“I’m going to open a Viking whole-animal carvery and whisky bar in a basement and serve bone marrow and honey mead,” said only one person, ever. And so, Norwegian-born Sven Almenning and the team behind Eau de Vie and The Roosevelt cocktail bars have thrown open the raw, weather-beaten farmhouse door of Mjolner, named for Thor’s magical, mythical hammer.
Straight in off the street is a carved dragon head perched on the prow of a wooden Viking ship. Downstairs, in the golden-hued bar and moody, brick-walled dining rooms, tables are inlaid with runic symbols and set with Viking horn drinking vessels and monogrammed raw linen napkins. There’s a laugh-out-loud moment when a fur-draped waiter unfurls a heavy leather pouch of horn-handled hunting knives for each diner to select the weapon of their choice; another when a complimentary “skal”, a toasting drink of mead, honey and vermouth, is poured into horn-shaped shot glasses.
Head chef Tom Gripton, formerly of Yellow, Bentley and Restaurant Hubert, has grasped the Viking concept by the horns, spending much of the evening at the open carvery heaving bones onto plates, cleaving duck meat from whole rotisserie carcasses and filling hollowed-out loaves of bread with rotisserie meats for the bar menu’s trencher ($ 18).
Bones loom large, with roasted bone marrow ($ 20) nursing its typically rich, oily innards under a shower of meat dust, this year’s genius food hack – basically charcuterie offcuts blitzed with maltodextrin into umami-sweet, porky crumbs. Whoa.
Booze also looms large, with a booklet of themed cocktails high on craft and deliciously presented. The best are made velvety with egg white, like the Shrubbery ($ 20), an engaging mix of gin, elderberry liqueur, thyme and tea tincture, egg white and carbonated rosé served with a smouldering sprig of thyme. Gin is also used in the cure for ocean trout (“we try to sneak booze in wherever we can” says one staff member); the gravlax ($ 20) accompanied by pickled cucumber strips and insubstantial linseed crisps.
Thud! This time it’s a beef short rib bone that hits the table, with a beautiful wodge of almost caramelised beef you can nudge off with a fork, carpeted with crisp kale ($ 35).
Apologies to the 400 different whiskies that line the bar, but right now I need red wine the way a salad needs vinaigrette, and Bondar’s 2016 Junto McLaren Vale GSM ($ 70) is more than up for it.
There’s an excellent roast duck ($ 35/$ 55) bathed with blood-red beetroot jus, and a must-order side of roasted celeriac, hit with beef fat, confit garlic, caraway and a heavy dose of meat dust ($ 15). Mains come with a side of potatoes cooked in beef fat, with horseradish cream and herbs. It’s possible the Vikings died out because they didn’t eat any greens.
Dessert sounds anachronistic but the kitchen manages to turn tangy rhubarb sorbet with rice pudding and salted caramel ($ 15) into something suitably sour and wild.
Did I mention I love the joint? None of this silliness would work if the craft wasn’t there, but it’s evident in both bar and kitchen. It’s great to see the restaurant business invaded, pillaged and ultimately rebuilt into something with a strong point of difference. Makes you think all those non-theme restaurants take themselves just a bit too seriously.
Address 267 Cleveland Street, Redfern
Phone 02 9699 9142, all bookings via mjolner.com.au
Open Tue-Sat 5pm-midnight; Sun noon-10pm
Cost About $ 150 for two, plus drinks
The best bit: Anything with a bone
The worst bit: Finding the front door
Go-to dish: Braised beef short rib, kale and mushroom $ 35
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.