It was tough not to feel a little bereft when Kitchen by Mike shut its doors last year. Queuing up for the canteen's fresh, lush salads and crusty hunks of bread, then sitting in the sunshine as you tucked in was a true Sydney pleasure.
Now, Mike McEnearney's back behind the burners, or to be more accurate, he's in front of a huge wood-fired oven which sits right in the middle of his new venture No. 1 Bent Street's wide open kitchen. No. 1 Bent Street is the sleek city slicker to Kitchen by Mike's country mouse, but the food remains hearty and wholesome, with a focus on fresh vegetables and comfort-food flavours.
We were particularly taken with the tart, vividly pink beetroot and rhubarb salad, served with ponzu sauce. There's also – because this is Sydney, and apparently we're obsessed with it now – rotisserie chicken, and a classic fish pie. McEnearney's particularly excited about the pie, "It's something I could never have done at Kitchen by Mike," he told the room at the restaurant's preview night. When the pie comes out of the oven it's gorgeous, but take out a few slices and you're left with a hot mess – all be it an edible one. The more controlled, formal environment of a restaurant allows for individual portions of the pretty dish.
Though it may seem humble, one of the highlights of the menu is a rice pudding, served with tangy jam and hunks of crunchy honeycomb. It's almost custardy in texture and so powerfully spiked with vanilla bean, the flavour holds up even when you add the intense accoutrements. The whole thing tastes like a perfumed hug, and it may well be Sydney's next cult dessert.
It'd be easy for No. 1 Bent St to look like a lobby – technically, it kind of is – but thanks to thoughtful design from Matt Darwon, the space feels bright and airy, with a slightly rustic finish. When we visited, you could still smell the timber treatment on the large wooden tables. The floors are poured concrete, but thanks to a striated Tasmanian oak ceiling, the venue isn't overly loud or echoey.
It may be upscale from Kitchen by Mike, but so far, it feels just as warm.
This is a preview, not a review. We attended No. 1 Bent St as a guest of the restaurant. Time Out's full, anonymous review will be published soon.