My 2nd experience dining at a two-hatted restaurant on this trip would be to Bentley Restaurant & Bar. For many uninitiated, the first question that pops up was “Is this place related to the famed car manufacturer?” But its not. Their only similarities were probably the dark leather banquettes and the dark timber tables excluding class and elegance.
The dining hall was so engulfed in darkness that I felt the best way to portray the place was to use an invert image.
Kicked off our meal with a spread of tasting portioned starters Kohlrabi Leaves + Whipped Cod Roe, Rock Oyster + Finger Lime + Scampi Caviar, ‘Beet-strami’ + Horseradish + Beef and Spencer Gulf Kingfish + Sea Urchin + Tomato + Marigold (seasoned with liquid Shiro Koji).
The platter presented a good mix of textures and techniques. The crispy kohlrabi leaves was something different from the more well-known relatives – kale chips, and was well-paired with the creamy dip. This was followed by the fresh and plump oysters lightly perfumed with a tinge of finger lime. It was so smooth that it glided effortlessly down my throat. The most unique item was the ‘Beet-strami‘ which was a slice of beetroot processed the same way as pastrami. It was partially dried, seasoned, then smoked and steamed. It was served with beef powder on the side for us to coat the beet-strami with. If I had eaten this with my eyes closed, I might be fooled to have eaten a beef jerky due to its texture. Last but not least was the fish item which was velvety and brimming with flavours representing the essence of the sea.
The second round of dishes presented were generally richer than the earlier ones. Starting with Crisp Potato + Creme Fraiche + Chives, Parmesan Tart + Tomatillo, Heard Island Toothfish + Wasabi Leaf, Slow Cooked Wagyu Beef Tongue + Saltbush + Muntrie Relish. The first snack I tried from this group was the one on the top left corner and it had me nodding my head while still munching the mouthful of potato. Taken in one bite, the warm potato with a thin crust blended with the rich creme fraiche peppered with hints of onion flavour from the chopped chives. This was followed by the fish wrapped in the mildly spicy wasabi leaf before moving on to try the tart. Although equally rich and creamy, when compared to the potato snack, the parmesan tart had savoury base, with a lighter filling finished with a mild acidic flavour cutting through.
Finished this round with the beef tongue. After hours of slow cooking, the beef tongue had turned really tender yet retained some of its chewy character. It is paired with muntries and fermented saltbush. Both muntries and saltbush are ingredients foreign to me, as both of them are Australian native plants. The saltbush has a salty herbal flavour while the muntries offered some tartness to this wonderful protein dish.
The Homemade Rye Bread + Black Sesame Butter was served before we progress to the main dishes starting with Kinawooka Mussels + Baby Peas + Garlic Flower. For people who know my eating habits, they might be wondering if I indeed ate this dish? After tasting many other delicious fresh pea dishes, I must correct that I do eat peas – only if they are fresh peas. I absolutely hate eating the the frozen type.
Hidden under the pile of green peas were the small and sweet mussels. It never crossed my mind that mussels could be paired with green peas to form such an amazing dish.
Our seafood feast did not end with the mussels as up next was the Bass Grouper + Smoked Pil Pil + Almond + Sunflower. Not sure if this dish was inspired by Basque cuisine’s Bacalao al pil-pil? Instead of salted cod, we had Bass Grouper that has a gelatinous texture. The emulsified sauce with almond and sunflower (seeds?) provided a nutty undertone.
It was easy to guess what was the main ingredient for the final main dish as it has made several appearances before this finale. When the staff served us the Wagyu Chuck Tail Flap + Asparagus + Black Radish + Salted Egg Yolk with Heirloom Tomato + Camel’s Milk Curd + Shiso we were relieved to see that the portion was well-controlled. Other than the tender beef that lived up to our expectations, I was particularly drawn to the crunch of the thinly sliced black radish wrapped around the asparagus.
We were truly pampered by Bentley’s generous tasting menu spread as we were treated to 3 desserts! Goats Milk Sorbet + Boysenberries + Geraldton Wax had me thinking that I’ll be having a honey dessert? Turns out Geraldton Wax is yet another Australian native shrub that produces mostly pink and white flowers. After so many visits to Australia, this meal was an eye-opener that introduced me to bush tucker ingredients!
As for the next dessert Olive Oil Ice Cream + Caramelised Lactose + Pineapple Beer, while I wasn’t wowed by the appearance of Olive Oil Ice Cream (eaten somewhere before), I was excited to see Caramelised Lactose and Pineapple Beer listed as ingredients. Notably, the use of lactose was described in Mugaritz‘s recipe as being able to produce textures similar to sugar, but hardly sweetens them. I guess the caramelisation probably provided a toasty flavour.
The dessert that took centre stage was Peach + Preserved Lemon Sorbet + Stracciatella + Blood Orange that was plated with an eye-catching “structure” topping the sorbet. Overall this was a dessert with much tartness – something that I have a love-hate relationship with.
After spending so many days in Hunter Valley, we decided to skip wine pairing and opted for the non-alcoholic pairing for our meal. Pictures arranged in order from top left to right and bottom left to right: Yuzu Sparkling Water, Hibiscus flower seeped in tea, Cloudy apple with cinnamon, Nectar? – missed out on this one, lemon and sugar, Nut and fennel, Pineapple sour with Darjeeling tea. I really enjoyed the concoctions made with aromatic and citrusy fruits. The only one with a more different profile was the Nut and fennel that somewhat tasted like Chinese herbal drink, which was understandably designed to pair with the meaty Wagyu chuck tail flap.
This was undoubtedly the best meal I had on this trip and Bentley absolutely deserve the accolade of a 2-hatted restaurant. In my opinion, they could be a worthy contender to be considered for the highest 3-hatted category like Quay and Attica.
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