I’ve been reviewing so many new small bars recently that this week I decided to do the opposite – namely to review Sydney’s oldest pub. Actually, whether or not The Lord Nelson is the oldest is a point of contention, with the Fortune of War claiming it’s the oldest (Mark Chipperfield wrote a good article on this – the only thing I’d add is I think the Woolpack in Parramatta also has a good claim on the title).
Regardless, there’s little doubt The Lord Nelson is the more gentrified of the three and for that matter it’s also more upmarket than most pubs in The Rocks, with the possible exception of Harts Pub. In fact, if you were to take your gran to a pub then this would probably be the place – although whether you’d want to drink in a pub where your gran would be comfortable is another matter.
To be honest I’m in two minds about The Lord Nelson. On one hand, I’d argue there’s something a little too studied about it, right down to the boxes and the barrel and the flags and hurricane lamps that all hang from the ceiling (it’s as if this place was decorated for the benefit of patrons lying on the floor). I’d also say that the service here has usually been, at least for me, somewhat brusque to put it nicely.
On the other hand, however, their beer – which they brew themselves in tanks that you can see out the back – is so good that it alone provides a good reason to come here. I mean, it’s awesome beer.
They make six different types, ranging from the Nelson’s Blood (a dark, full-bodied porter that’ll put hairs on your chest) to the easy-to-drink Quayle Summer Ale. I personally prefer the Trafalgar Pale Ale because of its maltiness – and at $4.50 for half a pint it’s decent value (in a childish attempt to try as many beers as possible I never order pints here).
The food varies from trying to be down to earth – such as the pie with mushy peas – to fancy, such as the confit of duck with star anise. I like the tempura ale-battered fish and chips with wasabi mayo ($17.50).
Finally, the Lord Nelson is in a stunning old sandstone building that alone makes it worth coming to for a beer. Although I would love to see more smiles behind the bar, this is still a place I’d recommend – regardless of whether or not you bring your gran.
The Lord Nelson, 19 Kent Street, The Rocks. Open every day till around 11pm, see the Lord Nelson website
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate the Lord Nelson?