Restaurant Reviews

Bert's, Sydney review

A glam new brasserie atop The Newport in Sydney's northern beaches boasts crab worth crossing bridges for.

By Pat Nourse
Hand-picked mud crab roasted Basque style at Bert's, Newport.
Hand-picked mud crab roasted Basque style

Just order the crab. Commit now, even before you pick up the phone or flex your clicking-finger to make the booking. Commit to the idea of plonking down $125 for a single dish. You won't regret a cent.

You could do Bert's on the cheap. The pâté en croûte, a terrine of game and pork framed by pastry and quince, lands at $21, and then there's a $33 plate of pappardelle with a ragù of duck braised in anise and vinegar. Throw in an $18 elderflower and passionfruit pav and a couple of glasses of wine and you'd still have change from your $125. But you wouldn't have the crab. And that would be unfortunate.

Chefs Jordan Toft and Sam Kane take the crab, roast it in the wood-fired oven in their gleaming open kitchen, pull out every shred of meat, and fold it with a little Basque chilli powder and breadcrumbs. They return it to the shell, and send it to the table with a tiny silver shaker of chilli, just in case you like it spicier. It's sweet, rich, buttery and utterly devastating.

Chefs Jordan Toft (left) and Sam Kane
Chefs Jordan Toft (left) and Sam Kane

I ask the waitress how many of the little shakers have disappeared. We've only got three left, she says with a grin. They're quick with a smile on the floor, and they know their business.

A quality of thoughtfulness runs throughout the Bert's experience. You might be atop the heaving Newport hotel, its beer garden clustered thickly with hens' parties and free-range children, but upstairs it's a soigné scene, from the fiddle-leaf figs and caged finches at the entrance through to the loungey, richly upholstered and sun-filled spaces beyond. The ceilings are masked in wicker to soften the acoustics. The plates are monogrammed, the bread plates are lined with linen. If there's a lemon for the squeezing, it'll have been neatly wrapped in muslin before it's brought to the table.

Think of it as a country club where the only qualification for membership is a love of crab and Burgundy and a willingness to part with serious money to get them.

You could complement the crab with a Tenuta delle Terre Nere white blend from Etna, or a more voluptuous aligoté bottled by Jean-Claude Ramonet, maker of some of the finest white wines in Burgundy. Or a lot more besides: the wine list at Bert's is a joy, running from classic go-Aussie stock that has been in the cellar for years through to more contemporary offerings like d'Yquem and other marquee wines served by the glass.

Brioche fingers with chicken butter and trout roe
Brioche fingers with chicken butter and trout roe

Not into crab? Don't want to relinquish the EpiPen for the grilled lobster with hojiblanca oil and lemon? What about fingers of brioche lavished with trout roe and something Toft calls chicken butter? (I can confirm it is both chickeny and buttery.)

"Fred's goes to the beach" might be the pat elevator-pitch for Bert's, but Jordan Toft's style is all his own. He has a keen grasp of when to dial things up and when to let the ingredients do the talking. He lays top-notch anchovy fillets in a pool of oil and scatters them with lemon thyme and black pepper. The spines left from filleting the anchovies are fried crisp and used to garnish little fried buns. Superb.

There's similar restraint at work with the whole flounder, the sunflower oil and salad burnet accompaniment ceding the limelight to the quality of the fish, which the staff fillet at the table with perfect ease.

Anchovy fillets with lemon-thyme oil and black pepper served with fried buns
Anchovy fillets with lemon-thyme oil and black pepper served with fried buns

It's not just the glam proteins that fire Toft's imagination. He roasts onions and pairs them with sherry vinegar and sour cream, dresses salad leaves with flowers and ewe's milk cheese, and complements charred sugarloaf cabbage with a sauce of ground pepitas. Grilled cucumbers, scattered with linseeds and set on a mixture of yoghurt and avocado oil, have crunch, character and a fine green flavour.

There's something to be said for the pasta, too. Reginette, a ruffled pasta lunga that's a bit like fettuccine with attitude, is tossed with dry chilli and sea succulents and then topped with a pan-fried fillet of red mullet. Smart.

Dessert? What about a bundt cake for one, served with a spoon of sour-cream sorbet, its carrot and walnut crumb fragrant with nutmeg. Or a coffee jelly with a granita made of Branca Menta, Fernet Branca's minty cousin, a caffè corretto gone baroque.

Coffee jelly with Branca Menta granita and peanuts
Coffee jelly with Branca Menta granita and peanuts

Yes, Bert's can and will take all of your money. But that's true of many restaurants in Sydney, and only a small number can make so convincing a claim on your time in return. It's a place designed around dining rather than eating. If you like to feel looked after at a restaurant rather than challenged, and you're prepared to pay, you're going to love Bert's. Crab and all.

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  • Author: Pat Nourse