Tuesday, November 30, 2010
This is a quick post to explain the semi-silence on the blog … I've been away in Japan and have only returned (with many samples of confectionery and green tea as return-flight companions). It's a country that is greatly rewarding to appetites. Hopefully I'll be able to post a few visual mementoes of the meals – memorable, colourful and one-of-a-kind as they were – soon!
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Pictures from the new Bentley book, available now through Murdoch Books
At Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Brent Savage uses a colourful mix of ingredients – lychee glass, coffee puree, orange blossom gel, red miso oil – to create dishes that are spring-loaded with flavour. It's one of my favourite places in Sydney and it was the restaurant that inspired me to start this blog. And after the refit earlier this year by Pascale Gomes-McNabb (who softened the space with lamps that look like skirts a-twirl), it's even better.
Recently, we visited twice in one week – one was a long-planned dinner, the other a last-minute chance to experience Lemonpi's spell-casting ways with dessert. She had reinvented the menu, pairing caramelised pineapple with beer sorbet and barley cream; drawn on the DNA of Cherry Ripe to create a cherry sorbet and coconut-adorned choc sponge; and turned cheesecake into a cold-temperature surprise, mixing frozen, creamy flavours with gritty-sweet biscuit crumbs and lively fragments of fruit.
My favourite moment, though, was when we thought the meal was over and she surprised us with one last curtain call, a prototype dessert – ice cream cones delivered, experiment-like, in laboratory jars. It was a generous and creative end to a lovely night.
From my very first visit to Bentley, I'd noticed how imaginative and rewarding the vegetarian dishes were – full of tripwire flavours, unexpected ingredients and surprise-me textures. I was really happy to see it singled out for Favourite Vegetarian Menu in the latest Good Food Guide, and when I asked co-owner/sommelier Nick Hildebrandt whether they've had an uptick in diners as a consequence, he said they definitely had – and by a dramatic amount. (Bentley's inspiring and considerate menu is partly thanks to Brent Savage's wife Fleur being a vegetarian; she actually comes from a family that spans "three generations of vegetarians".)
I'm glad to see that there's such a demand for vegetarian dining at a high-reputation restaurant. Also, it's extremely heartening to see such diners not being dumped with just after-thought salads and side-dishes-parading-as-main-courses. I hope this Bentley-led trend stays.
Now, you might have noticed that you can take Bentley home and file it into your library – a 256-page recipe book has recently been released by Murdoch Books (consider these accompanying pictures a convenient browse-through).
The volume features a full-spectrum range of dishes, from the long-gone but much-loved Gazpacho Three Ways (which Simon Thomsen once drew attention to for its pure traffic-light colours) and lollipop-resembling White Anchovy Sticks to dessert favourites (such as the Malted Milk Marshmallows that teleport me instantly back to childhood). It's been beautifully photographed by chef Luke Burgess, who runs the newly opened and already renowned Garagistes (currently my number-one reason for wanting to visit Tasmania).
Given that Bentley was what sparked me to start this blog – and seeing as this site has just passed its three-year mark – I thought it'd be nice to give away a copy of the hardcover book as a prize. For your chance to win, please leave a comment describing the most inspiring meal you can remember (also add your contact details so I can sleuth out your postal details if you win). I'll leave it open until December 1 before I put on my judge's hat and decide the winner.
And if you have a chance to go to Bentley, do – it's one of the most imaginative restaurants in this city (with thoughtful and unpretentious service to match).
Bentley Restaurant and Bar, 320 Crown Street, Surry Hills, (02) 9332 2344, www.thebentley.com.au
From left: sommelier Nick Hildebrandt and head chef Brent Savage, the wonderful co-owners of Bentley Restaurant & Bar
Monday, November 1, 2010
When Bloodwood opened earlier this year, and everyone rushed to declare "casual dining" as the hot new thing in Sydney, I felt a tad skeptical. Bloodwood is great, but can a trend really exist when Exhibit A only holds one example? Well, since March, we've seen the opening of Berta, Eathouse Diner, District Dining and now Duke Bistro, which proves the forecasts to be resoundingly right (and my boring, overcautious self to be wrong). Not that I really mind – these are all excellent places to eat my words.
Duke Bistro has only been open for a week, but if you're a culinary trainspotter, you probably would've known about it for a while, given its impressive line-up (commanding the kitchen are Thomas Lim, ex-Tetsuya's, and Mitchell Orr, 2010 Josephine Pignolet Young Chef of the Year and formerly of Sepia; service-wise, there's Kylie Javier, who used to be front of house at Bentley, to name a few of its A-team).
The restaurant, which is upstairs from the Flinders Hotel, has a whipsmart feel to it – everything from the menu to the decor is sparked by invention, wit and a livewire element of fun. There's the Tomato, Strawberry, Burrata & Shiso ($15), a dish which already has netted itself an online fan base, and understandably so. Pitting these odd dance partners together is a fine gamble – the creamy/clean cheese, sweet strawberry and jolting tomato end up busting some good moves together.
Unmissable are the Tater Tots with Edamame ($15), which are feisty takes on a cafeteria/frozen-food staple. At Duke Bistro, these spiky-crisp potatoes are more like mini rosti, full of loud, golden crunch. Usually drizzled with house-made gravy, my serve comes with yuzu and konbu mayonnaise – a zippy and beyond-satisfying vego alternative.
Duke Bistro is impressively considerate about vegetarian options – for instance, when serving the Egg, Seasonal Mushrooms, Almonds ($15), the staff puts the dashi in a (cute) beaker on the side, so Will has the option of tipping the fish stock onto his portion, while I can steer clear of it altogether. And can I say, even without the dashi, the mushrooms are amazing? I'm not sure what the secret weapon is (loads of butter?), but the chefs manage to unmask so many exquisite flavours from the medley of enoki, cloud ear, snow fungus and oyster mushrooms. (Also, the idea of paying only $15 for such a high-grade dish is something of a mind-spinner.)
As for Will's Lamb Belly with Cumin, Eggplant, Pearl Onions ($16), he likes it so much that he probably set some kind of land-speed record in finishing it.
Being a tragic sugar fiend, I ask to see the dessert menu right at the start, so I know to be prepared for the Knickerbocker Glory ($12). This glass-full of yum has layers of mango jelly, rhubarb, beetroot meringue and panna cotta ice cream. As much as I like it (enough to repeatedly bother the poor staff with the details), I think I would've preferred it with the standard strawberry instead of the understudy ingredient, rhubarb.
Menu aside, I also enjoy the decor at Duke; instead of shedding its pub past with some overslick new refit, the bistro adds clever instances of upcycling: there are candle holders created from teacups; lampshades made out of everything from beer bottles, bird cages and traditional conical Vietnamese hats (repainted in shiny, eye-catching jolts of black and red).
The staff are also brilliant – the right level of friendly, enthusiastic (but not salesman-like), menu-savvy, approachable and good-humoured.
Hell, even the cutlery (by Studio William) is cool. And when your bill arrives, it is safeguarded by two mini macarons (which are eaten in a flash). What's not to like?
Upstairs at the Flinders Hotel (you can enter directly from the street level), 63 Flinders Street, Darlinghurst NSW (02) 9332 3180, www.dukebistro.com.au