RE­VIEW

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - CONTENTS - By john leth­lean

An­other Latin-tinged jazz number pours like cream from the sound sys­tem. Ice cubes jin­gle in cut-glass tum­blers full of ex­cel­lent gin and tonic. And, god­dammit, don’t you just ex­pect Don Draper to light an­other Lucky Strike and mo­sey over from the mar­ble bar, mar­tini in hand, all charm yet with malev­o­lence bub­bling just be­neath that glossy sur­face?

Bert’s, at New­port in Syd­ney’s north, is not so much Manhattan Don as Coun­try Club Don: lunch­ing with Betty and the kids on a Sun­day, tak­ing a spin in the new Caddy, the golden age of ’60s US pros­per­ity and con­fi­dence be­fore it all went so wrong with Viet­nam and Nixon. Bert’s is Justin and Bettina Hemmes’ most con­vinc­ing the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion yet: a set for any­one who wants to recre­ate their own Mad Men mo­ment.

With glimpses of Pittwa­ter be­low, the in­te­rior all pas­tels and par­quet, fan­lights and mar­ble, brass and booths, Bert’s is a vast new restau­rant clev­erly bro­ken into zones with booths and couches, ban­quettes and glass-topped ta­bles. A homage to ’60s af­flu­ence and op­ti­mism, it is surely the pair’s most am­bi­tious pro­ject to date. No doubt inspired by the retro, back-to-fun­da­men­tals ap­proach that has worked for them at Fred’s, Bert’s re­treats to the com­fort­ing food and ser­vice style of clas­sic ho­tel/club dining.

Whole fish on ice or swim­ming in a tank, fil­leted at the ta­ble by a waiter push­ing a trol­ley, with sauce boats and lemon in muslin; lit­tle cab­i­nets for Cognac and Ar­magnac; cop­per saucepans ev­ery­where. Nat­u­rally, ev­ery­thing’s served on monikered, clas­sic crock­ery. It’s nostal­gic but avoids clichés, and with proper ser­vice from greet to farewell, guests are made to feel spe­cial.

As they should be: or­der with aban­don and Bert’s could leave you with the debt-to-as­set ra­tio of a Cen­tral Amer­i­can dic­ta­tor­ship. Pasta with lob­ster is $129; whole Dory $99 per kilo; 50g of pre­sum­ably ex­cel­lent but un­spec­i­fied caviar, $295; or lob­ster slowly grilled with ho­ji­blanca olive oil and lemon, $288 per kilo. I’ll take the small one, please.

But there are other, more af­ford­able ways to dice Bert’s. Cruise the Oys­ter Bar sec­tion and you’ll find ab­so­lutely stun­ning, char­coal-kissed fin­gers of brioche (pic­tured) slathered with “chicken but­ter”, gen­er­ous lobes of sea urchin and chopped chives; at $18 for three, or­der twice. Five tablets of im­pec­ca­ble bonito from the “Crudo: daily raw fish se­lec­tion” come with olive oil and flaked salt, the flavour and fresh­ness of the fish be­yond re­proach, the slic­ing wor­thy of a sashimi master.

The de­cid­edly retro “Avo­cado Bert’s” is a chopped egg and mayo emul­sion over thick slices of avo with tar­ragon, dill, pars­ley, baby ca­pers and tog­a­rashi sea­son­ing. Prob­a­bly my least favourite starter. While a dark, rich and an­chovy­heavy ver­sion of bagna cauda with an as­sort­ment of baby raw veg­eta­bles marks a wel­come re­turn of the clas­sic starter of cru­dités.

The only slip is or­der­ing a “small” whole Dory and get­ting his big brother. The bill was ad­justed; the fish, taken off the bone at the ta­ble, su­perb. Hol­landaise; lemon in muslin. Check, check. Smashed Dutch cream pota­toes with olive oil and mar­jo­ram are the biz and grilled ap­ple cu­cum­bers with yo­ghurt, avo­cado oil and lin­seed are a sur­pris­ingly in­ter­est­ing side veg.

There are cer­tainly ways to do Bert’s af­ford­ably with­out miss­ing out. But if you or­der a glass of d’Yquem at $95, they’ll throw in the dessert for nix. Don would ap­pre­ci­ate the brand­ing ini­tia­tive.

Com­fort­ing: Bert’s in­vokes the golden age of Amer­i­can pros­per­ity

Pho­tog­ra­phy Melinda Hird

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