Dive into the menu at Sydney’s Bert’s, where Jordan Toft delivers a glamorous take on coastal dining.
Words MAGGIE SCARDIFIELD Recipes JORDAN TOFT Photography BEN DEARNLEY Styling LISA FEATHERBY Drink suggestions ADRIAN FILIUTA
Jordan Toft’s all-time favourite film is Dirty Dancing. It was a major inspiration in the lead up to opening Bert’s, a grand brasserie overlooking Pittwater on
Sydney’s northern beaches. “I kept thinking about Kellerman’s resort and the all-American country club,” says Toft.
“Nostalgia is a really important part of my cooking, and at Bert’s we really wanted it to hark back to an era gone by.”
But don’t expect charades in the lobby. While there’s plenty of nostalgic detail at the Newport restaurant – lemons clothed in muslin and Jeroboams of Champagne – Toft’s food is firmly in the now: great produce, cooked with precision. The Bert’s kitchen has two Josper ovens powered by charcoal, fruit woods and ironbark, and four Basque-style grills. “Live fuel and charcoal are almost ingredients themselves,” says Toft. “Buy a small Kroger or Japanese yakitori grill, light it, get to know it, and work to understand the differences in heat. You can do wonders with it.”
Wonders such as hapuku, grilled over embers until the white flesh turns scallop-like, ready to be served unadorned save for a drizzle of preserved-lemon olive oil and a scattering of fried vine leaves. Or grilled zucchini, dusted with sumac and luxed up with stracciatella. Or coal-roasted mud crab picked and dressed with its own juices, then enlivened even more with mayo and Basque spices. “I want what you read on the menu to be what you see on the plate,” says Toft. “Not overcomplicated, but always en pointe.”
As well as leading the charge at Bert’s, Toft is executive chef for Merivale’s Coogee Pavilion, along with The Collaroy and the newly opened Bar Topa. Raised in Sydney’s western suburbs, he has lived in France, Italy, the Balearic Islands and California, and his food treads a similarly sunny Mediterranean path. At Bert’s there’s glamour and grandeur in spades, but not hauteur. “It’s Don Draper on holiday,” says Toft. “Where the white shirt’s still on, but the top button’s undone.”
The menu here – replete with a head-turning lobster tagliolini and a grown-up Splice crowned with torched meringue – will certainly wow guests. “I don’t want people to have anxiety about what they’re doing,” says Toft, “but sometimes lunch should be an event.”
“Spring brings out the best in people, and a menu like this brings a bit of life,” he says. “It’s a meal, but more than that it’s an experience.” Bert’s Bar & Brasserie, 2 Kalinya St, Newport, NSW, (02) 9114 7350, merivale.com