Everyone has been much, much happier since the Fiddler stopped being Mean. Ten years ago, the heritage pub was one of the most violent in NSW. The Mean Fiddler worked hard to clean up its act; then in 2014 its owners (the Drinx Group) gave it a multimillion-dollar redesign and refresh. The bandages fell away to reveal a still huge but undeniably elegant place to eat and drink; the best, we dare say, for miles around.
This is a megapub done right. Instead of one massive room filled with people and all the ambience of an army mess hall, the Fiddler offers a series of small spaces hidden from each other for visitors to explore. The vine-strewn Courtyard greets you on entry – tables gathered under a towering pine tree and black-and-white striped umbrellas that match the natty staff uniforms. Pass down a ramp to find the bistro, the beer garden, amphitheatre and indoor cocktail bar the Lounge (open Friday and Saturday nights). Head through past the tables of the verandah to find the fenced-off kids’ playground. The design puts a contemporary, outdoorsy spin on the Irish pub theme – olive-green aluminium stools with a subtle shamrock insignia and plenty of sculpted greenery around the place.
Lunching here on a sunny day is a popular pastime. A sandstone pavilion houses the kitchen, where meals – pizza, burgers, steaks and pub staples – are not cheap (Caesar salad sans chicken, at $16, is the lowest-priced meal for an adult here), but they are good, and delivered to your table by cheerful young staff. The wine list is dominated by South Australian drops and you can sit in the sun with a bottle of La Vieille Ferme Rosé from France for $32. But if you are bringing a group be sure to book ahead – tables without a little ‘reserved’ chalkboard on them are thin on the ground on a Sunday.
In contrast to the utopian elegance of all those arbories and alfresco nooks is the ‘Irish’. The indoor, old-timey section of the Fiddler is a dark and inviting Irish pub with multiple rooms and fireplaces, strewn with antique-shop doodads like saddles, bottles and a penny farthing bicycle attached to a wall. A false confession booth near the entry might bring pangs of Catholic guilt, soon allayed with pints of Guinness or Magners.
They have face painting on Sundays and colouring-in on the back of the kids’ menu, but in contrast to many large suburban pubs fringing the metropolis, they don’t mollycoddle the snappers here. The tune the Fiddler is playing is more for the pleasure of Ma and Da, and those who inhabit the breeding belts of outer Sydney are clearly appreciating being treated like grown-ups.