British chef and restauranteur Jason Atherton has something of a Midas touch, owning 18 restaurants all over the world — including several in London — with a scattering of Michelin stars amongst them. And after recently launching new venues in New York and Asia, Atherton this year made his first mark on Sydney, opening Kensington Street Social inside the newly refurbished Old Clare Hotel.
Having been to almost all of his restaurants in London, I have always been impressed by the casual elegance of both the food and the restaurants themselves. The Sydney space is pretty sexy, with lovely high ceilings and an open kitchen, touches of olive and jade green with charcoal, gold, leather and warm lighting. It's been well thought out, and details like the cool cutlery and napkin holders, are in keeping with his signature style.
Operating as 'culinary director' with his creations being realised by executive chef Robert Daniels, Atherton has a certain way with food that's experimental, yet approachable. Take the Social Dog ($15), for example. Strips of fresh green apple and fried black pudding sit on top of a pork and fennel sausage, along with a good familiar dose of cheddar and mustard. These little additions make it more interesting — and more delicious. It's sensible portion size, and serving it on a board with a sharp knife makes it one of the only hotdogs in town suitable to eat on a first date.
The slow-cooked organic hen's egg with sweetcorn, seaweed, parmesan, sage, and chicken scratchings ($17) is all texture and umami goodness. The pulled lamb sourdough flatbread ($18) finds happy partners with baby zucchini, jersey milk ricotta and manchego. When we visited, the dishes of the day were the sea urchin rice with Morton Bay bug tail and bisque, as well as the yoghurt mousse with lemon curd, malt meringue and basil. The latter is the perfect dessert for those that 'don't do' dessert; it's pleasingly savoury and refreshing.
The floor team match the overall vibe, being warm but professional — and while it's not cheap per se, it's good value for service, consistency and atmosphere. Plus, they offer a pretty handsome lunch deal ($40 for two courses and a drink) as well as brunch, and you can always just head into the bar for some snacks and a cocktail. The wines veer towards the natural trend, are largely Australian and available by the glass, and the selection includes some interesting varietals and producers.
It's these elements that mean Atherton's Sydney social is likeable, with a warm, contemporary energy on the plate and in the room.