Fred's Lite? Taking quick stock of the demographic across the big, buzzy open dining room, it's almost tempting to dub the new incarnation of this landmark glam gastropub Fred's Grey Label: cashed-up Woollahra-ites of a certain vintage are here in force, crisply ironed and swaddled in cashmere and linen. And since Danielle Alvarez and Ben Greeno, the wunderkinds behind the food of restaurant-of-the-moment Fred's, took over the menu late last year, there's been substance to match the style.
Our waitress tells us that the Merivale group, which hoovered up the Centennial in its latest hotel-buying spree, picked up the keys on a Tuesday last December and then opened the doors on the Wednesday. The pub was refurbished only a couple of years ago by its previous owners, the Medich family, and that look is still largely intact, gleaming and airy.
Hotel Centennial's dining room
The interiors bear a closer resemblance to a homewares showroom than most pubs. It doesn't even smell like beer, the air shot instead with a hint of Chanel No 5 and more than a rustle of money. In place of the vintage Reschs posters and pictures of comely horses you might find in other Eastern suburbs boozers you'll find high-gloss photographic portraits, mostly of comely young women. In the public bar, Scarlett Johansson pouts above the plush lounges and baby grand, possibly wondering where she left her pants. In the dining room, perhaps in a nod to the greater life-experience of its inhabitants, it's Christine Keeler, captured astride an Arne Jacobsen chair by Australian photographer Lewis Morley in the contact-sheet from one of the most famous photo shoots of the 1960s.
John Dory fillet with rocket, peas, beans and pistachio
Simple Mediterranean elegance is the theme on Greeno and Alvarez's menu, and the kitchen, under chef James Evangelinos, executes their ideas with consistent proficiency. That could mean squid, charry and perfectly tender from the wood-fired oven, served with yolk-bright aïoli and sweet tomatoes, the exemplar of just three things on a plate all done as well as they can be. Or it could be a pile of Coffin Bay clams, sweet with fennel and chilli, plated with slices of grilled bread spread thickly with a bright rouille. The wood-fired oven also does whole flounder plenty of favours. It comes to the table with a hot, juicy lemon and a little pot of salsa verde. The sauce, rich with capers and tarragon, is spiked with seaweed, an inspired complement to the carefully roasted fish. Winner.
Wood-roasted squid with aïoli and cherry tomatoes (top) and heirloom tomatoes with shallots.
The service might not quite match the personable ease on the floor at Fred's, but it's well-drilled and professional, and the big room ticks over nicely. Likewise, it might be a bit much to expect the wine offer to match the dazzling cellar at Fred's, but it's more than serviceable. You want Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and white Bordeaux to enliven your sauvignon blanc habit? Here's five bottles. Bourgogne by the glass? Why don't we pour that from the magnum?
Rock oysters, charcuterie, grilled fish, a witlof and chickpea salad, a burger and more are available in the bar, complemented by the range of flatbreads that are also offered in the restaurant - minced lamb and merguez sausage with pickled chilli and yoghurt, say, or tomato, herbs and Parmigiano. The version topped with fronds of kale and fennel is crisp on the edges, and packs a pleasing chilli-oil warmth.
Inside Hotel Centennial
Alvarez and Greeno have given the old dessert menu a nod by retaining the waffles, serving them with banana-caramel sauce, whipped cream and vanilla ice-cream. If you'd like to order grown-up food, consider instead the nectarine, roasted whole in the wood-fired oven, served with ice-cream, a little almond crunch and a splash of olive oil. The chocolate tart is interesting, too. It comprises a rubble of chocolate brown-butter crumbs set on caramelised ganache in a shell of fine chocolate shortcrust and topped for good measure with a powerfully flavoured roasted-pistachio sorbet.
Is the Hotel Centennial going to set your world on fire? Possibly not, but it does what it does with consistent attention to detail, creating a smooth and comfortable experience littered with just enough moments of inspiration to keep it a cut above. If you're looking for somewhere new to take your more mature Tinder dates, or simply a nice place to deplete the kids' inheritance over a Chablis-fuelled lunch, you could do far worse.
Published on 19 January 2018