The Sydney branch of Pei Modern, the bistro Mark Best opened in Melbourne in early 2012, throws open its doors on October 15. Where Best's Surry Hills flagship, Marque, is all about the prescriptive, detailed focus of the tasting menu, Pei's offering is more relaxed and flexible. What they share, though, are great wine, smart food and interesting ideas.
The Melbourne and Sydney branches of Pei have plenty in common. They're both housed in hotels (Pei Melbourne is located underneath the Sofitel on Collins Street, while Sydney is at The Four Seasons) and each offers what Best calls a "tiered" dining experience. "You can have all-day dining in the bar, you can have bar snacks, you can eat the full menu there if you want, or you can have it in the main part of the restaurant. Neither is more or less formal than the other."
Many of Pei Melbourne's signatures have crossed the border, whether it's the Sauternes custard (which came in turn from Marque), the Jerusalem artichoke with duck egg and truffle, or the casarecce with chicken dumplings and Reggiano, to name but a few.
Best says the change from the room's previous look, when it traded as The Woods with the team from Bar H, is as night and day. "We've removed all of the visual complexity of the previous space and stripped it back to being a star," he says.
He also assures us that he'll be putting the kitchen's wood-fired oven to good use. "That's going to be the engine room," he says. "We're going to be doing our lamb shoulder roasted in chamomile, wood-roasted diamond clams with mussel butter (pictured above), and simply grilling local sardines in the wood-fired oven." They'll be using it to bake their own bread, too. "It's nice to use," Best says. "Very primal."
The bar offers variations on classic cocktails given the Pei treatment with house-made juices, spirits and infusions. The Camille, for example, is an interpretation of the Negroni jazzed-up with gentian, while the claret-spiked Snap is described on the list as a drink "for the more worldly Whisky Sour lovers".
Pei Melbourne's Matt Germanchis has moved up to man the pans in Sydney for the next 12 months, and star maître d' Ainslie Lubbock will be bringing her sparkle to the floor.
"It feels like home already," Best says.
Pei Modern, The Four Seasons, 199 George St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9250 3160
Looking for more Sydney dining options? Check out our list of the best restaurants in Sydney.