Lunch at Bert’s is as close as we can ever get to actually living the jazz age in all its glory. There’s not a dining room in the city that can hold a candle to the soft-focus beauty that Merivale have achieved in the final instalment of the Newport’s renewal, and though we can’t afford the $2 million price tag on a Newport residence, an afternoon of café society luxury can be yours, and it’s not as expensive as you might think to get it.
Of course, it’s not cheap either – it costs money to create the illusion that you’ve gone back in time and risen several social classes. They committed a serious decorating budget to all those Krug bottles lining the marble-topped bars, the lounges upholstered in a watercolour palette and the gleam of the copper pans hung up around the open, white-tiled kitchen. The whole experience is designed to make you feel like a big deal, from the warm greeting in the atrium, with sweet little tassels holding table numbers, as if you were entering a ritzy tennis club. And sure, you might get asked by three different people if you’ve ordered a drink once you’ve sat down, but it’s a damn sight better than going thirsty – they haven’t skimped on staffing either.
If you can swing it, aim for a seat that faces the vast arc of windows that look out over Pittwater and the striped umbrellas down in the beer garden below. From here, it’s time to decide just how baller you are willing to be today. Do you want oysters for five bucks a pop, or caviar for $295? Consider landing in the middle with fancy toast soldiers made from buttery brioche topped with a chicken butter melting into the bread, and carrying creamy uni on its back like a litter for royalty. Thank you, 1970s Australia, for the avocado Bert: a vintage starter of perfect, cold slices of avo dressed in a nude-illusion lattice of chopped egg, chives, chervil, tarragon for an anise lift and a sprinkling of dried Japanese chilli seasoning for surprise heat.
Now, they are taking their status as a high flying brasserie seriously, and more than one table is splashing out on the whole grilled lobster, but the price point for things off the grill also stretches down to under $50 for spatchcock, fish by the fillet and short rib, or you can order the juicy pork rib chop that serves two and hides a roasted peach puree underneath those pink slices for a taste of autumn.
The cooking is very clean here – chef Jordan Toft doesn’t go in for unnecessary flounces. A side of spinach is only just heated so that it retains some springy leafiness, and a side salad of butter lettuce is almost nude save for some fresh herbs and a squeeze of lemon. Dessert is going to change how you feel about ice cream cake forever, because here the frozen slice is a layer of intense apricot and one of peach, separated by a sweet vanilla yoghurt with just charred meringue off to the side. It’s potently rich and yet refreshingly juicy and bright.
If you can afford to eat here every day you’ll certainly want to – one woman in perfect white linen tells her companion what she ordered yesterday on her way to the table – but if you can’t, put it at the top of your special occasion hit-list so you can live like you’re in a F Scott Fitzgerald novel, if only for an afternoon.