Bentley Restaurant & Bar

320 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW

Reviewed by Terry Durack

Bentley Restaurant & Bar
17/20

There's a new restaurant in Crown Street. Actually, it's an old restaurant in Crown Street but if you haven't been to the Bentley in the past month, then you haven't been to the Bentley.

Chef Brent Savage is still pushing out his contemporary, futuristic cooking, and the very vinous Nick Hildebrandt still presides over a wine list you want to take to bed, but the new Bentley is a million miles away from the old one.

Tuned-in designer Pascale Gomes-McNabb, the design aesthetic behind Melbourne‚Äôs gorgeous Cumulus and Cutler & Co, has taken a funked-up, primary-coloured pub dining room and turned it into something more in tune with the streetwise sophistication of the food and wine.  The mood has gone from adolescent male to grown-up female, all boudoir chic with crushed, gauzy gold mesh lampshades, theatrical black drapes, unclothed American oak tables and red leather benches, with a brushed black metal bar and a waft of black mesh to separate the bar from the dining room.

This is the new fine dining. There are no starched white cloths, no harbour views and no airs and graces; just a lovely, grown-up, whimsical space, run with a loose rein by relaxed professionals.

Things kick off nicely with a short plank of freshly sliced Iggy's bread, spindle-thin grissini and good, mossy olive oil ($6). Next up are two lollipops of white anchovy, gazpacho jelly and olive ($5 each) from the bar menu - single mouthfuls of vinegary softness that shed little black olive bits as they go.

Savage describes his food as progressive, the moniker most often adopted by the post-molecular generation, and the terse titles on the menu leave plenty of room for surprises. Let's just say whatever you think you're getting when you order pacific oyster with coconut, yuzu and avruga; pork belly with green olive, apple, tonka and miso; or duck liver foie gras parfait with puffed rice and pickled raisin, you're probably not going to get it.

The menu might sound out there but the chef keeps a tight rein on balance and composition. Black sausage with prawn and pickled peach puree ($16) links land and sea by way of a Mars Bar of crusty house-made blood sausage strewn with sensitively cooked prawn, fresh peach, a high-gloss puddle of pickled peach puree and dehydrated coriander seeds for a spicetastic crunch. I don't get where it's coming from at all but I think I love where it's going.

One of the most ambitious dishes, a black sesame and pea fondant ($22), would bring joy to the most jaded vegetarian with its three glossy spheres of black sesame "skin" filled with a fresh, sweet ooze of pea puree. It's scary but in a good way. Also on the plate is a fresh chiffonade of crunchy snow peas, a lovely pea and sesame oil, a few peas, pea crumble and a wisp of cress.

Hildebrandt's wine list is as progressive as the food, pushing the trend back to the natural, organic and biodynamic with wines from crazy, wacko winemakers who insist on doing their own thing. A meaty, savoury Rayos Uva Rioja from Olivier Riviere is a steal at $48 and brings real spirit to the table.

Steamed bacalao ($22) features a single, firm cube of rehydrated, slow-cooked basquaise salt cod, sweet/salty pippies and mussels with fluffy white clouds of smoked potato mousse - a product Savage could, and perhaps should, market successfully. And just when I think it's all getting a bit bitsy, along comes a dish of slow-roasted duck breast, finely sliced and rolled into a long surf wave of baby-pink meat about to crash over a bed of intensely mushroomy mushrooms and little curls of tender cuttlefish ($36). Cute touch: those tiny little slippery buttons are the caps of Japanese enoki mushrooms, snipped off their slender stems. A side dish of mustard-dressed cauliflower with nutty crumbs ($8) also gives the hungry something to dig into with glee.

Dessert is a little challenging. Lightly salty cellophane sails pierce a kebab of dark and light brown cubes that look just like steak and tofu. Instead, they are outrageously rich and caramelly toast custard (yes, custard infused with toast) and chocolate parfait ($16), dropped into liquid nitrogen and flash-frozen, with a bittersweet cocoa soil and swish of lychee puree loitering underneath.

This is a key place shaping our city, showing us where the future of dining lies. It tells us you don't need tablecloths to dine supremely well, or to earn Good Food Guide hats; that you can be cool and modern yet still take bookings and look after people; and that you can challenge and amuse with highly contemporary food without sending your audience screaming into the street. Bentley Restaurant & Bar, your time starts now.

tdurack@smh.com.au

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320 Crown Street, Surry Hills, NSW

  • Cuisine - Modern Australian, Vegetarian/Vegan
  • Prices - Entree $19-$25, Main $29-$40, Dessert $3-$16, Tapas menu $5-$16, 8-course tasting menu $105, tapas tasting lunch $50pp
  • Features - Licensed, Bar, Outdoor seating
  • Chef(s) - Brent Savage
  • Owners - Brent Savage & Nick Hildebrandt
  • Cards accepted - AMEX, Diners Club, Visa, Mastercard, EFTPOS
  • Opening Hours - Lunch Tues-Sat noon-5pm, Dinner Tues-Sat 6-11pm
  • Seats - 80
  • Author - Reviewed by Terry Durack
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