44 Bridge St Sydney, NSW 2000
The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2016 awards: Vittoria Coffee Restaurant of the Year
It's one thing for chefs to be obsessive about their ingredients, or their prime method of cooking, and quite another for them to feel compelled to design the plates and bowls, the thick felt placemats, and the solid, single-piece American oak tables.
Sculptor, artist and designer, as well as chef, The Bridge Room's Ross Lusted is either a multi-tasking polymath, or a control freak, or quite possibly both.
His confident, Nordic, mid-century aesthetic is all over this splendid, steel-windowed dining room in one of the city's most true-to-style late '30s buildings.
The Bridge Room is now so entrenched in the local dining landscape, it's hard to believe Ross and Sunny Lusted opened it just four years ago, after 10 years travelling the world with the Aman luxury resort group.
At the time, I reported on The Bridge Room's "instinctively modern'' style and ''natural, collaborative flavours''; and frankly, I still agree with myself. The good news is, it's better now than it ever was.
When a chef can simply split Clarence River prawns, grill them over binchotan charcoal on the robata grill, give them a quick wash of mandarin-scented buttery juices and send them straight out with charred mandarin segments and tiny sprigs of roof-grown baby lettuce ($36), it's a strong statement of intent.
Doing so little, does so much. The clarity, purity, sweetness all sing.
Then, Lusted the artist and Lusted the chef form a remarkable collaboration on the plate with the master stock pig's tail ($32).
Not curly, but straight, not bone-in but hollow, the tail is caramelised crisp outside, and gelatinously creamy inside, abutting a sleek wedge of intensely caramelised pineapple and slashes of red chilli.
It's like a fine-diner play on Thai ma hor - and let us not forget that Lusted was chef at David Thompson's Darley Street Thai for five years.
More often, it's a Japanese aesthetic at work. Izakaya-style chicken ($46) sees silky Thirlmere chicken brined, poached like a high-falutin' mizutaki, seasoned with house-made togarashi spice and finished on the robata, served with Korean shiitake mushrooms, tiny turnips, slender radishes, wilted baby spring onions and furls of finely sliced daikon.
Side bowls of house-pickled vegetables and pearly, freshly milled koshihikari rice from the Randall family in Leeton, NSW, are natural accompaniments.
Fish is still a strong point, judging by a snow-white Murray cod fillet ($48) poached in clarified butter to set the protein, served with thin discs of celtuce (celery-like lettuce) and out-of-shell surf clams on a very moreish reduction of black vinegar, oyster sauce and clam stock.
A side of silky-smooth potato puree ($11) tastes fresh and light.
There is a grace-under-pressure fluidity to the floor team here, from Martijn de Boer, Joshua Renshaw and head sommelier Matthieu Rabiet, and more fluidity from Rabiet's wine list; a heady mix of the best of Australia and some very fine French labels.
These are priced accordingly, including a ripe, muscular, unwooded 2013 Gilbert Picq Premier Cru Vosgros Chablis ($25/$115).
A dramatically dark dessert of whipped black sesame, white chocolate and yoghurt teamed with compressed melon, caramelised coconut sugar, sesame powder and clumps of puffed black rice ($18) is like something brought back from the Mars space probe. Only more astounding.
The Bridge Room is both expensive, and excellent, packed with gender-equal corporates by day and civilised Japanese/Australian tables by night. Now, more than ever, it's a complete package.
As I said four years ago, "it's a thoroughly modern restaurant that would be at home in any city in the world. We're lucky to have it". Couldn't agree more.
Best bit Anything from the robata
Worst bit Lunches are loud
Go-to dish Master stock pig's tail, pineapple caramelised in muscovado sugar, $32
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.
The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2016 will be available for $10 with the Herald this Saturday. It can also be purchased in selected bookshops and online at smhshop.com.au/smhgfg2016 for $24.99.