Bentley Bar has closed its doors in Surry Hills and has re-opened at the Radisson Blu hotel in the Sydney CBD

Greedy Girl flew solo to her old stomping ground of Sydney for a round of pre-Christmas cheer. For considerable years, Melbourne laid claim to being Australia’s food capital but, this century at least, Sydney has dominated antipodean best restaurant lists. The Sydney scene has been led by a swag of local rockstar chefs such as Marque’s Mark Best and Peter Gilmore at Quay. The harbour city has also become the go-to location for international luminaries such as New York’s David Chang (Momofuku) to expand their global reach.

Happily, the innovative approach to ingredients and meshing of European and Asian influences has trickled down to the next level of restaurants. While the high-end scene was bubbling away, for many years it was difficult to find a good, medium-range restaurant in Sydney. Now, you can’t swing a sweetbread without hitting a fairly decent local eatery with a gastronomic reputation.

One such venue was Bentley Bar on the delightfully quirky Crown Street in inner-suburban Surry Hills. Chosen to accommodate the picky eating tendancies of our young, born-again vegetarian friend Legume Leanne, Bentley Bar proved a trip down memory lane for Greedy Girl. Several decades earlier when the establishment and area was rather less salubrious, she’d been felled by a haymaker while waiting to cross at traffic lights outside the Bentley’s front doors.

The Muhammad Ali wannabe had just been ejected from the Bentley and explained, slurringly, as I sat on the kerb, in shock, rubbing the back of my head, that he wasn’t happy to have been thrown out. Well, duh. Greedy Girl rang the cops and waited for them to turn up. She’s still waiting. But I digress …

Shown to a table in front of a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking Crown Street, Legume Leanne, fellow foodie Madame Lapine and Greedy Girl settled in for an evening of interesting flavours – and sights. Crown Street, despite being a noted dining destination in Sydney remains a bastion of bohemia. We enjoyed the diversions provided by individuals tottering in skyscraper heels, short skirts and heavy make-up … and then there were a few women who also passed by.

Madame Lapine was disturbed. She was adamant that there used to be a Bentley parked inside the front windows of the restaurant, hence the name. An urban myth, unfortunately although we did enjoy the sight of a lone hubcap cartwheeling down the middle of the road at one point.

Bentley does indeed cater for vegetarians but a first glance at the menu alarmed Legume Leanne. Only one snack, one starter and one main dish was vegetarian. The waiter proffered the vegetarian tasting menu but given we were not inclined to have more than three courses, Legume Leanne was allowed a limited selection of dishes from it. Decisions made, we settled in with a nice glass of blanc de blancs which had distinct overtones of apple and pear and waited for food.

From the ‘snack’ menu, we chose eggplant with salsify and baby turnip. The eggplant was pureed into a soft, creamy consistency, complemented by crispy vegetables. Not the easiest dish to share but it was a nice taste to start.

And just as well. Minutes ticked by into hours. Other tables filled with people and with food and we waited. Greedy Girl, tired and hungry after a busy few days of pre-Christmas partying, was wilting faster than spinach in a hot pan. Even the passing parade ceased to provide much in the way of distraction. Attracting the attention of wait staff proved tricky. Asking two waiters for a refill of the water glass resulted in the first chap making his way back to the table with an apology that he’d forgotten. All good, except he continued to forget for the rest of the evening.

Finally, our first plates arrived. Greedy Girl started with leek and ‘baby’ potato, served with oyster mushrooms, an almond sauce and fenugreek. The flavours and textures were delicious, if slightly overwhelmed by the curry. Madame Lapine chose pork cheek with fennel, black garlic and calamari, and immediately started to drool.

Greedy Girl had the same dish later and can report it was a triumph. Individually, the elements were cooked to perfection; together they worked exceptionally well, the softness of the pork enhanced by some slightly crunchy calamari. It was an unqualified yum.

Legume Leanne opted to start with cauliflower, served with black artichokes and smoked yoghurt. It had a pleasingly crunchy texture, while the dressing provided creaminess and softness. Not often exposed to artichokes, Legume Leanne said she couldn’t discern them as a discrete flavour.

Dishes mopped clean, we marvelled at the lightness of touch and excellent flavour combinations. We wanted more, but we were left wanting. The restaurant was busy but other tables didn’t seem to have as big a gap between their dishes. Maybe where we were seated was just a no-go zone. Essentially all evening we needed to make some sort of gesture to attract attention – even when a gentleman at the next table smashed a full wine glass on the floor, it didn’t elicit any response from the waiters. Greedy Girl made another gesture (not the one she’d have preferred to make by the end of the evening) to alert staff to the dangers of pools of wine floating in shards of glass on an already slippery timber floor.

Eventually the mains arrived. Greedy Girl agreed with Madame Lapine’s assessment of the pork cheek and worked hard not to immediately hoover the plate. Madame had opted for the mulloway, a firm white fish that had been poached and then dressed with artichokes and other greenery and amaranth, a quinoa-like grain. Madame Lapine felt that poaching didn’t do justice to the fish, presented as rather a thick fillet, and left much of it on her plate. The bisque sauce was served on the side by her request and was barely touched, having pronounced it ‘a bit gluggy’.

For mains, Legume Leanne enjoyed a spiced carrot dish, with a variety of colours and textures on the plate. Suffering from a head cold, it probably wasn’t her best opportunity to savour flavours but she described them as subtle and the overall dish to be pleasant enough to eat but hardly startling.

The restaurant had started to thin out. Dessert menus were offered and requests made for recommendations on some wines by the glass. A significant positive from the wait staff was their willingness to allow diners to taste a recommended wine before the glass was purchased and poured. It was a nice touch, but a pity it was so hard to get them to notice us. We were the only table of girls in the joint.

But after all, we were in Surry Hills, where drag queens roam the streets freely. Perhaps we were missing some vital equipment. It was certainly not an experience akin the luxury of a Bentley. Ho hum vegetarian dishes aside, the food was hot, the service was not.

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