September 2023 update: A little piece of advice: if you want a quiet, simple meal, you’re not going to get it at Rosie Campbell’s. If you’re after flavour bombs, live music that gets guests out of their seats and a rum cocktail menu to boot, well then now we’re talking about the Jamaican eatery dishing up hot meals and hotter tunes.
While Rosie Campbell’s may look like another Surry Hills pub from the outside, the inside is far from it. The tropical hangout is a little slice of the Caribbean in Sydney with palm leaf-patterned tables, flags strewn across the ceiling and rattan lights. The atmosphere is only elevated on a Thursday night when Sydney’s Jamaican mainstay band Kool Vibrations play live, or you can catch DJs on Saturday during bottomless brunch.
As for the food? Rest assured that it’s just as exciting. Jamaican cooking is widely known for packing a punch, and featuring a whole lot of coconut. Rosie Campbell’s didn’t skimp on either detail.
The jerk chicken is a spicy-sweet dish of glazed chicken thighs that goes well with the rice and peas (which is really the Jamaican name for rice and beans). The curry goat is another popular main that comes with flaky roti to soak up all the sauce, although if you want an authentic experience, order some ‘Jamaican festivals’ – made from fried flour and cornmeal dough with a spiced capsicum salsa – for mopping action.
What you see is what you get when it comes to the drinks at Rosie Campbell’s – every cocktail is illustrated on the menu with its respective fancy glass. It feels like a crime not ordering a rum concoction considering it’s the joint’s specialty, but the friendly faces at Rosie Campbell’s highly recommend the Miss Mysterious cocktail that plays with chilli-infused vodka and passionfruit.
Whether it’s a happy dance for how good the food is, or swaying in your seat to the infectious rhythm of steel drums, it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll be getting down at Rosie Campbell’s.
Read on for our original review of Rosie Campbell’s from 2016 by Emily Lloyd-Tait
Dreaming of rum cocktails and jerk chicken but can’t quite muster the scratch for a Jamaican getaway? The latest bar and restaurant to call Crown Street home is bringing island vibes to Surry Hills to save you a trip.
Rosie Campbell’s is the second venture from the team behind Sydney’s favourite hidden hot dog bunker, the Soda Factory, and this time around they are heading south of America’s East Coast for inspiration. You’ll find this little slice of paradise on the Crown Street corner that once housed the elegant Bentley Bar and Restaurant, followed by the short-lived Chow Bar and Eating House. But the new regime is all about primary-coloured fun and plenty of rum.
We defy you to resist the amber glow of the backlit bottles that line the bar. Don’t be the guy that orders vodka. Yes, your cocktail will cost the same as your meal, but that’s Sydney life for you, and the heady vanilla and cinnamon in the house Old Fashioned built with rum, fruity sherry, molasses and bitters is just the thing to soothe the financial burn. Don’t stop there. A Trenchtown Rock reins in all the sweetness of applejack with bitters, lemon, cinnamon and nutty almond flavours. Balance is clearly a watchword behind the bar and it really shows in the Kingston Sour. Mezcal and caraway seeds parry the rum with toasty flavours before puckering up for a lemon hit. Or you can sit on a round of Jamaica’s local Redstripe lager that is a maltier brew than your pub standard.
They’ve kept the food simple and given the extra care to the drinks list, and it’s a plan that is paying off. You know what goes great with a stiff drink? A juicy chicken thigh with a spicy, fragrant jerk crust, some coconut rice and beans and a side of a crisp carrot, red cabbage and green apple coleslaw. A bowl of creamy mac and cheese with a cheddar bite to the sauce is a damn good shout too. And everybody knows Sydney loves a burger. Forget beef and cheese though, the super crunchy soft shelled crab number here is a sandwich sea change that’s well overdue.
We are totally on board with the holiday vibes of this tropical haunt. Banana leaf and zebra stripe tables, Studio One wall paper, woven lampshades and colourful wooden stools are all a bit of fun. But we're not so sure about co-opting the image of a Jamaican mama on the logo and the use of Caribbean English cadence on the menus. It's a theme inspired by a holiday, but it might be stepping a little close to cultual appropriation. We're undecided. Check it out and decide for yourself.
Crown Street has lost some of its sparkle of late, with Billy Kwong heading for Potts Point and lock-out laws bringing everyone low, but Rosie Campbell’s may just be the shot of tropical sunshine needed to perk it right back up again.