If you want something nice inside you, Surry Hills is an excellent place to go to get it. As the constant thrum of people on its main streets will tell you, the suburb is one of Sydney’s best when it comes to drinking and dining; from the early morning coffee queues to late night lines for gelato, the place is a never-ending feast. Having such a reputation has a flow on effect for quality too; when you're but one of a thousand options, whatever you do had better be good. Which, in a roundabout way, brings us galloping towards The Horse.
A Surry Hills stalwart since the 1930s, for a long time this place was known as The White Horse Hotel but the most recent owners chose to wash the white from the name. They also gave it a nice new change of clothes to ensure it looks the part. After all, keeping up appearances is something of a Surry Hills pastime; with leafy streets, boutiques and galleries, they like a bit of beauty in this place – it’s not hard to imagine residents here dressing to pick up even if it’s just to put the bins out. In any case, what makes a good pub isn't how it looks, it’s about almost everything else. And at a pub, almost everything starts at the bar.
Taking up the bulk of The Horse’s 18 taps are fresh deliveries from Sydney’s inner city brewers; expect to find regulars and rarities from the likes of Akasha, Batch, Grifter, Shenanigans and more. Those share space with regional NSW breweries like Block ’n’ Tackle and New England, while lines are given to guests from further afield such as Tasmania’s Ocho and South Australia’s Pirate Life. Figuring that collaboration is a better path than competition, they’re also big supporters of Yulli’s Brews, the burgeoning brewing arm of the iconic vegetarian restaurant which is just a few doors down on Crown Street.
While the main focus is what's on draught, the fridges house some real treats too. The range numbers around 30 bottles and cans and they change regularly, but this selection is ultimately viewed as a counterpoint to the tap beers, a place for international guests and stuff that’ll develop with a bit of age.
While the beer is one thing – and it is a very good thing – they pay just as much attention to spirits. Again the selection errs towards Australian producers where you’ll find a dozen or more whiskeys from New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia, plus another dozen from Tasmania alone. That’s before a full page of Aussie gins, and the same again in local vodkas, rums and liqueurs. It’s a serious list of good booze and, as you might expect, they use all this to put together some pretty serious cocktails.
Out back, in the kitchen, the folks behind Chicken & Sons are in charge so there are some quality options, particularly when it comes to poultry; whether you like it fried, jerked, seasoned or in between buns, there’s a cooked chook to suit. However, if you were to pick one item put on a pedestal, you'd be hard pressed to go past the fries. From the Big Mark (essentially a deconstructed Big Mac served on a bed of fries) to the Na-chips (pork nachos, served on fries) to the Truffled Mac n Cheesy Chips (go on, take a guess), these are some frighteningly addictive side servings.
There are plenty of healthier options under the only slightly tongue in cheek ‘Aussie Hipster’ menu; think greens, beans, grains and interesting dressings – a special mention must go to the one made from Vegemite. Tack a classic Sunday roast onto the end of this menu and there’s more than enough here to satisfy a party of fussy eaters.
And satisfying everyone is really what this place is all about. You can have a barrel aged beer or a mainstream lager, a rare whiskey or a cheap tinnie, watch a game of footy or watch pretty people walking by, bask on the rooftop or tuck away at the private bar in the private room, shoot some pool or shoot bad dudes on the arcade machine.
But just when you start to think The Horse might have it all, you realise that it doesn’t. What does it lack? Poker machines. With so many New South Wales venues rife with the legacy of mechanised gambling, it’s refreshing to find a proper pub where there’s no chance of stumbling into a surreptitious pokie den or being interrupted by jolly jingles and flashing lights. All the more reason to back this horse.