Restaurant News

First verdict: The Rover, Sydney

This old dog from the team behind Bistecca and The Gidley has picked up some new tricks, with a major spruce-up to celebrate its 10th anniversary.

By Callum McDermott
Photo: Dominic Loneragan
A decade in human years is like a century in hospitality-years. And when you run a venue for that long, and the area around you changes over time, you face an interesting decision. Do you completely redo the spot, and make something new? Do you keep things going as they were? Or do you go for something in between? I think the third option is the most difficult – especially in the wrong hands.
The Rover is in the right hands. Its owners, Sydney-based hospo group Liquid & Larder, are the same team that brought you plush CBD steakhouses Bistecca and The Gidley. Now, they're applying what they've learned at those two paeans to great steak, classic cocktails, and old-school hospitality to one of their earlier – and more comparatively homespun – venues.
Photo: Dominic Loneragan
It opened ten years ago, as the Wild Rover: an inconspicuous good-times Irish whiskey bar in the section of Sydney's Surry Hills that's close to Central Station. It was a wilder part of town back then, and now it's less wild; when it came time to relaunch The Rover, the wild got dropped from the bar name, too.
Now, the Irish influence remains, but like its younger siblings, there's a distinctly Manhattan influence here. The bar's tall street-facing windows – once notably obscured – are now clear; the light washing in makes it an appealing spot for an afternoon drink. The outdoor tables and the earlier opening hours also reflect The Rover's pivot away from its late-night reputation.
Photo: Dominic Loneragan
And so does the expanded dining menu. Designed by group executive chef Pip Pratt, it's a canny line-up of bar snacks from across the north Atlantic. There's a bit of Pratt's English heritage in the fish finger sandwich served with a papadum, and there's a bit of New England in the clam, scallop and oyster – fried or served fresh-schucked with champagne mignonette – dishes. Western Europe shows up in the rillettes with apple jelly, porchetta "ham", a classic leek tarte tatin and tender octopus with salsa verde. And if you have some loose change, caviar and potato chips should solve that problem. It's all cracking drinking food, but it's grown-up.
Cocktails are by award-winning bartender Alex Gondzioulis. Classics are well-executed, and the signatures – such as the Mary Celeste, with gin, sherry, dill, watermelon and olive oil – are a lot of fun. Gondzioulis is the former bar manager of the dearly departed Bulletin Place, and it's nice to see that legend's legacy living on. There are still enough whiskeys to sink a ship here, but it's no longer the main focus. The wine list has been curated by group sommelier Kyle Poole (former beverage director at Adelaide's Restaurant Orana and head somm at Sydney's Woodcut). Whether by the glass, carafe or bottle, the wines are a nice blend of mainly local and Old World players, with some finer touches such as cult grower champagnes and English wines.
Back in its wild days, the Rover was dark, loud, full of regulars and just the right side of rowdy. Now, it's lighter, buzzy, and new. It's clearly not the same bar it used to be – and though that may disappoint some, I'm sure it will please many more. Hopefully for another 10 years.
The Rover
75 Campbell St, Surry Hills, NSW
  • undefined: Callum McDermott