With a 160-year history, Customs House Bar is one of Sydney’s oldest and most nostalgic pubs. Situated in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, it’s conveniently and centrally located on the edge of Macquarie Place Park where it’s just a short stroll to Circular Quay and to your left you can walk to the Harbour Bridge and to your right, the Opera House.
Customs House Bar is a heritage-listed pub. A lot of the interior fixtures and features are heritage-listed, from the absolutely stunning marble bar to the very dark colours painted on the walls.
I am no stranger to Customs House Bar. In my childless days I used to work in an office building located on the other side of Macquarie Place Park. On Friday nights an ever-expanding group of us would leave the office and head across the park to the bar where amongst hundreds of others, we would stand out in the elements (I even recall rain) and have a few drinks before heading home. It was a very unique pub in that it had such a large outdoor courtyard flowing towards an historic park and as a result, it attracted business people looking for a relaxing way to end the working day with friends and colleagues.
What’s changed since my childless days is that you no longer need to stand in the rain. The courtyard has been covered with sailcloth that has heaters installed above it so not only do you not get wet but on cooler evenings you don’t even get cold. There are some lovely features like hanging gardens cascading down from the sailcloth and a white picket fence that edges around the boundaries.
The flooring of the courtyard is outdoor tiles that have been laid smoothly and evenly so it’s not a higgledy-piggledy surface that causes those in stilettos to lose a heel. There are places to stand around bar tables or you can sit at rustic timber communal tables.
My husband and I caught a ferry to Circular Quay and then took the short walk up Loftus Street to the Bar. It was a very mild night so there was no need for the outdoor heaters. As we weren’t just there for a drink, we sat at a table rather than choosing to stand at a bar table. We were there mid-week and the bar was busy and just like yesteryear, there were a lot of ‘suits’ enjoying a drink or two before heading for the hills.
We started our evening with a pre-dinner drink. As there are 22 beers on tap and more by the bottle, Carl had trouble choosing so ended up going for a beer tasting where you can choose three beers that arrive in a wooden slate. I thought $6.00 for the three beers was a very reasonable price. Carl chose Weihenslephaner which is a German beer and apparently the oldest beer in the world having been made since 1040. Then he had a Little Creatures Pale Ale which is an Aussie beer that’s one of his favourites, and the third beer was a Founders Porter Ale from Michigan in the USA.
The waitress looking after us was Kelsey who knows everything there is to know about beer and when the three different coloured beers arrived she advised that the best way to enjoy them is to work from lightest in colour to the darkest.
I thought it would be great to start the night with a celebratory drink and so I chose a Sparkling Orange and Lime Granita cocktail with orange lime snow and sparkling wine. It was a very pretty drink and beautifully refreshing as it wasn’t sweet and well suited to the warm evening we were experiencing.
The menu is fairly new and has been revamped to gastro pub fare since the arrival of Executive Chef Hemant Dadlani. Dadlani was born and raised in India however since qualifying as a chef, he has worked around the globe. The menu is printed on paper stuck to a wooden clipboard folder. It’s divided into four sections being ‘Foodies’ where the pub food is not your standard pub fare, ‘Pub Grub’ which is the type of dishes you expect to find at a pub, ‘Local Market’ which had a lot of fresh salads and the increasingly popular ‘Shares’ section where clearly you share your dish with those at your table.
We ordered a shared plate to start off with and a chose a half-serve of the tempura prawns. They had a very light and extremely crispy batter and Carl said they were, ‘Bloody good’. The aioli was taken to a new level with the addition of preserved lemons and as we know, citrus pairs beautifully with seafood.
Next we tried the very popular pulled pork steamed buns with roasted chilli sambal. These were magnificent. The slightly sweet buns were perfectly matched with the chilli heat from the sambal. The pulled pork was generous and very tender and I think I could could go to Customs House for these alone.
Then we shared the Custom’s Dog from the Foodies section of the menu. It was an excellent hot dog and I did wonder why I wasn’t able to find one this good in NYC. This large smoky hot dog came with avocado, pickled onion and sriracha. It had a crispy but soft bun and the sausage had great smokiness and lots of texture. The heat from the sriracha was mellowed by the mildness of the avocado.
We found the portions to be very generous and were unable to order anything else besides a glass of pinot noir from Central Otago in New Zealand. We chose the Fickle Mistress Pinot Noir because I liked the sound of the name. It was smooth and mellow while also having the robustness of a red but not too intense for a summer’s evening.
We enjoyed a relaxed and casual evening at Customs House Bar and it certainly brought back a lot of memories from my early 20’s. I found the staff to be not only dedicated but also well informed regarding everything on the drinks and food menus. However this is an outdoor venue and as such, smoking is permitted so you are not guaranteed that there will not be smokers around you while you are dining.
Verdict: Grab your friends and enjoy a couple of drinks and few shared plates after work or before the opera or ballet.
Hotly Spiced and Crew dined as guests of Customs House Bar.
Customs House Bar: Cnr Bridge and Loftus Streets, Sydney NSW 2000
Ph: 02 9259 7317