1 Bent St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Breakfast Mon-Fri 7-11.30am; lunch Mon-Fri noon-3pm; dinner Mon-Sat 5.30pm-late.|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9252 5550|
Queueing for food always makes me nervous. That tray of wood-roasted chicken is dwindling before my eyes. Will it still be there by the time I reach it? The best-looking salad is being shovelled onto plates like there's no tomorrow.
And what if they run out of bread? Mike McEnearney's bread is legendary; so soft and pillowy, it makes me feel like a kid again, filling up on bread-and-butter before tea. Please leave some for me, pleeeaaase.
Yes, Kitchen by Mike is back in town. What was McEnearney's more upscale No. 1 Bent Street has been given a second life, with a welcome return to his original Rosebery concept.
At breakfast and lunch, the concrete-floored space is turned over to white enamel plates, with help-yourself cutlery tins on every table, a long counter covered in colourful salads, and daily changing large-scale proteins, blistery-crusted pizzas and caramelised fruit tarts courtesy of the heart and hearth of the place. Hence, queues.
And hence, the need for a queue strategy. Bags your table first, then stay on your toes, act fast and don't stop to dither (and get off the bloody phone). One meat and two salads is $22, so that'll be the chicken for me, thanks (I made it in time). Move along, move along.
Next, an instant decision on what to drink. Young Henrys Natural Lager, smoked cola, Ravensworth Riesling, Five Senses coffee? Aaargh.
The lovely thing about this market-to-table, deli-style servery is the rustic, bountiful, countryside it evokes.
There should be a cow tethered outside, and straw on the floor, and Mike himself in a battered old Akubra, even if the crowd is inescapably urban, with its backpacks, smartphones and umbrellas (farmers don't use umbrellas).
At least McEnearney and head chef Jeffrey de Rome make the food feel very country. The roasted Tasmanian free-range chicken leg and thigh are golden and crisp-skinned, served with wilted broccoli and a splodge of nutty romesco sauce.
Cucumber salad with soy and ginger is both cooling and chilli-spiked, while an Indian-spiced cauliflower and chickpea salad would have been more enjoyable warm rather than cold.
The queue strategy breaks down when you go back for a slice of rhubarb crumble cake, flourless chocolate brownie or a slab of nicely tart apple tart ($9), because you have to start again behind everyone else dithering over their salads. A dedicated pud and coffee queue, please.
At night, it's table service, on long, bare-topped share tables set with cutlery and linen napkins, with a menu of small and large plates, sides and desserts. Best bets: a pickled Mooloolaba spanner crab with avocado and fermented chilli sauce on toast ($18), and whole, roasted john dory ($56), enough for two to share. Its pure, lightly smoky, white flesh clings to the bone under crisped, thumb-printed skin; a jug of warmly spiced cafe de Paris butter sauce on the side. (Staff members have varying skill levels when it comes to filleting – best to DIY perhaps.)
Add a fresh, skin-contact 2018 Mada pinot gris from Hilltops, NSW ($13/$39/$77) to maximise the investment.
While dinners feel like a natural extension of No 1 Bent Street, lunches have a feeding-the-multitudes, CWA sense of generosity that is strangely revolutionary in its disregard for urban niceties.
It's the difference between Restaurant by Mike and Kitchen by Mike – and a kitchen will beat a restaurant every time.
Vegetarian: Dedicated vegetable options at dinner, and meat-free salads, tartine, pizza and quiche at lunch.
Drinks: Five senses coffee, Ovvio teas, cold-pressed juices and smoothies, cocktails made with Australian craft spirits, craft beers and natural-leaning wines, many available by glass, carafe and bottle.
Go-to dish: Wood-roasted chicken, broccolini and romesco ($22 with two salads).
Pro tip: Breakfast runs to 11.30 am Mon-Fri with bacon butties and crumpets and honey.