Disclaimer: Gerald Diffey’s a good friend of Time Out’s, and much of what we love about Brooks, the CBD restaurant opened by Diffey and Mario Di Ienno, is born of fond memories of nights spent lost in a haze of vinyl and chablis at their legendary wine bar, Gerald’s.
Brooks has inherited the Motown and knick-knacks. And you can expect the same old-school service that comes with a smile, and possibly a pinch on the bottom. But ultimately, Brooks is its own beast.
There’s a flush of linen in the dining room, Diffey in a suit, and a star-studded team from doorman to dish pig. Sydney import and floor boss Paul Guiney (ex-MoVida Aqui) is making Brooks turn on a dime, and Diffey’s doffing his own experienced cap to sommelier Matt Brook (ex-Circa) – higher praise for the wine buff than any other.
And then there’s French chef Nic Poelaert. The forward-thinking vegetable-whisperer, who favours samphire over salt, and has closed his fine-dining restaurant, Embrasse, to fly the fine-bistro flag for Brooks.
By all means, stick to the bar. Gun slingin’ barman Shae Silvestro (ex-Der Raum) puts potent hangovers from Private Dancer cocktails (gin, elderflower and lemon) squarely on the cards and there’s plenty of grazing gear. Hit crunchy, creamy rye puff pillows filled with satiny chicken liver parfait, or the more substantial stuff of Embrasse’s Sunday lunches – a viscous potato mash so cheesy it’s a two-spoon job, and tender roast chicken for two.
But for maximum effect, go the five-course degustation for $80. Perhaps there’ll be Moreton Bay bug, textured with the crunch and pop of salty samphire and golden fish roe and gently boosted by garlic flowers. Or a perfectly pink, scorch-edged cube of beef rump with ‘burnt vegetables’ – a thin spread of potato baked till jet black. It has the texture of meringue with an intense roast-potato edge, but none of the acrid, burnt taste you’d expect.
The meli melo – a party of no less than 35 vegetables – is the most arresting homage to roughage we’ve ever seen. Blanched cauliflower florets, radishes and batons of choko are laid out over a paint palette of pureés from pickled cucumber to beetroot and pumpkin with a sprinkling of dehydrated olive soil and bee pollen.
It’s all pretty without being pointlessly so, and envelope pushing stuff. So while the pairing of pork tenderloin with sprigs of saline seaweed and miso is a table-divider for us, we like that it’s there, making us uncomfortable. Because while many are playing it safe, Poelaert is out on a limb and keeping the dream alive that food still has somewhere to go, other than backwards.