Anthony Huckstep makes friends with Sydney newcomer Bert’s.
IF ONLY I’D WORN A white linen shirt, chinos and penny loafers with no socks. Who am I kidding – I’ve barely got a paler shade of black in my wardrobe. While dining at perhaps Merivale’s boldest bid outside Sydney’s CBD, there is a sense of luxurious holiday dining. Certainly the prices support the notion.
Bert’s Bar & Brasserie in The Newport hotel embodies the chutzpah of extravagance from a time and place that some older European Australians may remember, yet delivers it with all the exuberance of Australia’s culinary youth.
Outside, it feels very thongs-and-boardshorts Australia, but once through the threshold there’s a real sense of grandeur – with a kind of casual cachet, mind you.
Waiters, a sea of them, are decked out in white jackets, ties and white aprons as they bounce around an enormous venue dominated by double-white tablecloths, emerald-green upholstered chairs and booths, a walk-in wine cellar with a list that embodies breadth and depth from home and abroad, and a giant bar overlooking Pittwater in Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
Executive chef Jordan Toft (Coogee Pavilion) and head chef Sam Kane lead a team in an open kitchen that’s received as much spit and polish as the dining room.
Although the project was 12 months in the making, Toft had only three days in the kitchen before the doors swung open, but you’d never know. There’s confidence, clever technique and a genuine respect for the produce on the plate.
A seafood smorgasbord of Australia and New Zealand’s deep blue jewels – including live pipis, lobsters, mud crabs, prawns and a few finfish – is on show to lure your tastebuds in, but the vast menu covers just about all bases and puts a European accent on local produce. A generous plate of crudite and bagna
cauda offers a medley of crisp, fresh raw turnips, carrots, fennel and celery yearning to take a dip in a stellar anchovy sauce. Then pickled cherries partner a solid
paté en croute where pastry surrounds a delicate pork and game terrine.
A canopy of crisp vine leaves hides a splendidly cooked New Zealand hapuka that’s still opaque in the centre, allowing its broad scalloping flesh and rich, sweet flavour to play off nicely against preserved and salted lemon. Then a lick of peach puree supports a slab of pork rib chop. Caramelised on the outside, partnered with crackling and blushingly pink inside, it’s a great example of how something other than pork belly can be the porcine hero on a plate.
Now there’s simply the choice of heading to the bar for a relaxing nightcap or two, or letting the fresh mango, finger lime and dried coconut pavlova knock you over.