After a lengthy closure, our local pub, The Hampshire, has reopened with a gender re-assignment, as the Lady Hampshire. The closure was long and unexplained, although there were mutterings about fire regulations whenever the locals gathered to gossip. On a couple of occasions I did a bit of lazy googling to see if there was any mention of what was in store for the pub, but never found anything. Over the years we have had a bit of a rocky relationship with our local. When we first arrived, in the ‘hood, the Hampy was a venerably run down but functional local institution. It was good for a quiet beer, but the dining room was always plagued by the sickly sweet smell of urinal cakes wafting out of the Mens every time the door opened. It was enough to put you off your parmy.
Then someone got the idea of putting someone with a bit of nous and vision in charge of the kitchen. For one shining year we had a local pub that was still run down and smelly, but which served wonderful food. Proper food too, not just schnittys and burgers. The chef, Tony, was the real deal. The main menu changed according to the markets and the seasons, but there were regular favourites. A standout was a dessert whose name escapes me, but which lay hidden within a cloud of spun sugar. And Camperdown Fries: crisp roasted smashed spuds. Served with everything, they were Tony’s version of chips.
But it didn’t last. Tony left. We never found out where he went to, presumably somewhere he didn’t have to work seven days a week. Then the pub was sold. New owners took over and in the kitchen, the faces changed regularly. With each change the menu slumped further into mediocrity. Saggy and uncomfortable lounges started to creep in from the back lane, as the new managers tried for a grunge vibe. A lone pinball machine appeared. Never a good sign. We still went along occasionally. Tuesday night trivia was fun for a while, till the quizmaster had a falling out with the management.
Then we stopped going altogether, so it was a while before we noticed that the Hampy had stopped opening. For nearly two years the only sign of life was the growth of an increasingly dusty pile of unopened mail just inside the door of the main bar.
Then last month, signs of activity. Open doors giving glimpses of ladders propped against walls, and extension cords snaking across carpets. Oh ho, I thought. Someone is going to give the Hampy the renovation it needs.
Not quite. More of a spit and polish, with a spray of graffiti on the side.
Within a week there was a some new Lady Hampshire signage up and the doors were open. There wasn’t any fanfare, just a chalkboard scrawled with “Yes We Are Open”. And of course a few lights on.
I dropped in for a quick one on what might have been the first afternoon, using the flimsy excuse that I needed somewhere quiet to read the last piece of work from my writing group before our meeting.
After such a long closure I had been hoping for some change, but the main changes were new carpets and a bunch of murals. The only structural change is the closure of one of the doors to the men’s toilet, which at least means that there is less of the urinal cake smell.
One of the major pluses of the new Lady is having Wayward Brewing’s excellently drinkable Camperdown Ale on tap. But this has to be balance by a front bar that is dominated by enormous screens, all showing competing sports channels. On that first visit, in the middle of the afternoon, the front bar was empty, probably because of the loud and unnecessary commentary accompanying a US college basketball game.
The dining room has been spruced up a bit with murals everywhere, and all the fashionably uncomfortable lounge furniture has gone. It was probably an requirement for OHS complience. Out the back nothing relieves the domestic landscape tragedy that has always been the courtyard / smoking area.
The kitchen follows the current trend towards Americana. There are tacos, and fried chicken, and a bunch of other stuff that I haven’t tried yet. So far I have had trouble getting past the taco section of the menu. Two for ten bucks – it is too good a deal for me to overlook. My favourites so far are barramundi (fresh, clean flavours) and beef brisket (smokey, melt-in-the-mouthness). Obviously there is going to have to be a lot more research done. A lot more, just as soon as I’ve made sure about the tacos. The American food trend is marked by a proliferation of those red plastic baskets, which seem to be some kind of symbol of authenticity. Still I suppose they are step up from serving food on wonky chopping boards.
The side passage that connects Parramatta Road to the courtyard, and is potentially the Lady Hampshire’s most interesting space, has now been embellished with an extremely long mural featuring enough caricatures of Australian television personalities to populate anyone’s nightmares. It draws a lot of attention from the punters, trying to name all the personalities, which is something I suppose. The young people seem to like it.
So go and check out the Lady Hampshire. The food is good. Really good, so far. I’ll be going back, I plan to work my way through the whole menu. On our last visit Strop and I tried the dessert. It’s no spun sugar extravaganza but the deep-fried Golden Gaytime is exactly as advertised and does not disappoint.
Camperdown is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment with The Commons, Wayward Brewing, and now the Lady. And about time too.