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The industrial colossus known as Carriageworks is not the easiest place to open a dining destination. It demands a deft touch to transform the mass of concrete, brick and steel lodged in the darker backstreets of Redfern into an inviting space, able to accommodate a varied clientele of chichi theatregoers, organic farmers and motley locals. But newcomer Cornerstone Bar & Food, still fresh from its opening in May, appears to have succeeded at creating a relaxed and welcoming watering hole a hop, skip and a jump from campus.
Run by Fresh Catering, the team behind the STC’s Bar at the End of the Wharf and the MCA café and sculpture terrace, Cornerstone is an instantly likeable space: dramatic, with hanging gardens hovering like green chandeliers and tall arched windows, and yet cosy, with its snug chesterfields and warm, low lighting. Add to that the cheery service and impressive live music from Koori Radio playing on my visit, and it’s the ideal place to while away an evening over a jug of Blood Orange Mojitos ($28).
Speaking of which, the drinks match the décor in terms of ingenuity, execution and sheer yum. The Absent Friend ($16), a mix of gin, cucumber, elderflower and citrus, is like the classy, cleaner cousin of a Pimm’s Cup, while the pineapple-rum Cornerstone Drum Beat ($16) puts a piña colada to shame. And it would be sheer folly to ignore their winter special, a Hot Buttered Rum cocktail ($14) tasting like the lovechild of chai and butterbeer.
Admittedly, for those who prefer their spirits neat, the cocktails may veer slightly towards the girly side, but they’re damn delicious and supported by a solid cast of beers, ciders and vino. And the prices, though not exactly easy on the wallet, do seem slightly cheaper than most other small bar operators. But the best bang for your buck comes from the evening specials: $5 pizzas on Thursdays, four sizeable and golden-crusted arancini balls for $5 on Fridays, and free school prawns with every cocktail jug on Saturdays.
Which brings us to the food. Unlike the inventive cocktails, the evening share plates are somewhat standard-issue bar-fare: think sliders ($12), chicken liver pate ($16), and salt cod croquettes ($12). It’s a bit of mixed bag, with a stellar plate of prosciutto, figs and goat’s curd ($18) rather more pleasing than an odd kingfish carpaccio ($16) featuring stodgy broadbeans and little flavour. But the food is a footnote, perfect fodder for rounds of drinks and idle chat in a charming space that makes you want to keep coming back.