Chicken is back. It never really left, of course, but thanks to the appearance of chicken skin on everything from sandwiches to congee as the go-to garnish of the moment, and a nationwide mania for fried chicken done in the styles of Seoul, Nashville and everywhere in between, the bird is no longer a byword for boring on menus. It stars in a fricassée at Hubert, swims in a classic (ish) cream sauce at Bar Brosé, and flies off the rôtisseries at Mercado and The Paddington by the flock.
And then there's the roast chicken at No 1 Bent Street. Billed as "roast chicken vinaigrette", it comes as half a bird per order, and is served in two parts. Mike McEnearney, a chef noted for his mastery of the wood-fired oven in his time at Kitchen by Mike in Rosebery, is the proud owner of a larger, even better oven at his new CBD digs. Ironwood provides serious heat, roasting the birds golden. McEnearney removes the breast, plates it with the skin on in two big slices dressed with roasting juices, then tosses the wing and leg with green beans, toasty hazelnuts, sweetly tender leek and chives in a bracing vinaigrette. It's a win, to put it lightly.
But then so too is the chicken liver pâté, spooned tableside from a large bowl and served with four-spiced salt and watercress. And the grilled squid with beans and coarse, spicy chorizo. A pot pie comprising a heavy iron skillet filled with a mixture of oxtail, beef cheek and a hunk of marrow bone in a lush gravy under a sweet suet crust, meanwhile, is a welcome touch of Fergus Henderson down under. McEnearney's bread, quite possibly the best bread baked in a restaurant in Sydney, speaks of his time working at Iggy's Bread, while the impeccable apple tarte fine (and the bold colours of the tea-towel napkins) will bring back happy memories for anyone lucky enough to have scored seats to the Mike's Table guerrilla feasts he staged at French antiques store Ici et Là in Surry Hills in 2010 and 2011.
Plenty of timber and texture, and the theatre of a kitchen pass arranged before the roaring oven around an island bench gives the room warmth, heading off the potential chilliness of a low, wide space almost entirely devoid of fabric and soft furnishings. The acoustics, however, are brutal, and half the seating is elbow-nudgingly communal, so prepare to put your ear-trumpet to good use. Right now the floor staff are struggling a little bit to keep up with both the popularity of the place and the market-driven fluidity of the menu. On the plus-side, the concise wine list offers classic pleasures, such as good Chablis by the glass, alongside some walks on the wilder side with leading local natural producers.
Picture something like a cross between St John in London and Ester in Chippendale and you've got a good idea of what the food is about. Produce most definitely comes first, but the plates are composed with an unfussy finesse that McEnearney, who held three stars for Rockpool when he was head chef in the late noughties, executes with unusual confidence.
The street may be bent, but the arrival of Mike McEnearney in the CBD is a straight-up win for lovers of honest, intelligent eating.
No 1 Bent Street, 1-7 Bent St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9252 5550, onebentstreet.com.au. Open lunch 11.30am-3pm Mon-Fri, dinner 5.30pm-11pm Mon-Sat.