Matt Wilkinson builds a boozy altar you will want to worship at
It’s pretty much all about the pig’s ear sandwich. It’s very much the silk purse here at the Bishop. Anything crumbed, deep-fried and slipped into a soft white bun with sauce gribiche, chilli and not too many rocket leaves is going to be a good thing in the eyes of the half-cut diner, but the ear is something else. Perhaps it’s the novelty of eating a sandwich with an ear in it (an ear!).
This sanga is the pinnacle of chef Matt Wilkinson’s menu of excellent bar snacks, produced for this boozing annex to the much-liked cafe, Pope Joan. It shares both the courtyard and fresh-produce ethos of the café – the contents of the planter boxes surrounding the tables make an appearance on a crudites board - crisp lettuces, carrot, radishes and fennel, teamed with a bagna cauda for dipping. Typically bagna cauda is a sort of Italian fondue of garlic and anchovies melted in butter and oil; here, the anchovies are omitted, making for unrelieved sweetness from the slow-cooked smoked garlic. The raw veg, though, is beyond reproach.
The scratchings are god’s gift to beer drinkers: crunchy, porky and salty in all the right places. They pair neatly with any of the four local (and in the case of the Thunder Road Full Steam lager, very local indeed) brews on tap, or anything from the willfully eclectic selection sold by the bottle, all boutique and again, all-Australian.
The wine list is short, more grab-bag than masterstroke-of-miniaturization, but interesting, and the cocktails (the Northside, say, a play on the Southside made with West Winds gin, Pimms, and a salad-seeming mix of lemon, basil, cucumber and pepper), lean creative rather than classicist.
Speaking of creative, we’re not so sure about the bone marrow dish. Three sections of halved bone on a board, the beige roasted marrow topped with crab meat and a blob of salmon roe, it combines the hitherto discrete qualities of greasy, fatty, fishy and wet. It’s probably one we won’t be ordering again. They stand in stark contrast to the gougères, little puffs of choux pastry stuffed with smoked tomato – light, cheesy and gone almost as soon as they hit the table.
The music is, frankly, not a draw card (confidential to whoever controls the playlist: the Amelie soundtrack on a Saturday night needs rethinking). But these gripes are minor, mostly avoidable (we’re not kidding about the music, though), and not really deal-breakers. The Bishop is a friendly place, its camo net-shaded outdoor tables a sweet pick for balmy nights, its timber and Astroturf interiors hinting at a capacity for robust good times. We might not queue to kiss its ring just yet, but it’s certainly worth a genuflection.