Speakeasy-style Greek restaurants are a bit of a Sydney specialty. Newtown’s Steki Taverna is hidden behind an old door, lit by a single flickering light. The only way you’d know it was there is the sound of duelling bouzoukis filtering though onto the street. In Marrickville, the Corinthian is little more than a shopfront with a restaurant out back where you can order a whole braised sheep’s head. In the CBD, Diethnes is one of Sydney’s oldest Greek restaurants and a riot of basement-level awesome kitschiness.
And now here’s the Animal, hidden (sort of) on the second level of the Newtown Hotel
offering surprisingly decent food and wine on tap. Yes, wine on tap. If you're of the opinion tap pours of Marlborough sauvignon blanc is a sign of the coming apocalypse, give a Hitachino red rice ale a tilt instead.
While the downstairs pub has been given a spit’n’polish – insert festoon lighting, shiny pinnies, decorative drag-queen-and-leopard-print pool tables – upstairs has been given a full reboot. The balcony is hot property. By day it’s a great place to drink a cold beer and catch a breeze. By evening, watch the sunset over Newtown’s crumbling terraces. Thing is, everyone has the same idea – there’s actually a line up for it through the restaurant. Not ideal if you’re trying to eat, as there’s a strong chance you’ll be covered in at least half a beer by the end of the meal, just by merit of sitting close to the door.
The big, placemat-style menu is packed with dishes made to share. Start with some creamy haloumi – low on the squeak so you can slam it down fast – scattered with mint and served with a cheek of lemon. Split-pea dip involves more of a dragging than dipping motion, but it’s good all the same with spongy triangles of grilled pita bread.
Give the skewered beef tri-tip a miss (sadly for us, it’s overcooked and pretty chewy) in favour of the wood-roasted suckling lamb. It comes out in a massive bowl – perfect for sharing family-style – all tender, thick slices freshened up with a squeeze of lemon. Fork at will.
Veggos can get down with a flaky, light spinach, ricotta and fetta pie. Or maybe just a big Greek salad crowned with a thick slice of crumbly, firm fetta. We also dig the salad of watermelon chunks, fetta, mint and shards of deep-fried pita bread, though admittedly we leave it to the end as a palate-cleanser.
Eating at the Animal has its merits – really friendly staff and some damn decent Greek food. Your good-times-o-metre will ping one way or the other depending on your threshold for being elbowed in the back by punters jostling for balcony time, and how many Cooper’s you can stand wearing at the end of one dinner. Yasou.