Looking like a tavern from The Pirates of Penzance – at least from the outside – Balmain’s Riverview Hotel was built in 1880 and feels like a nautical hangout thanks to the building’s various angles, balconies, saloon doors and leadlight windows. Then again, I might just have an overactive imagination.
Closed for a short while in 2008 (and with a colourful history before that – at one stage it was even run by Dawn Fraser), the Riverview was then renovated and, on the inside, has a slick modern feel. The floorboards are freshly polished, there’s a large wall-sized glass showcase filled with wines, and chalkboards are propped up in various places advertising tapas, pizzas, gastro-pub-style food and various wines.
It’s a Friday night and the ground floor bar is packed with a mixed crowd, from an old timer sipping a beer near the door to groups of young women and suits who have loosened their ties and discarded their jackets. There’s a private function cordoned off in one area under bright red lamps, all the stools outside the curved wooden bar counter are taken and a banquette on another side is filled with footy-playing types in polo shirts drinking schooners near an old photo of steamships.
I’m here with two glamazons who decide to sample a range of tapas, so I of course go along with this (it’s never wise to argue with glamazons). We try the jamon-wrapped peaches (jamon being like a Spanish prosciutto), Salamanca salami (which is delicious and made with smoked paprika), garlic prawns with chorizo as well as a pork belly pizza that’s my favourite meal here thanks to the decadently gooey mozzarella and the sweetness of the pork. If I were to come back, I’d definitely go for the pizza again.
This isn’t a cocktail type place: instead, the large wine selection is the main attraction although they do have some nice beers on tap, including White Rabbit, as well as friendly staff to serve it. In short, this is certainly one of the better pubs in Balmain – and considering how many pubs there are in this suburb, that’s saying something.
Riverview Hotel, 29 Birchgrove Road, Balmain. See the Riverview Hotel website or phone 9810 1151
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate The Riverview?