At Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Brent Savage uses a colourful mix of ingredients – lychee glass, coffee puree, orange blossom gel, red miso oil – to create dishes that are spring-loaded with flavour. It’s one of my favourite places in Sydney and it was the restaurant that inspired me to start this blog. And after the refit earlier this year by Pascale Gomes-McNabb (who softened the space with lamps that look like skirts a-twirl), it’s even better.
Recently, we visited twice in one week – one was a long-planned dinner, the other a last-minute chance to experience Lemonpi’s spell-casting ways with dessert. She had reinvented the menu, pairing caramelised pineapple with beer sorbet and barley cream; drawn on the DNA of Cherry Ripe to create a cherry sorbet and coconut-adorned choc sponge; and turned cheesecake into a cold-temperature surprise, mixing frozen, creamy flavours with gritty-sweet biscuit crumbs and lively fragments of fruit.
My favourite moment, though, was when we thought the meal was over and she surprised us with one last curtain call, a prototype dessert – ice cream cones delivered, experiment-like, in laboratory jars. It was a generous and creative end to a lovely night.
From my very first visit to Bentley, I’d noticed how imaginative and rewarding the vegetarian dishes were – full of tripwire flavours, unexpected ingredients and surprise-me textures. I was really happy to see it singled out for Favourite Vegetarian Menu in the latest Good Food Guide, and when I asked co-owner/sommelier Nick Hildebrandt whether they’ve had an uptick in diners as a consequence, he said they definitely had – and by a dramatic amount. (Bentley’s inspiring and considerate menu is partly thanks to Brent Savage’s wife Fleur being a vegetarian; she actually comes from a family that spans “three generations of vegetarians”.)
I’m glad to see that there’s such a demand for vegetarian dining at a high-reputation restaurant. Also, it’s extremely heartening to see such diners not being dumped with just after-thought salads and side-dishes-parading-as-main-courses. I hope this Bentley-led trend stays.
Now, you might have noticed that you can take Bentley home and file it into your library – a 256-page recipe book has recently been released by Murdoch Books (consider these accompanying pictures a convenient browse-through).
The volume features a full-spectrum range of dishes, from the long-gone but much-loved Gazpacho Three Ways (which Simon Thomsen once drew attention to for its pure traffic-light colours) and lollipop-resembling White Anchovy Sticks to dessert favourites (such as the Malted Milk Marshmallows that teleport me instantly back to childhood). It’s been beautifully photographed by chef Luke Burgess, who runs the newly opened and already renowned Garagistes (currently my number-one reason for wanting to visit Tasmania).
Given that Bentley was what sparked me to start this blog – and seeing as this site has just passed its three-year mark – I thought it’d be nice to give away a copy of the hardcover book as a prize. For your chance to win, please leave a comment describing the most inspiring meal you can remember (also add your contact details so I can sleuth out your postal details if you win). I’ll leave it open until December 1 before I put on my judge’s hat and decide the winner.
And if you have a chance to go to Bentley, do – it’s one of the most imaginative restaurants in this city (with thoughtful and unpretentious service to match).
Bentley Restaurant and Bar, 320 Crown Street, Surry Hills, (02) 9332 2344, www.thebentley.com.au