Historic pub refurbishments can be divisive, but the public houses of the Balmain Peninsula are so plentiful that they really do cater to every taste and budget. There are craft-beer castles, staunch lager safehouses, tropical beer gardens, bistros serving the best of British fare, unofficial footy fan clubs, and high fashion Italian dining destinations hiding behind a heritage-listed facade. And as surely as Balmain’s demographic has shifted over the decades from proudly working class to double income families who enjoy a water view, so too have many of its pubs adjusted to cater to a crowd who speak fluent wine list.
Which brings us to the latest glow-up for the Dry Dock Hotel, a lesser-known watering hole right down near the shores of Mort Bay. The bones of the building still share some residual DNA with the pub frequented by dock workers way back in the mid 1800s. The ghosts of patrons past might recognise the stone fireplace, leather seats and inviting glow of backlit whisky, but everything else is designed with modern comforts in mind.
Especially the dining room, cleverly concealed to ensure the public bar retains a sense of cosy intimacy. The whole space opens out into a light, bright bistro with a big open kitchen and an ice bar in pride of place stocked with oysters and caviar. This is not the venue you hit up the day before payday. But in the era of ‘cozzie livs’ there are a number of little hacks here that stretch your hard-earned further.
If you’re a group of four or more, reduce the mental load and stick to the budget by opting for one of the three set menus. Given a main from the Josper charcoal oven could easily set you back around $50, paying $75pp to sample at least a dozen different things from head chef Ben Sitton’s (ex-Rockpool Bar & Grill) menu is a bargain. And then there’s the fact that a good portion of the dining room menu is also available in the public lounge where things are a little more casual.
We appreciate the little details here, like the fact that they don’t skimp on the café de Paris butter. That golden puck that is more than sufficient to douse both your steak and your hillock of skinny fries. Some things run straight down the line, like the snapper, which is a beautiful, snow-white fillet of fish served with just enough zesty salad to keep things light and fresh. And for every plant-lover who can’t stomach another pumpkin salad, we have very good news. They roast half an eggplant until creamy, served under a breastplate of bronze, crunchy crumbs, and paired with sweet and sour interjections from currants and pine nuts. It carries the suggestion of an off-season Italian holiday in each bite. And for anyone who has been trapped in the purgatory between lunch and dinner service with only crisps for company, they do a snacks menu between services and after 10pm that features a cheeseburger, anchovies, croquettes and cured meats.
We love a venue that does a generous 250ml wine pour, and even better, one that offers a curative Bloody Mary if you forgot that those big pours are a metric cup each. Beers comes in a grab bag of lagers, locals and a few familiar imports. And if you are cutting back on the booze but still love a pub atmosphere, they’ve got three non-alcoholic beers on the menu, plus a satisfying half measure in the Hawkes Half XPA.
They’re really rolling out the welcome wagon at the new Dry Dock. You can bring your dog, your kids, your high-class in-laws and your FIFO uncle and everyone will find something to like. No one venue can cater to absolutely everybody, but the Dry Dock has stretched their welcome as wide as they can and the locals are feeling it.
Time Out Sydney never writes starred reviews from hosted experiences – Time Out covers restaurant and bar bills for reviews so that readers can trust our critique.