What started out back in 2006 as a little venue on Crown Street offering kooky wines and some pretty crazy modern Australian snackage has morphed into one of the city’s more exciting restaurants, designed by talented Melbourne interior architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb. The heart of the Bentley hasn’t changed, though, even with the makeover. It’s still got Surry Hills sensibilities despite the enormous new CBD digs.
Lighting is a big thing here. There’s a lot of it, in all shapes, from conical adjustable mood lights, to lumpy white stone shaped floor lamps and about a million dangling multi-coloured glass shades. Sit at the bar downstairs for a cracker Martini and some house-cured meats, or take to the dining room and go full bells and whistles. Upstairs is a tangle of glossy pick-up stick ceiling sculptures, graphic bursts of grey and frosted egg-like glass light-shades. Plush banquettes line the private dining room, dressed in charcoal and walnut.
While there’s a whole tasting menu there to rip into it’s actually a whole lot of fun to create your own mini-deg from the fairly extensive a la carte selection. But what we really want to tell you to do is visit the Bentley for white wine and hot chips.
The food is classic Savage
: highbrow technique with lowbrow touches like his luxe take on a Crunchie Bar with its dusty dark chocolate exterior and gooey caramel and honeycomb interior. Those chips we’re so eager for are deeply golden, super-crisp, creamy and fluffy on the inside and crusted in sea salt. There might even be a crunchy little potato cup, filled with whipped crème fraiche and chives sporting a wig of pork floss.
For us, meals at the Bentley have always kicked goals at the beginning and the end. A tiny snack of diced raw scallop dressed with raspberry vinaigrette and covered in a shower of frozen shaved foie and dehydrated raspberry is fruity and weird and delicious. Slow-poached-then-roasted quail is refreshed with smoked celery and a cloud-like white soy emulsion, in a sauce made on chicken and duck bone – it’s a bath of musk and collagen-richness.
A main special of pork belly on the bone – brined for 24 hours, then poached in milk for 24 hours, then finished in the pan – is a little hard going on the fat front, and the accompanying macadamia puree doesn’t really provide the textural or acidic reprieve we need. But it’s made up for by a vegetarian dish of puffed black rice, grilled sweet corn over charcoal and sweet corn purée.
In the glass, it’s the usual trailblazing hit parade we’ve come to know and love from Nick Hildebrandt
’s back-catalogue of deliciousness. There might be a glass of Moselle – riesling from a tiny French appellation that produces, like, half a barrel of wine a year – followed by a natural wine from South Australia made by a man who hates wearing pants, finished with the head spinning-floral-yet-vegetal Dolin Genepi liqueur, served instead of dessert. But knowing the talented sommelier it’ll be none of that, because he’s just that kind of guy.
The Bentley isn’t exactly cheap, especially if you let Hildebrandt and his incredible floor team and Savage and his crack kitchen pull out all the stops. But you could just as readily come for a bowl of chips, a sandwich and a glass of Chablis – and that’s the very reason we’ll be back.