It’s been a while between shots, and we don’t know if we’ve ever had one right before a meal, but that’s exactly what happens not long after we take a seat at the Sanderson, the new CBD restaurant by the Speakeasy Group (also Nick and Nora’s and Mjølner).
On the table we see two miniature silver rams with curled horns. Our waiter flips them around, and pours us a nip of something neon-green. We’re told it’s made in-house, from sherry, green apple, cucumber, and white balsamic. Sounds a lot better than the Midori of our youth, so down it goes. Like a bright, zippy treat, actually. A sign of the fun to come.
But first, some housekeeping. The address to the Sanderson says George Street, but don’t do as we do and go there. You’ll find the entrance to this new restaurant on Wynyard Lane – speakeasy-style – right across from Shell House.
Walking in we are greeted by the maître d' standing in front of a glass, dry-ageing cabinet that’s showing off enough prime cuts of meat to make Mr Lecter salivate. We follow our host to our table, pass a long cabinet filled with ice and dozens of oysters, lobsters, crabs and, lastly, Champagne. Our kinda place.
The Sanderson (named after one of the co-owners, Greg Sanderson) is housed in the heritage-listed Beneficial House. Inside reflects the grandeur of the building, with navy-blue walls, dark wooden furniture, cosy booths and brass finishings. It’s a handsome and grown-up space.
We order a glass of Crawford River cabernet sauvignon, and our waiter pours it – generously – tableside, a welcome and refreshing move in today’s current climate. Our date drinks a glass of Domaine Amirault sparkling, and it too is poured in front of us.
Head chef James Green’s menu is broken up into ‘Starters’, ‘Gueridon service’, ‘Earth’, ‘Sea’ and ‘Land’, including show-stopping dishes like Eastern rock lobster mafaldine, and a whopping 700g of grass-fed sirloin on the bone.
But that’s for another day (when we have a bit more cash to flash), so we begin with a ‘carbonara’ eclair, which is the length of a finger, twice as fat, and topped with chicharon and a scattering of verdant chives. We take a bite. The warm cheese oozes out and drips down our chin like an ice-cream. The pastry is golden and light, the fried pork skin adds crunch. All up, it’s a salty, savoury delight.
'Gueridon service' is where your waiter finishes a dish tableside, and we can’t resist. Ours wheels out a marble-topped trolley, before expertly combining all the ingredients together for a Fraser Island spanner crab salad. Dinner with a side of theatre? Yes please.
The salad comes served in a desert-coloured crab-shell head with thin and crisp lavosh-like crackers to scoop up, and franky, it looks beautiful. But, looks can only get you so far, so in we go. Hunks of sweet crab meat are intertwined with chopped up macadamia and cucumber. It’s fresh, textural, sings of lemon – and tastes like a holiday to Hamilton Island.
Before our mains arrive our waiter presents us with a leather briefcase, but instead of books, it’s holding knives. We get to pick our own from eight different styles. And while every blade is the same, it feels very Game of Thrones-esque, and we’re ready for battle (with our steak).
Our Jack’s Creek Angus flatiron is perfectly cooked – grill marks on the outside, blushing pink and sliced. For sauce, we opt for a miso and roasted garlic butter, served dramatically inside a bone so that it looks like marrow; as well as a glossy ketchup spiked with shiitake mushrooms. We can take or leave the latter, but the buttery goodness, combined with a squeeze of lemon on the steak, is delicious.
Heirloom zucchini is grilled and pickled, and tossed with fresh zucchini ribbons, sliced radish and edamame, then placed on creamy cashew labneh that is almost as good as the real thing. The contrast of vege is nice to eat, and while tasty, the vinegary chunks make the most noise, and we think smaller bits would balance the dish. Potato rosti comes in rectangular bronzed bites, with flecks of salt and salt bush on top. Inside tastes like a silky, seasoned mash, and it’s hard to stop at two.
Before we go, we poke our head down to the basement to check out Eau de Vie – Sydney’s former best cocktail bar by the Speakeasy Group, which opened at the same time the Sanderson did. Everyone looks like they’re having a rollicking good time. Later, we reflect that while we may have had a little less booze and a bit more food at the Sanderson, we had a rollicking good time, too.