Down a small street in Alexandria lies a bar that's like coming upon a secret, hidden gem. A huge firepit greets guests and there are tables outside as well as a large, welcoming indoor section in a large converted warehouse with artfully mismatched furniture and comfortable nooks to hide in.
The email came last week from our friend Ivy (she of the fabulous cornbread). Ivy and her husband Ryan have just moved to Alexandria and they have been busy scouting out great locations for food within the area. At Bar No. 5 there is an added bonus apart from the buttermilk chicken po' boys, mint iced tea, mac and cheese and wings - it is also dog friendly. A date was quickly made to make the most of the Sunday afternoon happy hour. We bring along Mochi while they bring along their sausage dog Thor.
Bar No. 5's chef Maureen Philbert is a wonderfully warm and friendly presence. She hails from Luton north of London and trained there using classic French techniques. Seventeen years ago she moved to Australia because she was bored. "I didn't want to die wondering," she explains.
She also learned that there were other foods beyond classical French. Like history is only taught from one perspective depending on the country teaching it, so is cuisine and travel showed her that there is a whole range of other cuisines. Hence why the menu at Bar No. 5 isn't just one type of food. "I just cook what I like to eat," she says.
Bar No. 5 is named not only after the street number but also the five siblings whose family owns several warehouses on McCauley Street. The location was formerly a gem polishing facility that has been converted to a restaurant.
It's 4pm on a Sunday mid Happy Hour and it's very busy. Live music plays and everyone is in a good mood due to an unseasonably warm autumn Sunday. We order drinks and food and sit back and chat. My cocktail is called Bitch Peas and is made with vodka, green Chartreuse, sugar snap peas, fresh lime, olive oil and pepper and it's pretty damn good. Ivy coos at the tiniest clothes peg attaching a leaf.
"Would your dog like a treat?" they ask. No need to ask Mochi, the answer is a firm yes and she gets a bacon bone treat. Maureen is a dog lover too so she makes sure that the canine family members are well taken care of. Outside we count five dogs.
Oh how I love oysters and these come with two delicious condiments: a Bloody Mary jelly and an eschallot vinaigrette. I'd recommend trying them both because they each bring a different flavour profile to the oysters and suit the fresh oysters perfectly.
Wings are $1 each during happy hour and we get a dozen spicy wings and a smokey wings. They're both great-the kind of wings that you don't mind getting your fingers dirty for with just the right amount of sauce. The spicy isn't overly hot if you're expecting fiery wings. Everyone bites, chews, licks fingers and starts again.
Next Ryan carves up a damper roll filled with slow cooked pulled lamb shoulder. I love lamb shoulder as it has an unctuous quality to it that suits slow cooking. The slow cooking makes it luscious, the lamb juices seeping into the white bun. This is served with a side of tzatziki and fried pita chips.
Plates here are very well priced and the Franks A Lot! is a smoked frankfurt with onion and pickle radish, mustard, ketchup, cheese and coleslaw on the side. It's got a great balance of flavours and I love the additional side of the creamy coleslaw.
"This is to die, no to kill for," says Ivy. She and Ryan had tried this last time and were very enamoured of the po' boy. There are three kinds: one with buttermilk fried chicken, one with popcorn shrimp and one with zucchini and halloumi. The enormous chicken fillet is super crunchy on the outside and juicy and tender on the inside.
"They have mac n cheese you know," says Ivy. Which is just a prompt for me to suggest that we try it. There are three kinds of mac n cheese on the menu: with bacon, with smoked salmon or regular. Maureen recommends the regular classic mac n cheese. It's a comforting deep saucepan of mac n cheese with a creamy sauce binding it all together and lightly toasted crunchy crumbs on top.
We sit back and marvel at the fantastic balmy weather and Mr NQN chimes in, "There's a 100% chance of rain at 6pm tonight." We look at the time. That's 10 minutes away. And surely enough, like clockwork the heavens open. The outdoor area is no longer an option so without dessert (sob gin and tonic cheesecake or ANZAC and Brownie Ice Cream Sandwich with Salted Caramel!!) we make a dash for Ivy and Ryan's nearby apartment dogs in hand. "Was that place even real?" I say to Mr NQN looking back into the dark street.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you often take advantage of Happy Hour? And are you a chicken wing fan? Would you go for smokey or spicy?
This meal was independently paid for.
Bar No. 5
5 McCauley St, Alexandria NSW 2015
Ph: +61 (02) 8377 1030 Wednesdays to Sundays 11:30am - Late
Easter opeing hours: closed Good Friday, open for weekend