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