Swinging open its doors in 1986, the OG Jacksons on George quickly became the spot for late-night antics in the Emerald City. Sadly, I was underage when the boozer was in its heyday. But I’ve heard the stories. Heck, I think the whole of Sydney has.
The Sydney stalwart closed down in 2018 and hibernated for five years. And in September 2023 – after being snapped up by new Sydney hospitality group DTL Entertainment, composed of Icebergs’ restaurateur Maurice Terzini, publican Michael Broome and entrepreneurs Paul Ford and Steve Bannigan – Jacksons on George finally reopened after a complete transformation. It now sports a casual bar, a European bistro and a schmick rooftop bar. So long, sticky carpet.
From the outside, Jacksons on George is an impressive architectural masterpiece – the kind that makes people whistle – designed by the Sydney-based award-winning Studio Hollenstein. People have said it looks like a white veil, but all I can see while approaching one Saturday is a giant, perfect wave. A tip of the hat to Terzini’s coastal roots.
This isn't the only thing that Jacksons on George and Icebergs have in common – former Icebergs chef Steven Sinclair is leading the charge in the Bistro George kitchen. Impressively, Sinclair also earned his stripes working at England’s Michelin-starred L’Enclume. It makes sense then that the chef, who hails from Northern Ireland, drew on both experiences to create his European- and Australian-leaning menu.
It’s a perfect spring day when we visit, and streams of sunlight pour through the windows. The carpet is a shade of mustard and features a never-ending black squiggle as if the artist never stopped. Tables are dressed in crisp, white tablecloths and contrasted with dark bentwood chairs. Each table has a singular rose the colour of a marshmallow. If you looked up class on ChatGPT, this would be it.
I’m a sucker for a Martini, and if it comes on a trolley, it’s a done deal. So there was some disappointment when our waiter ran our drinks – after our starters – sans trolley. The one they ordered was too big, we’re told – another one is on its way. Phew. Thankfully, our chilled Dirty Vodka Martini makes up for it. Our date’s Peach Melba is fun, fruity and on-point. Most of the cocktails are priced at $22, which is as refreshing as a sea breeze in a city where prices are now creeping up to $30 and beyond for cocktails.
We begin with an impressive-looking take on clams casino with South Australian Goolwa pipis, laying open as if sunbathing, and topped with crunchy golden pangritata flecked with crisp guanciale. We pick one up, suck out the rich, buttery herb sauce and sweet pipi, and repeat.
A medley of green shishito and padrón peppers with red and yellow baby capsicums served charred, blistered and snowed under by shaved, salted ricotta are a glorious, bold hit. The smoky tender flesh is enhanced with a sharp vinegar that brings sweetness and acidity to the plate. Marjoram adds subtle floral notes, and the surprising whack of chilli makes my date hit the waters. I laugh. Fun and delicious, tick tick.
They are out of the skin-contact drop I want, so instead I order a glass of InDreams chardonnay from the Yarra Valley, a bright, aromatic vino with a hint of oak. Next, rigatoni is coated in a luscious, gin-spiked pomodoro sauce with a hint of fermented chilli. The al dente pasta is the right vessel for the creamy tomato pomodoro, which combines the comfort of mac and cheese with the elegance of a Georg Jensen magazine spread.
A half rotisserie chicken arrives with its skin blackened and bronzed, its meat succulent and properly stuffed with fragrant lemon and thyme. But it’s the jus that makes us want to squawk from the rooftop. Expertly reduced down to the point so it's glossy, sticky and almost caramel-like, the jus has a mighty umami salty flavour, and it’s so good it makes us want to do a swift finger swipe of the plate (OK yes, we do). A crunchy pea salad with farro, celery, mint and salted ricotta is hearty while also bright.
We finish on a passionfruit tart with a dollop of cream. The pastry work is flawless – crumbly, not too thick, buttery. The tart is silky smooth, sweet, sour and bursting with summer flavour, and the cream brings reprieve. It’s a sublime bite, and one of the best desserts I've had all year. Lemon tart, watch out.
I’ll be back to visit the bistro during the evening, and to also hit up the airy rooftop bar. Whenever you choose to come is up to you, of course, but I will say this: you’re going to want to make friends with the new George, stat.