The Evening Star Hotel was the kind of pub that literally made me quicken my step on the way to Central. An outward-facing smoking area constantly occupied by rusted on regulars meant it reeked of cigarette smoke. The flashing lights of pokies, only partially dulled by darkened glass, were their ever-present backdrop. So for me, the recent Paul Kelly Design refit, was long overdue.
The interior is now a curved, 50s futuristic, minty green, with murals and menu motifs that scream Blader Runner. Weekends are already pumping, I'm told by friendly bar staff, thanks in no small part I'm sure to the venue sitting just outside Sydney’s hated NSW Liberal Government lockout zone. While I’ve visited three times during daylight hours, it’s obvious that the superb wet Asian cityscape mural will look even better in the dark.
Weekday lunches are – thus far – a much more subdued affair, despite a Lunch Special ($20) that gives you one of their ‘bigs’ plus a bowl of rice and a house beer or wine for twenty bucks. In case the ‘white ghost’ translation of Gweilo has been lost upon you, what you’ll be eating is a blend of Western techniques and flavours mixed in with pan-Asian cuisine – as you'd find on the ground in Hong Kong.
In some cases – like the Wagyu Beef Shin, Carrot and Tooheys New Rendang ($25) - this fusion is remarkably successful. While the dish looks small, when you start eating it you’ll find it contains a generous amount of very well-handled beef shin in a rich, but not thick, beer-based rendang gravy. Being a bit sick of sous vide beef cheeks masquerading as curries but tasting solely of beef, I was pleased to find the shin showed deep flavour penetration from a 10-hour cook in rendang base stock. Well-rendered connective tissue was luxurious in my mouth, and the bold, mouth-tingling heat was fantastic.
In other dishes, like the Singapore Chilli Prawn, Egg Noodle, Poor Man’s Parmesan ($30), the fusion was less successful. The dish's aesthetic felt more like Americanised red sauce Italian, with soft tinned spaghetti lost in too much tomato sauce. Restrained chilli and crisped up breadcrumbs didn’t help, though it did also contain five gently-cooked, good quality king prawns.
I smashed out my lunch specials with their on-tap beer range, which runs from Kosciuszko to Furphy Refreshing Ale. The latter is by Little Creatures (owned by Lion Nathan/Kirin) and named for the company that supplied their stainless tanks & fermenters, Furphy Engineering. It's hazy, amber, with a tiny hint of bitterness, gentle hops and subdued fruit. It was a bit bland even for my pale ale palate, so I found myself preferring the pale and refreshing Gweilo branded beer.
From the 'smalls' I loved the punchy XO hit from the Smoked Pumpkin and Corn Dumplings ($12/4) topped with lots of green for us gweilo eaters who like seeing something resembling a balanced meal in every dish.
Round them out with a 'KFC' Bao ($6/each) with kombu fried chook, pickled cucumber and lashings of Bulldog sauce, and you have the kind of midweek lunch that begs for a cheeky cocktail.
The Hotto Pineapple ($22) is my go-to from the nicely inventive list. It teams chilli-infused Plantation Pineapple Rum, Green Chartreuse and Ardbeg 10 into a wickedly fruity mix that doesn't lose the whisky. It's kicked up even further with a spicy Togarashi rim that might mean you'll get an extra vegetable as you cool your mouth with cucumber slices.
Evening Star, 360 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills
Ph: (02) 9287 8177