Everybody needs good neighbourly reno'ed pubs.

It’s a labour of love at the Swanson Hotel.

From the outside the only visible change at the Kurrajong Hotel in Erskineville is the bright red signage. Inside, though, the place is unrecognisable. There's a zebra head on the wall, hairy z-print stool covers, and soft jungle print cane chairs alongside leather recliners. Also? The distinct and delicious smell of frying cheese.

"That’s the buffalo mozzarella," says general manager Danielle Youngs. The pizzas are a special on Thursdays in the pub, which Youngs says, while under new management, is as devoted to the needs of locals as ever. A sense of ownership remains; regulars have apparently dubbed the zebra head downstairs as ‘Pam’, and the bar has reciprocated by naming a cocktail after her.

Launched in May by new owners the Balmain Pub Group (of the, surprise surprise, Balmain Hotel), Swanson has an Indian-English colonial theme in both the pub on the ground floor and the cocktail bar and dining room on level one. The reasonably priced restaurant — headed by 2012 Australian Hotels Association chef of the year Brad Sloane — is an open space with clean lines, high ceilings and a soft light. Love 'em or loathe 'em, the walls are a stand out feature; a simple cement render spray-painted blue, they’re totally touchable and, combined with the large white framed windows, are a contemporary frame to the the English lounge suites and crystal decanter light fittings.

Cocktails are $18 — the Palme d’or with rum, palm sugar and ginger beer is spectacular, with a whole bunch of fresh lime and smashed strawberries. The New Bird is a great choice for winter with its watermelon foam and a regular kick of chilli.

You'll soon be needing to line your stomach. The crispy duck with orange, quinoa, pomegranate and pinenut salad ($16) is sensational, and it’s winter reincarnation is something to watch for. The goat's cheese fondant ($16) with beetroot, pistachio and orange is light and super tasty, though a good share choice as it's nice and rich.

Of the mains, the roasted pork belly with pickled radicchio, pumpkin, hazelnuts and fig ($26) is a standout, and while the sugared and deep fried walnuts with the sticky date pudding are pretty phenomenal, dessert is all about the chocolate, strawberry and salted peanut sundae ($13).

For the Swanson Hotel, it’s all about appreciating the place of the business within the community. "We’re friends with all the neighbours," Youngs says. "One of our tasks when we moved in was to resonate with locals, with what people wanted. We didn’t come in with a grand plan. It’s all about quality food and quality service — and of course, great booze."

Published on July 16, 2014 by Ashleigh Synnott

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