There's been a makeover of transcontinental proportions in Balmain, and from the looks of the patient, the operation was a success. Once not-so-lovingly known among locals as the 'Dead End', four months ago the historic West End Hotel on the corner of Mullens and Reynolds was put out of its misery, gutted and rebirthed by the guys over at Balmain Pub Group (Riverview Hotel). The brand-new Balmain Hotel has risen from the remnants with a shiny new wardrobe, a tasty menu and, most importantly, two or sometimes three well-stocked bars with ample knockin' back space.
And we're not just talking about the biggest beer garden in Balmain with a tiki bar either. There's the top bar named in honour of its predecessor, a Flamingo Room and a bigger bottom bar home to the chiselled jaw of head barman Istvan Orosz. Try his take on a cocktail staple, the maple Old Fashioned infused with a hint of bacon and served with a crispy strip of pancetta. Or for a little extra spice over sheer meaty strength, the Bison Grass Mule throws a gingery punch. Just hope no one orders any at rush hour, as prep time is unsurprisingly a little longer.
Beer options are fine and the wine list features a whole bunch of Aussies. Ideal for homegrown drop-lovers, not so great if you're after a more European selection. Saying that, what with its subdued South Pacific theme (you know — murals, kitsch bar tiles, lots of colour) combined with an Asian hawker-influenced menu with Mexican and American elements for good measure, undoubtedly a few ingredients were thrown into this one's mix.
Go for the duck or pork steamed buns if you go here for anything, otherwise the salt and pepper squid with kimchi coleslaw or the crispy raw salmon 'taco' are very flavoursome. Desserts aren't forgotten either, and the alcoholics among us will love the Balmain's version of an affogato. Those already sufficiently drowned should get busy soaking up with nicely deep-fried churros dipped in melted chocolate. Award-winning chef Brad Sloane has done good.
In fact, it looks like everyone who helped transform the Balmain Hotel from what once was to what is has done good. Now all they need to do is iron out a few atmospheric creases (lighting, in particular) and get feet through the doors. Should be fun.
Images: Katje Ford.