Food News

Sydney’s The Bridge Room to close

It's the end of an era, but it's not all sad news.

By Lee Tran Lam
The Bridge Room, one of Sydney's finest fine-diners, will be closing next month, with the restaurant due to hold its final service on 27 April.
The news is a loss for the city, but also to the many regulars who supported the business from day one. "We had to call some of our regular guests, because we know they're going to read it in the paper, and they're going to be devastated," says co-owner Ross Lusted.
The chef has run the business with his wife Sunny and The Fink Group (Quay, Bennelong) since 2011. Over that time The Bridge Room became one of Sydney's best places to dine: it was shortlisted as New Restaurant of the Year in 2013's Gourmet Traveller Restaurant Guide and ranked in the guide's top 20 for the last six years.

Before Lusted opened The Bridge Room in late 2011, however, all this acclaim seemed a distant possibility. He'd worked with Neil Perry and David Thompson earlier in his career, but thought his CV was a liability. "I was unemployable," he says. "I was a hotel developer for 10 years. You can't really turn up on a doorstep and say, 'I haven't worked in Australia for 10 years, please give me a job!'"
But the many borders that he crossed with wife Sunny (at one point, he was cooking at Singapore's Mezza9, while she worked for Park Hyatt in Chicago) ended up shaping The Bridge Room's uniquely international outlook. Lusted made a robata grill a central element, for example, because it tapped into his memories of growing up in South Africa, as well as meals he'd experienced in Japan and Indonesia.
The Bridge Room's menu also reflected his passport in other ways. He recalls eating pork sweetbreads at a yakiniku place in Akasaka in Tokyo ("there are no seats, everything is pork"), and convincing Anthony Puharich at Vic's Meat to source and supply it to him, and then other restaurants.
"So we had pork sweetbreads on the menu for a while," he says. "That's from a place where I, through broken English and broken Japanese, worked out that it was actually the sweetbreads that we were eating: drawing pictures on napkins and asking, is this really what I'm eating? I have a thousand of those stories."
He also has a thousand stories about The Bridge Room's site: he'd been obsessed with the Art Deco location for a decade before he and Sunny convinced the landlord to give them the lease. The building's heritage-listed status meant there were plenty of "$50,000 phone calls" about expensive fixtures that had to be included. In order to balance the budget, the chef had to choose between having a cool room or an extra table. The table won.
"Through the limitations, I think we've created some really extraordinary food," he says. "We have no cool room, we have the tiniest kitchen, it shouldn't work." Even the wine bottles are all stored under the banquettes. But it's meant that everything they have is there for a reason. "It makes you have a very lean wine list and it makes you think about every bottle of wine." Ditto for the fish he saw at market – he could only select the ones that would best work with the menu that night.
As The Bridge Room enters its final weeks, the temptation might be to revisit some greatest hits, but Lusted isn't getting sentimental. "No. History is history. I never live in the past," he says. "People who are here, they don't want to step back in time."
As for what's next, the chef has lots of ideas he'd like to riff on ("I want to start a baby food company," he says), but the one the couple has committed to is a new restaurant due to open early in 2021. And while it doesn't have a cool room, either, it will be bigger – with more room for people to progress within the business (and a proper cellar to stash the wine bottles).
"No one's done what we're going to be doing in Sydney," he says. Exactly what that looks like is still under wraps, but the chef has confirmed that the new project will be with a developer in what they're calling one of Sydney's most exciting precincts.
Signing the lease for The Bridge Room is still an experience that's burned into Lusted's memory. He recalls telling the landlord about his aspirations to make the restaurant a destination location: "people will know that we're 44 Bridge Street," he said. But his landlord was dismissive. Real estate is just real estate after all.
But when Lusted asked the landlord for his lawyer's address, in order to get some essential paperwork, the landlord said: "it's in the same building as Rockpool Bar & Grill."
It's something the chef reminded him of recently, the power of a restaurant to become a landmark.
And his landlord had to backtrack and agree about The Bridge Room's legacy. "It definitely has put 44 Bridge Street on the map."
44 Bridge Street, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9247 7000, thebridgeroom.com.au