Stylised space junk: Bentley Bar and restaurant. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
Catering for the corporate crowd used to be easy. Pile on the thick carpet, a deep cellar of aged reds, and plenty of bread, beef and potatoes. Throw in nursery food such as sticky toffee pudding, and you're in business. As, of course, are they.
But the times, they have a-changed, and the corporate crowd is no longer a bunch of fat cats puffing cigars, but a mix of Italian-suited gym junkies doing yoga in their lunch hour, office workers holding down two jobs while saving for their first apartment, and start-up princesses whose laptop and phone constitute their office.
To see how the restaurant industry is responding to this new dynamic, look no further than the relocated Bentley, a theatrical new space in a grand heritage-listed 1856 building that houses the Radisson Blu hotel. Just as the Bentley team reimagined inner-city pub dining with the original Bentley Restaurant & Bar, reinvented the wine bar with Monopole, and rejigged the bistro with Yellow, they've now rewritten the brief for the city diner. Melbourne designer Pascale Gomes-McNabb has ripped the stuffiness out of the split-level site, filling what could be an overwhelming space with metallic, reflective surfaces and floating, black, free-form scaffolding that hovers overhead like stylised space junk.
Go-to dish: Southern calamari, carrots, squid ink, sea blight ($26). Photo: Sahlan Hayes
The menu is a clever mix of the conservative and the curious. So yes, there are steaks (three), oysters, and a wine list full of serious, meat-friendly reds. But there are also some delicate, intriguing combinations of seasonal vegetables, a subtle insertion of indigenous ingredients, and some light and lovely footwork in the chocolate and ice-cream department.
Chef and co-owner Brent Savage knows how to dress a plate, and even the little dishes that you can take sitting up at the central bar are chic, from a one-bite amuse of crisp potato and smoky creme fraiche to a gorgeous mix of scampi and avocado with shaved cos ($18).
Some entrees are art installations. One - an electric orange igloo of shaved carrot slices hiding squiggly, light crunchy squid bits and black squid ink ($26), topped with little antennas of sea blight - is both daring and dramatic.
Eyes on the prise: Dishes like scampi, shaved lettuce and avocado dazzle the eye. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
And don't expect to see scallop and foie gras when you order ''scallop + foie gras'' ($18). Instead, it's a mini volcano of disconcertingly pink brioche crumbs, frozen foie gras parfait powder and dried raspberry dust, beneath which lurks Queensland sashimi-grade scallop dressed with raspberry vinegar. The tart raspberry accents are polarising, to say the least. Love it, says one. Hate it, says another.
Main courses are less abstract, but still an intuitive syntheses of good ingredients. Seared, roasted, and rested kangaroo ($42) is paired with native pepper, purple carrots and a Ribena-like riberry sauce; and classically trimmed lozenges of john dory and sweet little bug tails are beefed up with a gutsy bisque ($44). A double chop of tenderly cooked Kurobuta pork belly ($44) is teamed with macadamia milk and wattle crumbs, for an effortlessly pleasing sweet, lactic effect.
Instead of sticky toffee pud, there is a rework of the Aero bar; a fluttery, aerated chocolate log tarted up with fig-leaf ice-cream, lemon curd and lemon aspen that's just splendiferous.
Service under moustachioed Bentley stalwart Glen Goodwin is helpful without being interventional, and co-owner Nick Hildebrandt's wine list is a destination in itself; with an emphasis on natural, terroir-driven wines including an elegant 2011 Taturry Mosselini pinot noir from the Mornington Peninsula ($74).
The corporate world has changed. We all bring who we are to the way we do business. By taking a fresh look and applying an inner-suburban approach to the new mixed-business restaurant, so has the Bentley.
Best bit: Surry Hills swagger comes to the city.
Worst bit: Awkward entrances back and front.
Go-to dish: Southern calamari, carrots, squid ink, sea blight ($26).
- 02 8214 0505
- Cuisine - Contemporary
- Prices - About $150 for two, plus drinks
- Features - Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Licensed
- Chef(s) - Brent Savage
- Owners - Brent Savage, Nick Hildebrandt
- Opening Hours - Lunch Mon-Fri noon-3pm; Dinner Mon-Sat 6pm-10.30pm
- Author - Terry Durack