A lively neighbourhood’s double-decker corner spot has transformed into an ode to Australiana. The Waratah is a bar and dining room from Pollen Hospitality, a newly minted hospo group made up of 2021 World Class Bartender Evan Stroeve (ex-Bulletin Place, Re, Shady Pines Saloon) and industry newcomer Cynthia Litster. Icebergs executive chef Alex Prichard has designed the culinary concept alongside long-time colleague and Waratah head chef, Lewin White (ex-Icebergs, Bistro Moncur), who also worked with Stroeve at Re.
Below the artful waratah lightbox shining on Victoria Street – and behind walls coated in a new lick of olive and light sage – waits a walk-ins-only public bar, the launch point for your time at The ‘Tah. Here, there’s magic in the small details: zig-zagging shelves that echo the spiked leaves of a waratah; a cushioned bar (for comfortable sipping); a vast flora-filled mural coating the roof – based on sketches by Stroeve’s mum (a history-teacher-turned-artist) and painted by local artist Sarah McCloskey. An arched golden cocktail menu glows like a banksia. “All the natural curves you see are inspired by the organic shapes you find in nature,” Litster tells Broadsheet. “Deconstructed flora, little touchpoints throughout the venue.”
Downstairs, it’s an approachable menu, primed for snacking and eating with your hands. “This is our ode to the pub – really simple, really friendly,” Stroeve says. The Waratah Burger “with the lot” is the main event, supported by oysters topped with rosella granita, spicy-mayo-laden Balmain-bug rolls, and fries seasoned with a house-made bush salt.
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Drinks-wise, there’s a focus on local, but it’s not exclusively Aussie. “It’s important to have something for everyone, whether it be mezcal or tequila,” says Stroeve. “Downstairs, it’s a different bartender every week, and each week you’ll get four entirely new cocktails.” For launch, it’s a quartet designed by Stroeve that includes the Waratah Spritz: a mix of vodka, tart Rhubi Mistelle (an Aussie aperitif co-created by Stroeve), watermelon and vanilla.
Up a floor, the offering gets a little more refined. The menu expands (though you can still get the cheesy whopper of a burg), the wine list lengthens and the cocktails get more technical – “and Instagrammable”. Each season’s menu will spruik a different region of the country, with eight drinks made using produce from eight different regional suppliers. Kicking off with summer, The Waratah is focusing on the Aussie rainforest, via Queensland produce: pineapple, Daintree vanilla and chocolate, for a start. Each of the eight drinks centres on one ingredient, like the Negroni-esque Cacao & Cherry, a mix of cherries, gin and wine with a Daintree cacao base. Sip it in the moody dining room, where deep, earthy tones keep the space warm, and bespoke brushed-gold light fittings evoke the Aussie bush.
Then there’s the wraparound verandah. The breezy outdoor area is decked out with tables for two that are sun-soaked much of the day (optimal for a dish of oysters and a cocktail).
Prichard and White’s menu sees veggie-lovers well looked after. A beaut plate of eggplant (lightly grilled, to keep the texture) is seasoned with a house-made umami salt. It’s topped with nutty puffed grains, mushroom and Davidson’s plum sauce at the table. White says it’s “a winner, with a little side of bread to mop up the sauce”. A fermented potato damper carries roast pumpkin, macadamias and fried saltbush, with a crown of marigolds that were grown “out the back”. Potatoes are cooked, marinated in shio koji seasoning overnight then beer-battered. The crisp boats are then sprinkled with scallop tartare, lemon and pepper, with a zippy tartare sauce for dipping (“it’s scallop squared”).
The Australiana shines brightest across the trio of desserts. You’ll be transported to piping-hot summer days with mango Weiss bars coating your wrist in sweet stickiness, a birthday fuelled by fairy bread’s sugar rush. A caramelised honey gelato – using the slightly sour honey from stingless bees – is sandwiched between wafers and dipped into hundreds and thousands. Meanwhile, an ice-cream of fig-leaf amazake (a Japanese drink made from fermented rice) sidles up to mango sorbet, striped like the classic creamy bar, and is topped with a smoky mezcal-and-agave syrup. It’s an Aussie childhood, all grown up.
When it opens on Wednesday December 6, it’ll be the neighbourhood bar this pocket of Darlo needs – with a little bit of pub flair downstairs. “We’re just trying to think about what we love about Australia – what that looks like on a plate or in a glass. Some of that’s pub-y – all of it’s yum.”
308–310 Liverpool Street, Darlinghurst
Wed to Fri 4pm–midnight