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Offering Justin North's food in striking surrounds, the Hotel Centennial is where you take the folks for an upmarket weekend meal.

Australia loves an underdog, so the interest and anticipation surrounding the new home of beleaguered celebrity chef Justin North comes as no surprise.

With its stylish leather couches and armchairs, attractive angular lamps and impressive collection of wall-mounted photos (including an almost life-sized nude Kate Moss from the Kate Garner series currently showing in Paris), the Hotel Centennial exudes the brightness and warmth of a friend's dining room, and the refined elegance that makes it clear that friend shops at Coco Republic. There's a buzz to the place, with its jazzy, big-band soundtrack, bustling open kitchen, roaring wood-fired oven and army of well-dressed waitstaff milling about the grand wooden tables.

The food is pretty as a picture. Grass fed steak tartare rests with a pickle upon a slender slice of rye ($6), while pink pieces of marinated tuna are lifted by the freshness of green tea soba noodles and scattered with black sesame seeds ($26). The flavours are pleasant, if not punchy, and make for an enjoyable preamble for the richer mains, like the wintery shepherd's pie ($26) which pairs soft pieces of lamb shank and shoulder with a flavoursome mash and toasted breadcrumbs.

The wine list is impressive and accessible, with carefully curated categories ranging from 'zippy, zesty fresh whites' to 'big, bold, brash reds'. Our Argentinian Mi Terruno ‘Uvas’ Malbec ($10/$49) makes a happy companion for our meaty mains.

Unusually for a pub, dessert is where it's at. A rich slice of chocolate ale cake ($14) makes clear that combining beer with chocolate can in fact be a thing, marrying the bitterness of the stout with sweetness from dashes of treacle, dollops of chocolate mousse and a creamy quenelle of salted caramel ice cream.

Taking its cue from Table for 20 and Farmhouse, the Hotel Centennial is also experimenting with communal dining. Mondays through Wednesdays, you can join the High Table, a long, communal space that seats up to 30 diners for a main announced by noon each day on the High Table Tumblr. $24 includes one course (with $2 donated to the Holdsworth Foundation), and for an extra $10 you also get a coffee or tea and one of those fabulous desserts.

Offering comfort food in striking surroundings, the Hotel Centennial is where you take the folks for an upmarket weekend meal. Following this first, measured return to the kitchen, we'll be watching to see what North does next.

Published on May 22, 2014 by Sarah Lux-Lee

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