The Bridge Room

The one dish you must try ... raw wagyu shoulder, smoked enoki mushrooms, celtic sea salt, horseradish, soft pickled ...
The one dish you must try ... raw wagyu shoulder, smoked enoki mushrooms, celtic sea salt, horseradish, soft pickled chilli, $26. Photo: Steven Siewert

44 Bridge St Sydney, NSW 2000

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With so many new cafes, restaurants and bars opening in this town, I'm rapidly getting new-fatigue. This sort of explosion is stimulating, invigorating, positive … and exhausting. New restaurants are exciting but not relaxing. They're not yet bedded in; their nerve endings are raw; their style and philosophy not yet formed.

So it's an absolute pleasure to walk into a new restaurant that feels like an old restaurant (in a good way). The Bridge Room is so settled and smoothly run, it's like meeting an old friend. Chef and co-owner Ross Lusted is less of a cool, young-dude chef than a cool, old-dude chef, being what is known in football circles as the wrong side of 30. He has, as they say, history.

Formerly executive chef at Rockpool and Harbour Kitchen and Bar, he left Sydney 10 years ago and has since been developing food and beverage concepts for Amanresorts with his wife, Sunny. Their last post, Amangiri in Utah, was rolling along nicely when they heard Sydney's call over the cry of the coyotes. Now the pair have returned, with the Fink Group as partner, and with them, one of Sydney's most iconic dining corners.

The sleek room in a stunning 1938 office building has shrugged off its former role as an Indian restaurant and blossomed into a chic space of parquetry, serious banquettes, generous Portuguese dining chairs and sculptural Tracey Deep bark and leaf installations. One wall is of cream felt origami, another is hung with photographer Michele Aboud's hypnotic huskies. Oak tables are unclothed, with felt mats, candles and little pots of succulents. It feels at once very mid-century and very now.

The Lusted style is instinctively modern, with a trace of new Nordic naturalism, a little '90s classicism and a touch of farm-to-table stoicism. But there's no pinning down a menu that moves merrily from a salad of organic heirloom carrots to grilled split king prawns with mandarin-peel butter, and Chinese-inspired white cut chicken. The kitchen's driving force is its robata-style grill, fuelled with long-burning, high-grade binchotan charcoal, and it's well worth ordering anything from it.

First courses rely on natural, collaborative flavours rather than moulds and mousses to make an impression. Tissues of pale, raw wagyu shoulder are served in folds with clumps of lightly scorched enoki mushrooms, pickled chilli, sea salt and a scattering of fresh horseradish ($26). It's a tender, dreamy dish; the meat almost creamy and not at all meaty or fatty.

A clever Thai saeng wa dressing of citrus, fish sauce and rendered pork fat zaps a salad of oysters ($30): a contemporary land-meets-sea dish of lightly wilted red radicchio leaves, spears of apple and briny, freshly opened oysters.

Protein bullies the veg off the plate in a dish of ash-grilled duck ($40), the finely sliced breast bearing the flavours of a sweet soy and coriander seed marinade. Slow cooked, then grilled over the coals, it's sweet and smoky with a dark, caramelised skin. Broccolini fights back for team green and the sweet warmth of mustard fruits drizzles down over the duck.

Even more meat-centric is a hunk of slow-grilled Junee lamb saddle ($40), all gnarly and scorched outside and juicily pink within. It gets a spring makeover with a little pile of pea shoots, sugar snaps and new asparagus, and a dollop of nutty Jerusalem artichoke puree.

There's an open view to the well-lit kitchen, where Lusted and chef de cuisine Stephen Moore move as one. Sommelier Helen McGahan knows her eclectic showbag of a wine list backwards, including a biodynamic Hochkirch Maximus pinot noir from Henty in Victoria ($75), and a 2009 Contra 'Soarda Vespaiolo from the Veneto ($72).

The star of a short but sweet dessert list is a crisp igloo of meringue and yoghurt ($16) draped with strawberry ''paper''.

The Bridge Room is pricey but it's a complete package; from the look and feel of the place to the warm welcome from Sunny and the perfectly pitched service under former Rockpool general manager Penny Watson-Green.

It's a rare thing, a restaurant with grace; something that comes from having good bones, a well-honed sense of hospitality, an eye for every detail and food that is both aesthetically pleasing and deeply rewarding to eat. This is a thoroughly modern restaurant that would be at home in any city in the world. We're lucky to have it.

tdurack@smh.com.au

Address 44 Bridge Street, city, 9247 7000, thebridgeroom.com.au

Open Lunch, Tues-Fri; dinner, Tues-Sun

Licensed

Cost About $160 for two, plus drinks

www.thebridgeroom.com.au