Thursday, 10 October 2013

An old Sydney pub transformed into a stellar eatery

It used to be the Brooklyn Hotel, a typical Sydney boozer. Now it is the The Morrison, a cutting-edge eatery where talented chef Sean Connolly has fun - and so do his guests.

The Morrison is still a pub, but its also an oyster bar, a cocktail joint, a wine bar and a bistro all rolled into one. 

There's no stuffiness here. It's loud, almost raucous, and a great place to get together with a few friends who want to eat real food served in real portions - and maybe get their fingers dirty while sharing a dish or two. 

Connolly, once of mega eatery Astral at the Star City Casino, has his finger on the pulse of what Sydneysiders want to eat. This place has been packed to the rafters since it opened a year or so ago, and its popularity shows no sign of flagging on the evidence of a recent visit. 

Our group was keen to get into the West Cape Howe 2012 Chardonnay ($52) so rather than selecting freshly-shucked oysters and clams from the blackboard, opted for a selection of mixed starters: chicken lollipops (drumsticks) with a sinful chilli and molasses sauce; sardines and soldiers (white anchovies on toasted sourdough) and fish fingers (crunchy quinoa-coated sardines with an aoli dipping sauce). 

All these were excellent, although the crab and lettuce "tacos" were a disappointment; a trifle listless and bland. We should have opted for a platter of Serrano ham with pickles and bread instead. 

Mains that proved popular included crisp and flavoursome fish with chips cooked in Connolly's signature duck fat (you wouldn't do better at Harry Ramsden's) and steamed mussels with coconut, chilli and crusty bread. 

Other tempting options included split Moroccan chicken, chilli crab linguine, or veal schnitzel holstein. All of the mains, other than a couple of steaks and dishes designed for sharing, come in at under $30, although sharing chips and vegetables can push the bill upwards. 

On the other hand you could enjoy a glass of wine or a Cascade with a couple of oysters and escape with change from a lobster.

There's a decent cheeseboard to round out proceedings with a selection of Victorian and Tasmanian offerings. The Rolf Binder Shiraz, from 2011 but still quite muscular, proved a popular accompaniment.

I've seen The Morrison described as a New York-style brasserie. It isn't. Most New York brasseries are not packed with Aussies hitting the booze hard after a big day in the office, or staffed by slick Slovak waiters who get the mood of the table just right. 

The booze list features rare London gin and fine Kentucky bourbons, along with a great range of potentially lethal cocktails.

The meats are organic, free range, grain fed, cut from the bone or cured, and the oysters delivered daily. Connolly describes it as: "Grown up food - the best quality done simply". 

Walk-ins are welcome here; but reservations recommended.

The Morrison is quintessential 2013 Sydney - with fresh local produce to the fore along with an astutely judged wine list. The food's great, the service very good and there is a great vibe. What more could you ask for?

The Morrison Bar and Oyster Room, 225 George St, Sydney. (02) 9247 6744. 

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