Jovan Curic has an unusual definition of value. It comes from his late father: “My dad always said value is not letting someone go hungry or have a shit meal,” Curic tells Broadsheet.
That’s one of the reasons he decided to resurrect Pub Life Kitchen (PLK) after closing five years ago. “Covid has unfortunately washed a lot of people out. I saw an opportunity to do what Pub Life Kitchen originally was: good Aussie pub bistro food that was value for money.”
Fans of the original PLK will remember its burgers, made with dry-aged beef – and its legendary Wednesday-night burger experiments, which saw Curic and his team design out-there one-off specials. The burgers were so popular he employed a full-time butcher to dry-age meat. This time he doesn’t want the burgers to get all the attention. “We’ve always been a great pub bistro, but our burgers got so popular we lost our diners, and gained crazy burger heads.”
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PLK opened only a few weeks before Sydney’s lockdown began, so Curic is using this time as a takeaway joint to honour his Balkan heritage and put some Serbian dishes on the menu.
There’s his take on cevapi, a caseless grilled sausage, served with pickled onions, mustard and potatoes. There’s also pasulj. “It’s a white-bean stew with cold-smoked pork hock that stews for 12 hours. It’s found in every Serbian bistro. My mother-in-law has a great recipe; it’s like a big warm hug.”
And fittingly, considering it’s in Ultimo’s Lord Wolseley Hotel, the pub classics are all covered. There’s chicken schnitzel, chicken parma, and rump steak and chips. Curic is all about working with local producers. The burrata topping toast is by Vannella, fresh pasta comes from Fabbrica, smoked pecorino and parsley sausages are by LP’s Quality Meats, and the grass-fed beef for the OG burger is dry-aged at Marrickville’s Whole Beast Butchery.
When he first decided to bring back PLK, Curic wasn’t even going to do burgers, but his wife objected. “She told me people would go mental if I didn’t have burgers.”
There won’t be burger specials, but Curic has resurrected two of the best: the TLC fried-chicken burger with double cheese, pickles and green sriracha mayonnaise, and the OG dry-aged beef burger with cheese, pickles, tomato, lettuce, and roasted garlic and lime mayonnaise.
Takeaway is served from a sash window next to the front door of the Lord Wolseley Hotel, which was PLK’s final home – it had also been at Rozelle’s Ruby L’Hotel, along with a number of pop-ups across town – before closing in 2017. Even though he only had three weeks to find his footing before lockdown began, Curic says the community has made him feel at home all over again. And just as the locals have shown him support, so too does he support local businesses, which are part of what he calls the hospitality ecosystem.
“We need to support the local ecosystem, make sure it doesn’t stop. A lot of our friends work in that ecosystem. I’ve always believed it was important to support local, but more than ever now. It’s dire times. You’ve got to do what you can, if you can.”
Pub Life Kitchen
Lord Wolseley Hotel, 256 Bulwara Road, Ultimo
Wed to Fri 5pm–8.30pm
Sydney is currently in lockdown. Masks are mandated in public indoor spaces. Public gatherings are banned and minimal social contact is recommended. If you have concerns about visiting businesses or public spaces, or questions about self-isolation or coronavirus testing, check out the latest updates from NSW Government.