“The Rose” has been in publican Scott Leach’s family for 21 years, so it was only natural for him to name the top floor restaurant after his late father, Howard.

“What dad loved to do for the locals was to say ‘Boys, give me $20 each and I’ll feed you for the afternoon’,” says Leach. “So the menu is designed for people to control as much or as little of the experience as they like.”

There are connections between dishes on the menu. Take the whole whey-braised lamb shoulder, slow roasted with coriander and cumin. The whey is a by-product of the house-made labne, which is served as a starter with garlic, chilli and sourdough. There are more adventurous dishes too, like baked Sydney rock oysters dotted with tiny cubes of fermented pumpkin served alongside deep-fried pork crackling dusted with furikake, or cauliflower with crisp, salty anchovies, crunchy peanuts and pickled turnip.

To drink, it’s hard to overlook the cocktail list, refined after many months of testing with the locals (Leach opened the venue as a pop-up during construction, with diners given hardhats and high vis vests). Try the Smoking Negroni, made with applewood-smoked Grand Marnier and Archie Rose gin.

The space itself was designed by Leach and his mother. They retained all the original features they could. “We’ve taken an old boozer, a 1932 art deco building, and we’ve tried to keep the flavour of the original architecture,” says Leach. The brickwork, windows and fireplace are all original, with pops of colourful artwork and neon signage lending a modern edge, and an open atrium-style space for more casual gatherings. There’s lots of greenery too – another nod to Howard, who was a greenkeeper before he bought the pub.

“The space was inspired by the memory of my father, and so the most important thing is that our customers feel comfortable here,” Leach explains. “Because after 21 years, the locals aren’t just locals anymore – they’re family too.”

Howard’s Cantina & Cocktail Bar
1 Swanson Street, Erskineville
(02) 9565 1441

Wed 6pm–12am
Thu–Sat 12pm–12am
Sun 12pm–10pm