are reasonable for the good pub food. The servings are a good size and nicely presented. The desserts in particular are well-priced if you just want a little something sweet.
The Fortune of War 137 George Street, Sydney NSW 2000 Phone: (02) 9247 2714 Web: www.fortuneofwar.com.au
The Keg and Brew Hotel
Formerly known as the KB Hotel, the Keg & Brew was recently renovated and re-opened by the same team behind other Surry Hills locale, the Dove & Olive. Check out a full review of the Dove & Olive here. A Foveaux Street favourite for many years, the pub opened in 1936, and was named after the former Kent Brewery, located not too far from Central Station. Kent Brewery was operated by Tooth & Co, one of Australia’s oldest and largest companies that went public in 1888.
The pub has now been transformed into a venue inspired by the American deep-south and specialising in bourbon, beer and bites. The focus is on traditional pub grub with a twist, and there are daily specials for $9 if you’re after a cheap eat. In true Southern style, there are plenty of hearty options to choose from such as Philly cheese steak, KB fried chicken and burgers. And you know it wouldn’t be a deep-south affair without a deep-fried dessert; in this case a Deep-Fried Twinkie.
Dining is kept casual, with patrons able to walk in and choose a table or pull a stool up at the bar to eat.
Atmosphere: Many of the original heritage features of the pub remain, including the traditional Tooths lager tiled exterior and grand central bar. The new ownership saw restoration of the floor to a polished American oak and the theme throughout, inspired by the American South, includes flourishes of animal hide, brass and leather chesterfield finishes with immense trophy heads and the occasional portrait of Dolly Parton on the walls. It’s all about that Southern hospitality here, ma’am.
Drinks: There is a plenty to whet your whistle with at the Keg & Brew, with a rotating selection of around 30 craft beers on tap, and over 30 types of bourbon served three ways; neat, on the rocks or as one of three traditional bourbon cocktails.
Variety: There’s a decent selection of bites on the menu, with small dishes to snack on, a variety of mains including classic steaks, schnitty and even a couple of fish dishes. They even do a roast on Sundays if you’re feeling nostalgic for a good ol’ traditonal baked dinner.
Value for money: The prices are reasonable; what you’d expect for solid pub grub. If cheap eats are what you’re after, they have daily $9 specials so you don’t blow your budget.Keg & Brew 26 Foveaux Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010 Phone: (02) 9212 1740 Web: www.kegandbrew.com.au