Going to a pub to see a live band has been a tenuous option in Sydney hotels in recent years. COVID put the kibosh on it temporarily, but NIMBYism, ever-rampant in areas anchored by old pubs joyously heaving with late-night bands playing to sweaty patrons clutching schooners beside the wooden bar, dribbled it away significantly.
The Lady Hampshire, built in 1911, and originally called the Old Hampshire, restores such revelry. Sandwiched between a kebab shop and a camping store, and five minutes walk from Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s former Camperdown council home where his love of live bands blossomed, it offers a nostalgic return to sticky carpeted, body jostling, ear-thumping music revels into the wee hours.
It is also serving excellent food. Tender, kicky salt-and-pepper wings, juicy, crunchy chicken schnitzel, roast chicken with herby jus and buttery mash and “thrice cooked” wedges with a crispness worthy of medals. There are four kinds of satiating burger, steak with luxuriant peppercorn sauce, orecchiette with fat broccolini daubed in chilli and lemon and a sticky date pudding lashed with a salted Guinness butterscotch sauce.
The Lady Hampshire’s head chef, Brendan King, formerly at Baba’s Place, Fish Shop and Fsh Mkt, and brought in by the pub’s new operator Public Hospitality Group, says nothing is pre-battered, pre-cooked or swiftly defrosted minutes before it reaches your plate.
“Pubs sometimes have a reputation for putting out low-quality food,” King says.
“I wanted to take extra care and consideration because, when you’re at the pub, you might have a couple of drinks and not necessarily be aware of what you’re eating
“I’ve always been taught that every single thing that goes on a plate really matters. Every element needs to be right and perfect.”
King, who grew up around Stanmore and moved into a food career after studying film and radio, does not like a long menu. There are five snacks, six mains, or “counter meals”, four burgers, six sides and two desserts.
On this chilly Wednesday evening, under outdoor heaters and fairy lights in the beer garden, we sit on wooden bench tables made from recycled timber and savour King’s samosa spring rolls, half roast chicken and mash, Guinness shepherd’s pie and sticky date pudding.
All overshadow average pub fare without being not overcomplicated or niche dishes.
King’s silky mashed potato and mushed peas are as luscious as the accompanying blistered-skin roast chicken. The Guinness pie, topped with a lattice of grilled potato mash coronets is rich, filling and testament to the dark stout flavours King adores after he first tasted the beer as an 18-year-old.
Do not leave without meeting the, also Guinness-laced, sticky date pudding. Gleaming in a pond of salted stouty butterscotch and malt ice-cream, it is the pub’s crowning dessert glory. Although there is also pavlova with kiwi fruit, cream and lemon myrtle oil that some fellow diners fought over.
Or drink a cold beer, one of 16 Australian and European wine varieties, or five other royally named cocktails (Charles, Beatrice, Elizabeth, Louis or Anne) while sitting on a cushioned bar-stool under the gaze of Peter Garrett, Olivia Newton-John, Kath and Kim, Cathy Freeman, Adam Goodes and Steve Irwin in artist Scott Marsh’s wall murals.
Live bands play from Wednesday to Saturday, a hopefully unthreatened program given the pub’s late-night licence, and, if you visit on Tuesday, the “curry and cans” night means a curry, borne of King’s longtime love of Indian food, and can of beer for $20.
It’s also worth giving the decor a close look, the work of former Tsubi designer George Gorrow. There are black-and-white chequered floors, nautical wall lamps, a band room lined with Persian carpets and a wall stuck with beer mats, as if years of flinging fluid-soaked cardboard circles have created a brewery icon mural.
On live gig nights, King offers a late-night menu with all the snacks, burgers and desserts served in takeaway containers. So you can eat salted cod croquettes with gentleman’s relish or beautifully crumbed barramundi slipped between tartare, American cheese and pickles on a buoyant hamburger bun while cutting a rug to loud music in a 112-year-old pub heaving with perspiring locals and culinary lovers.
Vibe: Revamped inner west pub with live music
Go-to dish: Sticky date Guinness pudding with salted Guinness butterscotch and malt ice-cream
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