A few people insisted I go to the Norfolk before now but I didn’t listen. For some reason I thought they were simply talking about a pub that had improved its kitchen and was a little more upbeat than before. I wasn’t expecting to find one of my new favourite bars.
Some readers might remember the Norfolk as being a … well, let’s be nice and say it was an old fashioned pub that mainly stood out for its large neon sign on the roof. After I check out their website, which doesn’t indicate anything’s changed, I nevertheless take a gamble and head up with my Fijian bodyguard. We step through the door on the corner of Cleveland Street and Walker Street and … it still looks like an old pub. We pause uncertainly, wondering if we should just leave, before stepping through into the next room – where everything changes.
The next room looks like a Mexican dive bar – and I mean that in the most positive way possible. I love it. There are three shelves behind the bar dedicated to tequila, the crowd is young with a rockabilly bent, there’s a 70s-style picture of a naked woman in the stairwell (hey, sometimes a man – and even a Dan – needs more than his cat), there’s a great courtyard outside and there’s an upstairs area with a pool table and walls covered with chalkboards. And then you have the Mexican menu.
I order both the braised pork neck and chicken tacos while my Fijian bodyguard, who has to stay in shape to defend yours truly, opts for the healthier eggplant and goats cheese cigars (all of which we wash down with Coopers Green).
The tacos are great – actually, they alone are worth coming here for. I’ve been obsessed with Mexican food ever since I gorged myself on it in LA and these tacos are amongst the best I’ve had in Sydney. The soft shells actually taste good rather than like cardboard and the fillings are interesting – for example, the braised pork neck is paired with cabbage in a way that works well. I’m too scared of my bodyguard to try his cigars but he seems impressed by them.
The cocktails are largely tequila based – margaritas, lageritas (actually, I hate lageritas with a passion but that’s just me – I mean, why would any sane person want to mix beer with margeritas?) – and I’m impressed that they also have sangrita (the orange- and tomato-based chasers that traditionally go with good quality tequila shots).
When I come back a few weeks later on a Thursday night I try the margaritas with my poet friend Dot. The margarita is made with Jose Cuervo Traditional (which is better than the standard Cuervo as it’s made with 100 per cent agave), lemon juice and Cointreau. The result is smoother than your average margarita (perhaps, as Dot points out, a little too smooth if you like your margaritas to have punch) and while they’re not the best margaritas we’ve ever had, they’re certainly not the worst.
We also order the deep fried pickles, which are served long and sliced through the middle, and the baby back ribs (which cost $12 on Thursday nights). For the price you get great value – my plate is stacked with ribs smothered in barbecue sauce, and the meat is tender. My one tip is to not overdo it with the hot sauces that sit on each table instead of salt and pepper shakers – when an attractive blonde sitting next to us cautioned me as I picked one up, I started slathering my ribs in it in a macho gesture (because all blondes are attracted to men who can handle their chili. Right? Right?).
Not my wisest moment.
As some Bar Zine readers might have noticed, I’ve started to update my reviews more regularly (and every few weeks or so I replace the Bar of the Week on my home page with an updated review) – so I’m definitely coming back to try the sangrita and several of their tequilas (and maybe the Bloody Mary served in a Campbell’s soup can) and will post more updates.
All donations for my new liver can be directed through the Bar Zine contacts page.
The Norfolk Hotel, 305 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills (corner of Walker Street). See the Norfolk Hotel website
Now it’s your turn – how do you rate the Norfolk Hotel?