I don't know what to make of the doughnut labelled "bother me". It's stencilled on the wall along with a dancing pig holding a bottle of wine, a sausage, a slice of pizza, a dancing can holding a pizza, a dancing slice of pizza holding a bottle of wine, and a love heart beribboned with the word "pizza". Interesting move for a restaurant that doesn't sell doughnuts or sausage or dancing pigs. Or pizza. Maybe they'd make more sensed inked on someone's glutes. Or a pencil case.
On the other hand, the phrase "self-serve coolroom full of really great wine" is something I can grasp straight away. That, plus a new outing for the Pinbone mob makes an excursion to Mascot a "when" proposition rather than an "if". Yes, the name Mr Liquor's Dirty Italian Disco smacks of a brainstorming session that needed more brain and less storm. It's consistent with some aspects of the look and feel of the place that are a little grating in their overreach, and the "fun" colourful clothes the staff are encouraged to wear bring to mind the scene in Office Space in which Jennifer Aniston gets rebuked for not wearing enough pieces of flair to work.
But if your idea of a good time runs to getting together with a bunch of pals to graze over plates of olives, a few things on toast and/or a few things that go with bread, then seguing to a tasty hunk of protein or a plate of pasta over a good, well-priced bottle or six, it turns out these things are easy to forgive.
The former drive-through of the Tennyson Hotel that now houses Mr Liquor's Dirty Italian Disco.
And as much "fun" as there is being pushed (mini-neon signs on the tables, the offer of tambourines, god help me), there's plenty of unforced amusement as well. The place is set in what used to be the drive-through bottle-shop of the Tennyson Hotel. The pub itself has fine Deco lines outside that give way to downlights, a smoking nest and pokies inside. You might have dropped in there if you were in a hurry to find a cash machine or relieve yourself. The rejigged bottle-o, though, is full of life. The ceiling is high, the floor is concrete, the noise is substantial, and when the roller doors are open at lunch you might be lucky enough to see the odd Commodore SL roll up in search of a carton of throwdowns and a packet of darts.
I wish whoever put the exclamation marks on the menu ("Please order at the bar!" "Fresh bread!") had taken things to their logical conclusion (Polenta! Corn! Chervil! Credit card payments incur a 1.5% surcharge!). You could certainly justify putting one next to the 'nduja. Chefs Jemma Whiteman and Mike Eggert make a version of the volcanic Calabrese spreadable sausage that's as spicy and porky as you'd expect, but with a brightness of flavour that's all its own.
If we're going to get typographical, I'd put an asterisk (or that fantastically catty nail-painting emoji) next to a couple of dishes to mark them optional. The white beans, zucchini and pangrattato (gluggy, but not in a fun way), the vegetable gratinato with Taleggio sauce (Taleggio refuses to be tamed by man or beast) and the grilled calamari (needs more grilling) spring to mind.
Spatchcock, lemon and tarragon butter
But that's really just a matter of there being more worthwhile dishes demanding your attention. The excellent roast chicken, for instance, a brown and handsome thing that comes to the table jointed, juicy and lolling in a slick of tarragon butter with a half a roasted lemon. Sardine aïoli makes an inspired accompaniment to fried sardines in a light, crisp crumb, and tuna crudo finds a happy groove with beetroot diced to a similar scale as the fish, all showered in a grating of horseradish. These dishes show generosity of flavour but remain admirable in the restraint of their composition.
The plates are camping-ready Falcon Enamelware, and if whoever tizzed up the room didn't quite know when to stop, the kitchen at least has a clear grasp on exactly how much is enough. Porchetta and yellow beans with a little pot of grilled spring onion. Grilled greens and sweet garlic. Gnocchetti in a deeply savoury lamb ragù. No wasted movement. At no stage is a plate overwhelmed by flowers or threatened with something that a waiter has to pour onto it from a tiny jug at the table.
The big steak, a kilo of rib-eye grilled and sliced to share, is presented on a tray with mustard, chilli sauce, horseradish cream and a hunk of parmesan, but really its best accompaniment is a bottle of 2010 Biondi-Santi Bruenllo di Montalcino - a steal at $148. Spending that kind of money on wine at a restaurant that has refectory-style tables and a mirror-ball isn't for everyone, but Mr Liquor still has you covered. The choice here is genuinely outstanding. If you love wine, but don't mind having your glass topped up by a kid in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace socks, this place is the most interesting thing to have opened in Sydney in recent memory. When you walk into the fridge you'll find the classic alongside the wines for which team Pinbone has more of an affinity (Gravner, Cornelissen and the high priests of Italian weird, and their local counterparts). The snowsuits hung by the coolroom door are an endearing touch.
Strawberry swirl soft serve with pinenut brittle
Service, led by Pinbone co-founder Berri Eggert, is also endearing. It's deeply casual, but tied together by what looks like a genuine commitment to helping guests have a good time.
Desserts? They have them. The hazelnut tiramisù is pleasingly hazelnutty and free of doilies and sifted icing sugar, the panna cotta, more a baked custard, a cheerily rough-and-ready child of the wood-fired oven, the soft-serve a strawberry swirl sprinkled with chopped strawberry and peanut brittle.
Strong in value and long on merriment, Mr Liquor makes for a wonderfully goofy night out with a litre of natural Chilean moscatel, and an excellent place to gather some friends for lunch, order a big steak as an alibi and lash out on seriously excellent red wine. Hell, it's even a great place to stop on the way to the airport. What it isn't is here for a long time - at least not with the Pinbone team running things. You've got until April to drink your fill. Might even be time enough to figure out that whole doughnut-"bother me" thing. Oh, wait! Doughnut bother me - do not bother me. Haha. Good one, Merivale.