I’ve known Mike McEnearney since his late teens, when he started his career with me at Rockpool. He now owns No. 1 Bent Street and Sydney Airport canteen Kitchen by Mike and has just released his second cookbook, Real Food by Mike. What strikes me most about No. 1 Bent Street is that the food is just as I like it – beautiful ingredients, perfectly balanced and cooked with real skill. It’s delicious and, most importantly, it’s Mike’s food.
The restaurant has a mix of two-, three- and four-seaters, a bar and several communal tables. The heart of the restaurant, though, is the open kitchen, where the wood-fired grill, rotisserie and oven take centrestage. This is where Mike and his trusty head chef, Jeffrey De Rome, ply their trade.
Let’s start with the sourdough with Pepe Saya cultured butter. When Mike decided he wanted to make sourdough, he worked at the best bakery in Sydney, Iggy’s Bread, for a year. This isn’t just any bread – it’s been fermented for 48 hours. What a crust!
Next up? A creamy, smooth chicken liver pâté. Spread on toast and sprinkled with four-spice salt, it’s super-tasty. I have it with a glass of Rhône Valley red, which is a perfect match for the sweet liver.
Baby globe artichokes are cooked whole then cooled in the cooking liquid. Cut and trimmed to order, they’re served in halves with the stock, a spoonful of mint dressing and assorted citrus. The tender artichokes are sublime with the fresh mint and citrus – a celebration of seasonal ingredients.
Ash-baked eggplant with miso broth and a sesame-based sauce is beautifully presented, thanks to the “dancing” bonito flakes. The eggplant is nestled in ash for an hour until soft, the broth is made with handmade unpasteurised miso paste and the shaved bonito is scattered on top. This dish is a triumph – the melting flesh of the eggplant, the sweetness of the miso and the tahini’s nuttiness work so well with the slightly bitter, smoky flavour from the charred eggplant skin. I love it!
The chargrilled arrow squid is equally good. It’s stuffed with peas, mint, sourdough croutons and ’nduja, drizzled with lemon, grilled over charcoal and grapevine wood then dressed with olive oil, sherry vinegar and more ’nduja – so complex and delicious.
The Brussels sprouts, chickpeas and buttermilk is a fitting side. The sprouts are fried hard until golden brown then tossed in lemon juice and olive oil, served with buttermilk dressing and sprinkled with smoky paprika. The perfect blend of taste and texture, this dish almost makes me want to be a vegetarian.
We finish the meal with Paris-Brest, a brittle choux pastry with a sugar-paste top, hazelnut praline and vanilla cream. Classics are only great when prepared with care and craft – just like this dessert.
By the end of lunch, I’m filled with emotion because of the wonderful meal I’ve just experienced – and pride that this young, enthusiastic cook has become such a talented chef and stand-up guy.
THE ROCKPOOL FILES