It was the day after the Australian Food Media Awards dinner. I was feeling rough but I was feeling excited. I had been to before parties, after parties and after-after parties and met up with some of the top foodies from all over Australia. After asking so many of them, ‘Where do Sydney siders see as the top place to eat right now?’, so many replied that I simply HAD to go to Bentley Restaurant. And being such overt foodies, they had to be right, right?
I have to admit that my first impressions of the place from the outside were a little cautious. From the street, it looks a like a REALLY old pub with a ‘bit’ of a paint job. Once inside however, the fit out is nice and modern although a little dark and earthy. The waitress quickly had me seated and sorted out. I’ve heard mixed stories from other bloggers regarding service but on my visit, the service was exceptional…attentative without being overbearing and no question was too inane.
I opted for the degustation meal which was going for $120 with $70 extra for matching wines. Given that it was the day after the night before, I opted for no wine and just had spring water.
So how can one describe the food here? On the surface, it could undoubtably be pidgeon holed as ‘Modern Australian’ as many of the dishes demonstrate a fusion of European backbone with Asian inspiration but Bentley is more than that and therefore a bit harder to define. Chef Brent Savage is really at the forefront of modern technique and cuisine. You could also try to pidgeon hole Bentley in the ‘Molecular Gastronomy’ box too, but again, you would be wrong. Bentley is less overt. Sure the technique is there and to make the food that you are given, the kitchen would undoubtably be full of immersion circulators, dehydrators, thermomix’s and probably particle accelerators for that matter but here the techniques are used to produce the food, rather than in so many cases, the food created to show off the technique. This distinction indicates a level of maturity from Savage not commonly seen from other chefs in the same genre. And for this, I applaud him…loudly!!
with Mudcrab and Coconut
It was certainly a sight to behold as it presented beautifully but the taste was exquisite and subtle. The combination of carrot and coconut get was reminiscent of a sweet-ish thai curry. There were certainly spice additions to indicate such an association and paired perfectly well with the Mudcrab which was sweet and firm yet wonderfully flaky.
with Ocean Trout Mousse and Fennel Pollen
Served with a pumpernickel mousse which provided earthy and gutsy contrast to the clean flavours from the fish, this dish was highly reminiscent of the scandinavian side of my heritage – of smoked salmon on rye bread usually served with a little bit of lemon juice. In this case the fennel pollen provided an acidic foil to the oily fish that was perfect. In addition the fried (or dehydrated?) fish skin, salmon mousse and salmon roe and even the salmon being encased in salmon stock jelly made for a dish that was quite possibly my favourite of the meal. It was spectacular to look at but also was generous with its use of modern techniques whilst still looking and tasting somewhat restrained.
with Red Chard, Horseradish and Soy Beans
In this dish, its ALL about the beetroot. Beetroot spheres, beetroot pasta and beetroot powder (soil?). The accompanying red chard and soy beans provide textural constrast and the beans some protein whilst the horseradish provides a classic flavour combination as well as a little extra interest to the palate. It seems that Beetroot is a bit of an ‘in’ thing with chefs these days and here is no different. Its treatment is respectful and delicious and a nice way to transition from the fish dishes towards the meat.
with Wattle, Garlic Milk and Rhubarb
If you dig your swine, this is the dish for you. The pork belly was (as it should be) wonderfully soft and tender with meltingly soft fat and meat that just held together. The Garlic milk was presented as a solid sheet with the texture of silken tofu which complemented the pork nicely. Dishes with fat need something sour to accompany in order to ‘cut the fat’. In this case, it was admirably done by the rhubarb with the wattle playing the supporting role in a soil form.
Cured Venison and Consomme
with Salsify, Chestnut and Scallop
I love anything savoury and this was the most savoury dish on the menu. The venison was cured in gin before before air dried or likely dehydrated into a jerky style preparation. Unlike your typical jerky however, it was still quite soft so I would imagine the shelf life on this product is not as long as what one would see in a fully dried product. The consomme was everything it should have been, powerful, gutsy and deep mahogany in colour and full of flavour. I savoured this liquor as it sustained my weary hungover self. The scallops provided both sweet and savoury accompaniment which were contrasted against the salsify and chesnut which balanced the dish.
Roasted Duck Breast
with Cuttlefish and Mushroom
Another beautifully presented dish. The duck breast was perfected cooked and presented being sliced and rolled. The cuttlefish added a little textural contrast too as well as reinforcing some of the sweetness attributed to the duck. The mushroom ‘soil’ was earthy in both texture and flavour and the kombu gel accompaniment was just insanely good giving and extra umami ‘kick’ to the dish. Another favourite from the meal.
with barley cream and beer sorbet
The desserts here were really rather good. In this case a beer sorbet served with caramelised and dehydrated pineapple, barley cream and some crunchy ‘biscuity’ crumbs. The beer sorbet was more than a mere sorbet. It was very light and fluffy and I would hazard a guess at saying there must have been some egg white in it to make it so light and ‘airy’ before being formed into the most perfect quenelle. The dehydrated pineapple was incredibly intense and the crumb mixture held the dish together and really made it a dessert. The dish as a whole was good but for me it was the dehydrated pineapple that was the star. It should be made available to everyone, everywhere.
with Spice Bread and Cumquat
You could get the jist of this easily at home. Get a spice biscuit or even a ginger nut. Whack on some stilton and top with a bit of Marmalade. What you wont get doing this however is the subtlety and texture that this dish has got going on. The creamed stilton is creamy smooth and yet a little abrasive owing to the characteristics so beloved of stilton. This, offset by the sweet spiciness of the spice bread ‘crumbs’ and the bittersweet-’ness’ of the cumquat creates a total package that pretty much like everything else on the menu is just insanely good.
with Magnolia Ice Cream and White Chocolate
Here we’ve got an ‘ice-cream’ made one would guess with the aid of liquid nitrogen served with milk cake and white chocolate. To look at, it’s rather ‘white’ but it certainly does not taste bland. Again like many of the dishes here, subtle contrast plays an important part in giving the dish interest and substance. There is ‘super cold’ vs ambient, crunchy vs smooth. I dont know who this dessert chef is, but I want to know and feel that everyone else should know too.
Overall, its a pretty hard task to take this on for serious review. The individuals involved and the techniques used here are clearly at the top of their game and at the forefront of global cuisine respectively. I can’t thank my Sydney hosts from the night before enough for recommending that I visit the place. The only thing I can do is pass that recommendation on to you. Go there, check it out and try it for yourself.
There is also a book available with some of the recipes from this meal (including the duck!) as well as many others not covered by this review. It is a truly beautifully presented book with stunning photography, descriptive recipes including some detailed explanations on some of the more modern techniques utilised in their kitchen.
The book is available at Amazon.com
Bentley Restaurant and Bar
(02) 9332 2344
320 Crown St
Surry Hills, 2010