The Wild Rover
The boys behind Grandma's inject a bit of craic into Sydney's bar scene.
Tucked at the bottom of Surry Hills — between Reuben Hills and Tio's — the boys behind Grandma's are injecting a bit of craic into Sydney's bar scene with their second venture, The Wild Rover. Sure, conical flasks double as water jugs, there are over 20 Irish whiskeys and the door is still obligatorily discreet (how else would we know it's a bar?), but there is a distinct lack of pretention at this end of Campbell Street.
With a just-resolved licensing issue and postponed opening, the Rover may have hiccupped into this world, but one foot in the place and you can see why owners James Bradey and Warren Burn held out for it — it's sexy with a touch comfy. A lot of the credit here is due to some deft lighting, but simple furnishings and high ceilings flesh it out before you notice the jungle wall and a repurposed train board listing Irish whiskeys and beers. In short, you have two levels of Irish hospitality equally fit for your mum as your boozy mates. Or your boozy mum.
The cocktail list is a mix of classics and twists from the bar team's imagination, all thoughtfully split into light, medium and heavy. The best bit is that every section has its own Bloody Mary: Consomme Mary, Red Snapper and Kilpatrick Bloody Mary (all $16). Word to the wise, when the Consomme Mary arrives clear, act cool — this funky twist on a Sunday favourite has been dripping through a muslin cloth for hours just to arrive clean and fresh at your table tasting of radish, tomato, pepper and horseradish. It is well paired with the oysters on offer ($18 per half dozen or $32 for a full) and has an awe factor, but you will probably only manage one in a visit. Same goes for the oysters, which arrived a little warm and a little small, but this is meant to be a bar after all.
Next on the list was a Kilpatrick Bloody Mary partnered with a lamb sausage roll ($7). After a sip and a bite I gave up on the idea of ever doing anything productive on a Sunday again — bacon-washed vodka topped with a radish garnish meets the smoked paprika, cumin and coriander of my new favourite bar snack. Vegos do not despair; there is a sausage roll for you, too, and I am sure you can get a Kilpatrick sans bacon vodka if you flash them a smile.
There are plenty of other goodies hiding on the back shelves. For the budding whiskey connoisseur, order the Clontarf trilogy flight (3 x 20ml pours for $19); if you are brave at heart there is some Knockeen Hills poteen, also known as Irish moonshine, (70%) with your name on it; and if you just want some good Irish whiskey, cast your gaze to Bushmills 20-year-old and consult your bartender on how best to enjoy it. The Bushmills house shot also impressed, with its ginger and whiskey balance followed by a smooth finish. However, if it's a little early in the week or you have something on tomorrow, the taps are pouring Guinness, Monteith's Crushed Apple Cider and Vale Pale Ale (all $7.50), complementing a wide selection of bottled beers and a 20-plus wine list.
For a night of tomfoolery, head down on Saturday with your booziest and best, grab a table early and settle in for laughs and whiskey. Or, you can pop in on Sunday afternoon and spot me covered in pastry. With whisperings of live music in the near future, the Wild Rover is truly an Irishman for every occasion and looks set to take its piece of Surry Hills traffic. Expect to see a huddled cluster of loyal smokers on the Campbell Street pavement this winter.
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