For almost five years, the Bentley's progressive food, inimitable wine list and excellent floor staff made it the darling of Sydney food freaks. But the room's always been less than ideal. Not any more, though. The old dining room, which looked like a Play School set, has gone, replaced by this newer, better, brighter (well, actually dimmer) restaurant and bar, care of Melbourne architect Pascale Gomez McNabb.
Think of the new look as ‘scrunchy fabulous'. The light fittings resemble crumpled-up cardboard boxes. Messed-up black mesh acts as a divider between the restaurant and the bar. Speaking of which, the bar is now properly independent from the restaurant. It's a big improvement. While the bar menu no longer features snappy tapas dishes (they're trying to move away from idea of tapas altogether), there are still some more modest offerings - nuts, olives and the like. The idea is more that the bar is for drinkin', the restaurant is for eatin'.
And the eats are as good as ever. If you've never eaten here, before, try the tasting menu. Savage's progressive degustation filled with soils, dusts, custards and tubes works better in small bites, rather than the traditional entrée-main-dessert. That said, there's nothing wrong with going the other way – it's just more food. If you do choose to EMD, start with the foie gras parfait – a long tube of lightly whipped duck liver served with thin little toastlets and bejewelled with pickled raisins, racked up with a smattering of puffed rice. The result is smooth and rich interspersed with the pop and crackle of puffed rice and ping of acidity and sweetness from the raisins.
Savage also does some of the best vego fare in the city. An airy, light parmesan custard that disappears as soon as it hits your mouth has a little pile of truffled asparagus on the side. We'd question the need for the truffle component, though. Why not give the asparagus a chance to speak for itself? That said, it's a small criticism in a sea of deliciousness. Moving onto meat, you should really try the pork belly – cubes of crisp belly tumble over a ribbon of apple jelly with miso, tonka bean and green olive.
Mains-wise, the duck is the winner - thin slices of slow roasted duck are layered over each other, resting on a bed of mushroom powder and thin slices of cuttlefish, punctuated by full-stop sized enoki mushrooms. Is beef tendon the new bone marrow? If Bentley and Rockpool are anything to go by, it is. Here, a fist-sized beef fillet is garnished with a disc of gelatinous tendon and burnt onion mayonnaise. Amazing.
Dessert though, is what it's all about. There's the toast custard – alternating little hunks of chocolate parfait and toast flavoured custard – it's a taste sensation only to be slightly eclipsed by the outrageously rich honeycomb chocolate bar. The honeycomb centre is incredibly sticky and chewy, covered in dark, crumbly and dense Callebaut chocolate. It's pretty much a Crunchie on steroids.
The Bentley now has a setting it deserves – a room that lives up to the stellar food and wine offerings. If it wasn't on your radar before, it had better be now.
The big refurb back in 2010 may have all but vanquished the bar area (which used to be huge) but there are still a few cocktail seats off to the side of the restaurant. And double plus yay, you can still sit at the bar and get looked after by the team of brilliant floor staff who between them have an absolutely astounding pool of wine knowledge. If you’re lucky enough to get served by sommelier/owner Nick Hildebrandt, put down the wine list and open your ears. He’s one of the best in the biz and the fact you can experience his breadth of knowledge for as little as a glass of wine or as much as a seven-course meal is a rare thing indeed. Choose from more than 600 wines, including quite a few made just for the bar, such as a pinot noir from Lucy Margeaux called the Bentley Barrel. Sidle up to the snack list while you’re here. Brent Savage is behind the pans (and the immersion circulator) plating up his brand of progressive modern Australian food. At the bar, you might order anything from a plate of jamon or a bowl of Padrón peppers to a slow-cooked egg with chickpea, preserved lemon and harissa. Definitely make sure to order up on the creamy, sweet duck liver parfait with tiny toasts and pickled carrot.