161 King St Sydney, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Lunch Fri noon-3pm; dinner Tue-Sat 5.30pm-late|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
There is no signage to speak of. A buzzer by the door. Darkness, with stairs leading down.
The Gidley is the new home-from-home for people who like to eat meat and drink too much, and such conspicuous consumption requires a little sensitivity in these days of vegan protests and anti-capitalist pickets.
Owners James Bradey and Warren Burns of the Liquid & Larder Group have followed a similar course to their one-hatted basement laneway dive Bistecca.
But instead of just one Tuscan steak on offer behind the closed doors, the inspiration is British roast beef, with lashings of American steakhouse style.
First stop is the bar; a clubby, moody lounge with come-hither alcoves, shelves of fine crystal and American whiskey, marble tables, cushioned bentwood chairs and a focus on table service instead of an actual physical bar.
The bottled Gidley Negroni is listed for two to share ($29), but as the waiter says, "I've never seen two glasses go out with it."
Then it's time to hand over your mobile phone and move into the dining room, glowing with cut-crystal lamps and warm candlelight. Three deep horseshoe booths take six at a time, chairs are studded velvet, and prints of Australian landscapes by artists such as Albert Namatjira and Hans Heysen line the walls.
Napkins with napkin rings are a nice touch, as are freshly boiled-and-baked bagels, served with three spiced butters.
The prawn cocktail ($20) is a drama queen, with four hefty king prawns diving like synchronised swimmers into an ice-filled parfait glass; sauce Marie-Rose and deep-fried and deeply spicy prawn-heads are offered alongside. A single crab cake ($16) is round, finely crumbed and potato-soft inside, on a pool of bisque-like mayo.
Sure, there's brick chicken, whole flounder and the Gidley Burger, but the Riverine rib-eye is where it's at, with a supporting cast of fries, potato gratin, and mac and cheese.
Choose from a traditional Riverine prime rib roast, buttermilk-brined and offered as either a finely sliced, 300-gram English cut ($49), or a slab-like 700-gram Gidley cut ($84).
Three long slices like pink inner soles gleam with fat and flavour, served with a jug of jus and horseradish sauce. The beef is sweet, rich, and mouth-filling; potato gratin ($12) is cheesy with Maffra cheddar, and a Waldorf-ish salad ($12) is sharply dressed.
Grilled rib-eye ($97) is the big order, but the real sweet spot here is the spinalis, or rib-eye cap ($60), a cut that has been called "the pinnacle of beefdom". It's the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti of beef – where you go when you've tried everything else and still want more. Cooked medium (as suggested, to render the fat), it delivers the goods; crusty, fruity and almost pastrami-like.
A perfectly constructed S.C. Pannell 2015 Adelaide Hills syrah ($90) is just as fungal, earthy, savoury and lengthy.
There's classic cheesecake – cold, lemony, with a nice biscuity crust ($13) – but most diners head back to the lounge for another cocktail. It's that sort of place.
The Gidley knows its market well – more men than women, more young than old, more carnivores than vegans.
Running counter to much of contemporary dining, it's more permanent than pop-up; doing a good line in build-your-own martinis, opulent fabrics, nostalgia, wallpaper and $600 wines. That may sound retro and old-fashioned, but strangely it feels very now.
Vegetarian: Not really the point – pumpkin pie, three vegetable sides and two salads.
Drinks: Superior cocktails from Jonothan Carr and a meaty but elegant wine list composed by head sommelier Alice Massaria, including a dedicated list of back vintages of WA's Cullen Diana Madeline cabernet merlot.
Go-to dish: Prime rib roast, English cut, $49
Pro tip: Ask for warm plates when the beef arrives, or it will cool too quickly as you eat.