Buoyed by my recent enjoyable pub experiences at The Norfolk and The Abercrombie (two of Jaime Wirth’s babies) I was excited to take on the Coopers Pie’n Pale Challenge last weekend. To give my adventure legs, I decided to take in three pubs in one day, in three different Sydney suburbs. Steering clear of my local favourite, 3 Weeds Rozelle, was hard though. Leigh McDivitt is cooking at the top of his game right now, so I’m sure his picturesque pie, The Boozy Boar, will be the best twenty bucks you’ve ever spent on pub grub and a Coopers Pale Ale.
Walking into the Carlisle Castle Hotel in Newtown was an adventure in itself. Squeezing between a pale person in black wearing a somewhat ironic ‘Cheer up Emo kid’ t-shirt and a bevy of designer prams, I found myself at a small kitchen counter beside the tattooed guns of Porteno’s Elvis Abrahanowicz. Not a bad sign, I thought, trying not to stare.
Fairly soon I was ensconced indoors with the parent-renovators – sadly the beer garden was already packed with the young and funky. This did give me the chance to watch the kitchen work at a cracking pace. Speed worked well for my deep-dish potpie of slow braised pork belly, roast celeriac with a scattering of blackcurrants; but it didn’t work quite so well for the neighbouring table’s charred schnitzels.
It’s hard not to like what amounts to a Sunday roast in a bowl – peas, carrots, celeriac, mash and pork belly – under a golden puff pastry top. My accompanying Coopers Pale Ale held it’s own against the pie’s gentle flavours, bringing the crisp bitterness of the slightly cloudy ale to the forefront. With the decibels in the place starting to soar, I thought it best to flee to the east for pie number two.
Expecting more calm (and less kids) I was of course surprised to walk into a throbbing mass of green and gold at the Light Brigade. It would seem that the newly fledged pub-goer within would have been better placed to avoid pubs on the day they televise a Rugby World Cup match between the Wallabies and South Africa. Regardless, even in a throbbing bar, my Coopers Pale Ale came quickly, politely and was the cleanest tasting beer I had all day.
With Darren Simpson behind the pans upstairs, you’d do well to expect a cheffy pie. The nicely presented beef brisket pie with encebollado was compelling. If you’re scratching your head at the terminology too, it’s basically a puff pastry empanada stuffed with tender beef, olives and hard-boiled egg, with a ripper side of chilli salsa. A squeeze of the accompanying lemon (with added tree) only enhanced the beer match. The only slight hiccup was with the cute Pie’n Pale iPhone app, which thought I was at the neighbouring Paddington Arms! I was (of course) dismayed to be thwarted from sharing my great pie adventure with the world via Facebook.
Riding on the wave of a great pie, I pulled into Balmain’s London Hotel just as the sun was setting. The much vied for balcony seats allow you a crackin’ view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Needless to say in a pub gearing up for a second Rugby World Cup match (the All Blacks and Argentina) I didn’t get one! What I did get was my pie of the day – the London ham hock pie. Built on a short, house-made piecrust, the gently stewed ham hocks were topped with creamy potato puree and accompanied by a crisp, well-dressed salad. The bar manager called it “a first principles pie” where everything from the pastry shell to the red wine jus was made in house. The pie’s honesty and integrity suited the preservative and chemical free beer perfectly.
Of course there are twenty-six pubs that are finalists in this October-long competition. I only had time to try three; so don’t take me as the final word on the matter. All of our votes will be tallied towards the ‘People’s Choice Award’, and the winner will be announced at the Four In Hand in Paddington on Thursday 3rd November.
Finally, if you’re more a drinker than a thinker, you might not care much about the politics behind drinking Coopers. For me though, it meant a lot to spend a Sunday out drinking the beer of what is now the largest Australian-owned brewery. Two weeks ago, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission approved the SABMiller takeover of Foster’s which hands VB, Crown Lager, Cascade and Carlton Draught (with the Aussie rights to Corona, Stella Artois and Asahi) offshore. Managing Director, Dr Tim Cooper said: “Being the largest Australian-owned brewer is a badge of honour we will wear with pride.” Seems there’s no better time to switch to a Coopers.
While I’m plugging buying local, did you know you can taste forty award-winning NSW wines at the Overseas Passenger Terminal on Thursday 20th October? The Citibank NSW Wine Awards “Best of the Best Top 40” tasting will give you the chance to pick some NSW favourites from 14 wine regions and save the planet (and some bucks) next time you hit your local bottle-o. It’ll set you back $55/head with wine, light refreshments; a guided tour and a souvenir wine glass thrown in.