Corner Pitt & Hunter Streets Sydney, New South Wales 2000
|Opening hours||Lunch Thu-Fri; dinner Tue-Sat|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Bar, Business lunch, Degustation, Events, Late night, Licensed, Lunch specials, Long lunch, Private dining, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 8214 0505|
You know what’s nice? A restaurant with a phone. Specifically, a phone with a listed number you can call to make a reservation rather than going through one of those pernickety online booking systems. No, I would not like to receive offers and other emails from this restaurant, and what business of yours are my postcode, birthday and pants size anyway?
The opportunity to phone a venue and speak to a human is rarer than it should be. Increasingly, it seems as if guests are working to satisfy the requirements of the restaurant rather than the other way around. “Dinner must be paid for at the time of booking” or “We don’t have a written menu; Chef prefers to think of his cooking as a journey.” Well, I prefer to think of restaurants as somewhere to relax and unwind, not a hushed temple in which to play Is It Cake, Parsnip or Rock?
The most frustrating mission statement might be “We only serve natural wine”, which has become all too common with the increasing popularity of preservative-free booze. Thankfully, you’ll never hear these kinds of things at Bentley Restaurant & Bar, even though the fine diner has the most thrilling selection of natural wines in the country. Praise be, phone reservations are encouraged.
Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt opened the original Bentley to instant acclaim in an old Surry Hills pub in 2006 – Savage on the pans, Hildebrandt in charge of an envelope-pushing wine list. The restaurateurs relocated their flagship to the CBD in 2013 where it operates attached to – but independently of – the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel.
This is a place where you can dress in your best Louboutins and silk-lapelled jacket on a Saturday night – tasting menu only – or drop in for a two-course lunch on a weekday.
The handsome dining room is all dark edges and brooding corners, with a modernist, sculptural mobile of criss-crossed pick-up sticks juxtaposed against the building’s old bones. On a Thursday evening, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Dior shopping bags at one table and a wedding proposal at the next.
Dinner begins with a flurry of haute snacks, such as ethereal slices of pearl meat in a refreshing broth of elderflower and cured apple, salty-sweet Akoya oysters (one of the species from which pearls are derived) beefed up with koji butter, and skewers of vivid-red kangaroo striploin cooked tableside over coals. “I’ll be back later in the flight with the duty-free cart,” says general manager Paul Guiney, pushing his ‘roo barbecue trolley around the room. Very good.
The staff are unfailingly professional, but still know how to have fun. Next up, a do-it-yourself steamed bun course featuring little bowls of smoked sour cream, dill and lobster tartare topped with a shiny black splodge of caviar. (Not sure about the bland buns, though; the nutty tang of blini might have been nicer.)
The partnership between food and wine has long been Bentley’s biggest strength, with Savage and kitchen collaborator Aiden Stevens delivering elegant dishes with just the right amounts of acid, sweetness and fat to bolster Hildebrandt’s extensive cellar of rare gems.
The citrus notes of a full-bodied Turkish orange wine, say, perfectly lift grilled marron that’s been drenched in a butter enriched by ‘nduja and shellfish stock, and finished with finger lime and white onion flowers.
Meanwhile, duck breast is dry-aged for concentration of flavour, roasted on the crown, and rubbed with coriander seed and orange zest. It’s sensational paired with an intensely aromatic pinot noir made 11 years ago exclusively for the restaurant by Adelaide Hills producer Lucy Margaux.
The main reason I’m here, however, is to try some of the beautifully aged wines Hildebrandt recently acquired from a massive private collection. Wagyu rib cap is coated in a velvety, fermented black bean sauce and served with compare-and-contrast pours of Chateau Pontet-Canet Pauillac (Grand Cru Classe) and Bendigo’s own Balgownie Cabernet Sauvignon.
Both are 1982 vintages and it’s a profound experience, albeit a rather pricey one as part of a premium drinks match for $220. Other wine pairing options range from $110 to $130 for seven courses, while head sommelier Steve Senturk can recommend plenty of by-the-glass options for less than $20.
If you’re a wine enthusiast saving for a big night out, this is the one. In a city with too many operators that care more about satisfying their own egos than customers, Bentley is a guest-first restaurant rooted in tradition while moving forward.
When an establishment has been at the forefront of Sydney dining for 16 years, it tends to know a thing or two about what customers want: excellent food, delicious wine and a number you can call.
Vibe: Glam wine temple for date nights or business lunches
Go-to dish: Dry-aged duck breast with parsnip, rapa and gooseberry
Drinks: A wine list of eye-popping scope
Cost: Seven-course tasting menu, $220; three-course a la carte dinner menu with snacks, $150; two-course lunch menu, $90
This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine