The Unicorn rides again

Author: Pat Nourse
Photography: Nick Cubbin

See more of The Unicorn in Paddington here

Just when the axis of Sydney's nightlife seemed to be tipping inexorably towards the city's inner south and west, a band of Newtown's finest has staked its claim in the heart of the eastern suburbs - Mary's is coming to Oxford Street in November.

Except that it's not. Sort of. Ish. Bear with us. "We're not doing a Mary's in the eastern suburbs," says Jake Smyth. Instead, Smyth, Kenny Graham, Elvis Abrahanowicz and his other partners in the famed Newtown bar and burger joint along with Oscar McMahon of local brewery Young Henrys are taking over The Unicorn, the Deco pub between Coomber and Hopewell streets in Paddington, and turning it into the sort of pub where they'd like to drink.

That means good tunes, good times and interesting booze. Young Henrys will be well represented, of course, but so will a range of other good Australian beers. "We want to keep it broad, and we don't want to call it a craft-beer pub," says Smyth. "It's a pub-pub." Albeit a pub-pub with a kick-arse cellar. The wine list will be 100 per cent Australian, and a clutch of top South Australian vintners, including Tom Shobbrook, Tara Ochota and James Erskine of Jauma, have already made wine for the venue. And, given that the site has a late licence and stands outside the Sydney lock-out zone, that potentially means drinking interesting things till three in the morning.

With Elvis Abrahanowicz, co-head chef and co-owner of Bodega and Porteño, designing the menus, the food offer is full of promise. The concept (inasmuch as you could call it a concept) is to simply do old-school pub food and do it well, just taking care with the details rather than putting twists on the classics: sandwiches stuffed with cheese, chutney and glazed ham cut from a leg on the bar, roast chicken, "a cheap steak and a fancy steak", and a Mary's-style burger. Abrahanowicz's central obsession is nailing the overcooked-but-in-a-good-way mixed veg.

With Merivale opening just a few blocks up Oxford Street very soon at the Paddington Arms, competition on the strip is heating up again. For his part, Smyth says that the Unicorn "isn't a style project", and that there's plenty of room for all the new players. "What Justin [Hemmes] is doing and what we're doing are like chalk and cheese."

"It's not a gastro-pub, it's not a craft-beer pub, it's a pub-pub."

The Unicorn, 106 Oxford St, Paddington, NSW

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