Located on the busy restaurant strip of Crown Street in Surry Hills is Rosie Campbell’s, a Jamaican rum bar that opened just a couple of months ago.
Situated on the corner of Campbell and Crown Streets, the rum bar appears from the outside to be a Jamaican corner store; especially as the signage says, ‘Campbell’s Corner Store’. Purposely designed, it was nostalgic sentiment towards Jamaican corner stores that owner, British-born Graham Cordery, fell in love with when his travels took him to Jamaica.
Cordery’s vision was to find the perfect ‘corner-store’ location. Earlier this year he found that ideal location and while working with the constraints of a heritage-listed building, he renovated the building so from the outside it looks just like a Jamaican corner-store, (complete with navy and white checkered curtains in the windows), yet as soon as you step inside you feel like you’ve arrived in a Jamaican rum bar/diner.
Hotly Spiced and Crew walked into Rosie Campbell’s on a Tuesday night. Being mid-week we were expecting the restaurant to be fairly quiet however, even though only opening in July, Rosie Campbell’s is busy. Bob Marley tunes were pumping through the speakers and waitresses dressed in T-shirts with Jamaican head-wraps busied their way around the restaurant.
The interior is an eclectic mix of low stools and high stools and banquettes and couches and coffee tables and long communal tables, and all at different heights and in various positions around the dining room. There are turquoise tones on the walls with murals and sayings Cordery either read or heard repeated as he spent time in Jamaica. We were shown to a blue-vinyl banquette with comfy seating that had timber-veneer sides and a groovy laminated table.
At a Jamaican rum bar it has to be all about the rum and so at Rosie Campbell’s there are over 30 rums available with a cocktail list where every cocktail contains rum. So why not start with a pre-dinner drink! Arabella ordered a Montego Bay punch with Pampero white and dark rums, Don Julio Plata Tequila, pineapple, papaya, rockmelon, sugarcane and almond. Arabella thought the presentation of the cocktail was beautiful. Tahlia ordered a Rosie’s Estate with appleton white rum, tanqueray gin, yellow chartreuse, watermelon, honeydew, sugarcane and psychaud bitters. This cocktail has lighter rum flavours and is very drinkable.
There is a Jamaican beer on the menu, Redstripe, and having never before had a Jamaican beer, Drew ordered one. He enjoyed the beer and wondered if you can buy it anywhere else in Sydney. I ordered a Hendricks gin and tonic with cucumber. This was very chilled and really refreshing.
The menu is a blend between Jamaican cuisine and what’s on offer at an American diner. Be warned, in keeping with the US diner theme, servings are very generous. We started with a few ‘Smalls’ that are designed to share. We ordered the Kingston (capital of Jamaica), corn fritters that were light, had great texture, plenty of sauce and they were a good way to ease into the meal.
Then we ordered the Jerk Wings. These can be ordered as a half-bucket or full bucket but whichever you order, they’re popular. All night long I saw these coming out of the kitchen. And with good reason; they’re excellent. Served finger-burningly hot, they have crispy skin covered in jerk seasoning with plenty of sauce. They came with a blue cheese dip that complimented the spicy flavours on the chicken. If you like to take heat to an entirely new level, the wings are also served with a bowl of mango habanero dip that has plenty of kick.
The final ‘Small’ we ordered was the jerk pork dumplings that are made in-house and are covered in Rosie’s jerk sauce. These little pillows were soft, slightly spicy, and with great texture.
There is a really interesting wine list at Rosie Campbell’s and Cordery has chosen wines from countries all over the world. We chose a bottle of Chilean red wine that was excellent and one we’d definitely order again.
Miss Arabella ordered a Rosie’s Coco Colada for no other reason than she liked how it’s served in a coconut and wanted to drink from a coconut shell!
Drew ordered a soft shell crab burger that came with sunshine slaw and a turmeric and ginger mayo and lots of fries. The burger was enormous but Drew stepped up to the plate and gave it a red-hot go. He just didn’t manage to finish the fries. He loved the burger but said if anything, there was a little too much batter on the crab.
The rest of us ordered from the ‘Biggies’ section of the menu and these too, are designed to share. The signature dish is the Grilled Jerk Chicken that normally comes with coconut ‘rice n peas’ and sunshine slaw. As we were ordering many other dishes, we asked for the chicken to come solo. The marinated chicken thigh fillets are well seasoned and very tender with mild heat from the jerk seasoning.
We also ordered the Dem Belly Full Jerk Ribs that are slow-cooked ribs coated in a house-made rub. These came topped with crunchy pork crackle (bonus!) and with sides of fries and sunshine slaw. The ribs were very tender, the fries were coated in jerk seasoning and the slaw was crunchy with a light, zingy dressing which is always better than a drenching.
Arabella’s friend ordered the Island Salad that was substantial with plenty of crunchy vegetables and a delightful tangy dressing.
I ordered a side of corn because I love corn on the cob and this corn had been boiled then cooked on the grill and served with jerk mayo, toasted coconut and a wedge of lime. The corn was very sweet and soft and extremely tasty with the mayo and lime.
With our over-ordering and such generous portions, we didn’t need dessert but I did want to try a Jamaican dessert. There are just two desserts on the menu and we chose the warm caramel rum cake. If you’re not fond of rum, the rum in this dessert isn’t overpowering but instead enhances the flavour of the cake that with caramel and nuts is delightful. It’s a light cake that’s syrupy but the sweetness is balanced with the ice cream and cream.
Being a Jamaican rum bar/diner, Rosie Campbell’s is a very welcome addition to Sydney’s food scene. It’s a groovy restaurant with exceptional atmosphere, a great holiday vibe and eclectic decor that will have you continually looking around the room. The cocktails are on the pricey side but the food is exceptionally good value and the portions over-the-top generous by Sydney standards.
Verdict: Atmosphere, food and drinks that surprise and delight.
Rosie Campbells: Cnr Campbell and Crown Streets (320 Crown), Surry Hills
Hotly Spiced and Crew dined as guests of Rosie Campbells.