For fans of Mike McEnearney's now defunct Kitchen by Mike, No. 1 Bent Street may come as a surprise. This time, we're offered a little more luxury — that is, menus to peruse at our own pace and a healthy serve of table service. But while Bent Street retains the chef's penchant for seasonal and shareable fare, punters shouldn't expect quite the same level of 'togetherness' that was dished up at McEnearney's former Rosebery digs.
The menu here is ever-evolving based on "what is best and most brilliant at the markets on any given day"; suppliers aren't singled out nor favoured, meaning diners can expect a different offering each time they visit. On the night of our visit, the lineup features a selection of 'smalls' and 'bigs' dominated by the winter warmers — pork belly, beef cheek pie, and steak bordelaise — we've come to expect during Sydney's colder months.
McEnearney's savoury selection of smalls homes dishes best described as taste teasers — that is to say that each has its own unique flavour combination, yet never realises its full potential. It's a shame Mike's sourdough with cultured salted butter ($4 per person) never arrives – this would've been a welcome supplement to the ash-baked eggplant with saffron, freekeh with green tahini ($18) or the grilled squid, baked white beans and chorizo ($25) that were chosen to kick things into gear.
However, for the seafood inclined, the baked scallops with bacon, garlic and thyme ($7 per scallop), provides the exciting start we're looking for (if a little on the floury side). Match this with the 2015 Ravensworth 'The Grainery' white blend from Canberra ($17 glass, $84 bottle) for a textural, local wine full of stone fruit and honeysuckle.
For a chef whose philosophical roots live in the principle of sharing, No. 1 Bent Street's bigger plates live up to McEnearney's reputation as a man known for serving up the kind of hearty food we might find on the dinner table at home. And it starts with the prep, right? Set within a Matt Darwon-designed, timber-heavy interior, McEnearney's cooking army shimmies between the wood-fired oven and rotisserie in the open and communal kitchen with a buzz akin to a celebratory family and friends do.
The crisp pork belly with Granny Smith apple chutney ($36) is what we fantasise about when invited to Mum's place for Sunday roast — think the perfect amount of crunch followed by meat so tender it's fit for praise. The grilled lamb chops and kidneys with garlic and almond mash ($38) are uneventful, so it's recommend they're jazzed up with a side of sprouts, black cabbage, bacon and chestnuts ($12).
In the sweet department? Quince with saffron custard with pistachio brittle, Mike's chocolate mousse and pear tarte fine ($14-16) will catch your eye, but in winter it's a safe bet to go puddings all round. The rice pudding with rhubarb jam ($14) is velvety and rich; let the rhubarb's acidity slice through the classic dessert and you've got yourself a winner. The sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce ($14) takes the richness level up a notch, but more sauce please! To finish up, it's a couple of digestifs — in this case the 2013 Muscat de Beaumes de Venise from the Rhone Valley's Domaine des Bernardins, with hints of butterscotch and sweetened dried fruits ($13 glass).
Having arrived in a sleek CBD setting carrying some, but not all, of the formula that made Kitchen by Mike so popular, this is something new. Don't expect all the bells and whistles usually dished up at the big end of town — but there's no intent for that here. Yes, there's room for improvement, but for those looking for a relatively quick, homely feed, McEnearney could well be your man.