Found: the best counter meals in Sydney. By Emily Lloyd-Tait When was the last time your local offered a plate of four juicy lamb chops? It was probably sometime in the early ’90s, but thankfully the new era at the Unicorn Hotel is kickin’ it old school in the kitchen. Here your chops come with a slice of buttered white Tip Top bread, a fried egg for an extra three bucks, house-made mint sauce and a light, clear gravy. The counter meal has a new king.
And the retro hits don’t stop there. For five bucks you get a plate of Jatz and a huge serve of French onion dip. They get top marks for letting you choose the sides for the tender, perfectly pink skirt steak – cauliflower cheese and honey carrots for the win – but it’s the schnitzel that has won our eternal affections. It’s such a simple detail, but the fact that your golden-crumbed chicken breast comes with the wing attached is an immediate sign that this schnitzel is not like the other ones. The team from Mary’s is behind the resurrection of this Paddo pub and that’s why the silky-smooth mash and top-shelf gravy propping up your schnitty are so damn good. And yes, there is a burger on the menu.
When it came to the drinks list some very smart choices were made. There’s Reschs, VB and Fourex for lager lovers; Young Henrys cider for sweet relief; and a witbier from the Illawarra Brewing Company that is light and bright, with a touch of spice.
We’ve seen many half-arsed wine lists in pubs, but this is not one of them. The Ravensworth riesling from the NSW Southern Tablelands is fresh, zingy and smashable, and the super-fruity Jauma Pub Juice shiraz is light enough to make it hot weather appropriate. They’ve even got their own wine, a South Australian grenache from Ochota Barrels called ‘And It All Went Dark at Mary’s’.
Our only real gripe with the Unicorn is the noise. The ground-floor bar is a cavernous space and the hard stone floors, bare walls and high ceilings bounce every decibel of high spirited carousing back at you. Downstairs things are a little quieter, though they’re still cranking Midnight Oil, AC/DC, Spiderbait and Paul Kelly tunes. Out the back in the enclosed courtyard is the best spot for chats.
Sydney has seen a spate of pub revivals in the last three years, and while many are vastly improved, they also tend to lose many of the traditional elements of the classic Aussie pub. Not so at the Unicorn. The tunes are rock, the food is excellent without being fiddly, and the doors are open to anyone who fancies a schooner – collars not necessary.
Unicorn Hotel 106 Oxford St, Paddington 2021. 02 9360 7994. Daily 11am-late.