The shutters of prime corner pub The Paddington Inn have finally reopened. Just like other recently refurbished Oxford Street greats like The Unicorn, The Paddington and The Light Brigade before it, the Paddo mainstay has received a new lick of paint and, with it, a new lease on life. The team behind the unveiling is Sydney hospo group Solotel, the company behind venues like North Bondi Fish, Aria and The Sheaf.
The old front bar of the Paddo Inn has been renovated into a smart bar and casual dining spot, with a more formal eatery out the back. The chef is Justin Schott (ex-Rockpool Bar & Grill and Kitchen by Mike), who's pumping out two different menus — burgers, steaks, salads and snacks like croquettes for the front bar (where the focus is on cocktails and spritzers), and a modern Australian menu out back.
But we're here for the full shebang, so we head down into the lovely dining room designed by George Livissianis, who is most recently responsible for the redesign of The Dolphin in Surry Hills (the resemblance is noticeable) and Matt Moran's Aria. Visually, it's exactly what you want from a contemporary pub bistro — high ceilings, painted brick, wood and marble textures with a casual elegance about it. The open kitchen looks super fresh and well appointed, the menu too is instantly appealing with a good number of dishes and interesting flavour combinations. The room itself is packed with upwardly mobile locals and industry folk, which on this weeknight is impressive considering the mains go for around $40 a pop.
The food itself is good, without ever really being great. Small glitches see simple things come undone, like unseasonal and undercooked butternut squash accompanying otherwise nice burrata ($20). Or rockmelon with ruby snapper sashimi ($22) —texturally it just doesn't really mesh — and some house-baked onion focaccia ($6), which is just plain stale. The chicken liver parfait on the other hand is delicious, draped with thin slices of saffron-spiked pear and toasted gingerbread ($21). The chargrilled Fremantle octopus with grilled fennel and 'nduja too ($24) is more on the money, but more of both the fennel and nduja — plus a little more seasoning and acid — would make it a knockout.
The eggplant caponata ($25) comes deconstructed as half a baked eggplant topped with a chunky caper vinaigrette and goats' curd; the flavours are classic, but is really a testament to the old adage 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. The lamb rump with artichoke, peas, confit garlic and purple basil ($38) is pleasant, if a little sinewy and slightly underdone for a chewy cut with the fat on the outside not rendered quite enough; however, the sides of potato bake fries ($11) and charred leek with cornichons and capers ($12) nearly make up for it. A seriously incredible dessert of coconut sorbet with carrot juice ($15) leaves a good taste in our mouths from an otherwise mercurial food experience.
Shout outs have to go to the wine list from Matt Dunne which is compact, thoughtful and really food friendly, with a great selection of vermouths by the glass — do try the Bianco Regal Rogue as an aperitif ($12) — and the service, which is knowledgable and attentive. You'll enjoy your time at the new Paddo Inn, however we're hoping a little less experimentation and a stronger focus on simple execution will round out the experience from solid to 'wow'.