"I now dabble in chicken!" my sometime-vegetarian friend Laura dramatically announced to me as we sat down to dinner at Hotel Centennial. I regarded her with a touch of suspicion. "What do you mean by dabble?" I asked her recalling how previously she would only eat chicken skin, prising the crispy skin away from the flesh.
Chef Justin North formerly of Becasse and Quarter 21 heads up the kitchen at Hotel Centennial. We were pondering the menu and it was all a bit too much choice. I had just stepped off a plane and couldn't make a decision to save my life and this menu was two pages of choice. Vexed by choice, we ask for recommendations from our waitress who steers us in the right direction.
The room bears little resemblance to the pub that I had last visited over ten years ago. It's now airy with plenty of windows, smooth banquettes and booths and an open kitchen. If it resembles another restaurant it would be Chiswick (also in Woollahra). The crowd this evening reflects the moneyed Woollahra location and it is very busy this Wednesday night.
We start with individual butter lettuce leaves filled with devilled crab and diced melon. It's creamy, soft and comforting in the same retro way of a prawn cocktail.
This was a recommendation from our waitress and she was so right. I think a lot of people's bad experiences with sardines are probably with some of the not-so-great tinned varieties (although there are some great tinned ones). This small tart has a sweet tomato base topped with half a grilled sardine and I end up with the oil from the sardine dripping down my hand. But do I care? No. I just want another. I loved it so much I made my own version of it.
We both didn't expect the flatbread to come out resembling a pizza. The figs are luscious alongside the caramelised onion and there are dabs of light goat's curd and lemon thyme. The centre of the pizza is wet so it's best to pick up a puffy edge and fold it over. We're both smitten with this. "Should we order another?" we say to each other before talking each other down. And our waitress, overhearing us wondering where the figs are from comes back to tell us that they're from the Northern Territory. We love service like this.
The roast pork belly is a petite size and comes as a rectangle of pork belly dotted with pieces of tender slow cooked octopus with a white radish and orange blossom miso. The pork belly is quite firm although the flavour is excellent. But if you're seeking a soft, jellied specimen this is not quite one of them.
The chicken schnitzel is coated with herb and parmesan crumbs and it is tender and perfectly cooked although it could use a bit more seasoning. It is served with a cauliflower puree and a cucumber and fennel salad. We're both not sure if the three components work that well together but separately they are good.
Laura and I debated whether we should order the mac and cheese. While we love the concept of it, it can often be a bland disappointment. She turns to her now favourite waitress and asks, "Will we be disappointed?" She reassures us that it is full of flavour so we order it. It comes out in a cast iron skillet all blistery goodness. It's very buttery with rivulets of butter but a little touch of mustard lifts this richer than rich version.
For two people that often order the sides and don't ever finish them, we make fast work of the French fries seasoned with a celery and herb salt. They're such crunchy although the presentation while cute means that the fries get cold quicker.
Faced with the dessert menu we are unable to decide so we ask our waitress. "You haven't steered us wrong so what would you recommend?" we ask her. She recommends the petit fours and these two desserts. The marinated mandarins are sweet and paired with strawberries but it is the sweet, fragrant and very refreshing mandarin sorbet that is my favourite element of the dish.
We're both not huge ale or beer drinkers but quickly come around to this chocolate ale cake. It is tender and crumbly on the inside with a thin crust on the outside. It has a distinct but not overpowering ale flavour adding to the chocolate richness and is topped with treacle syrup and a very good caramelised milk ice cream.
The chocolate caramels at first look like chocolate ganache squares but they've got a chewy caramel texture and an intense chocolate caramelised flavour almost like treacle. There are a few salt flakes on top to counter the sweetness.
The lemon meringue tarts are smallish-not tiny but a good size. The pastry for these is skillfully thin and crunchy, the filling lemony tart and the meringue smooth and silky. I wish I could have eaten it all!
"I'm on a hetox," Laura announces towards the end of the meal. "A detox?" I ask, fearing that she may have lost her mind after a rich meal like this. "No, it's like Manopause, no more men for a while," she explains. I'm relieved, there's no reason to be hasty about food!
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever been on a hetox or a manopause (or the straight male equivalent)? How about a detox?
88 Oxford St, Woollahra NSW 2025
Phone:(02) 9362 3838
Sunday to Saturday 12:00-10:00 pm
Monday to Saturday 12:00 pm - 12:00 am