It’s all about the warm neighbourhood hospitality at Hotel Centennial
In a town where the next “hottest new restaurant” opens three times a week it can be hard to make time for your old favourites. But time must be made, especially for venues like Hotel Centennial, Woollahra’s upscale pub, bar and restaurant.
Hotel Centennial is a bit like a Michael Kors handbag. It’s classic, elegant, not as expensive as a lot of other flashy brands but still reasonable for a designer handbag. Like Michael, Head Chef Justin North comes with decades of experience in his field and knows how to produce a consistent crowd pleasing product.
On any given school night the restaurant is busy with diners of varying demographics. There’s the young attractive couple on a date, the group of three well dressed ladies having dinner after work, the businessmen entertaining clients and the family catching the 6pm sitting with the kids negotiating another serve of waffles and ice cream. There’s a sense that all are welcome at this neighbourhood venue.
On this particular evening we start with some drinks at the restaurant bar, a refreshing apple and mint drink and a classic negroni. Everything is open plan in the main restaurant and makes for great people watching. Watch North and his team move like clock-work servicing the 96 seat restaurant and those snacking in the bar area.
We take a seat in the main restaurant by the glassed wall overlooking fallen leaves and illuminated tree trunks. We are surrounded by custom furniture, antiques and beautiful contemporary art on every wall. One can’t help but feel just a little bit impressed before the food has even arrived.
The friendly, knowledgable waitress talks us through the menu making excellent wine recommendations along the way. I’m not sure if it’s the French accent, her contagious smile or the fact she recommends every dish on the menu I already have my eye on, but I like her.
Like the seasons, the menu at Hotel Centennial changes every three months. Some dishes are replaced all together whilst other signatures like the toothfish remain with new seasonal accompaniments. North’s ethos of locally sourced, organic and sustainable shines through with an assortment of producers featured on the menu.
We start with seafood, something North does notoriously well. The seared Petuna ocean trout comes with a black sesame miso, cucumber and sliced shiitake mushrooms ($26) and is a well balanced, colourful dish. But it’s the Glacier 51 toothfish that gets me every time I dine at Hotel Centennial. It is my favourite fish, one rarely found on menus around Sydney. It’s the most creamy, buttery fish out there with a thick, tender texture and is full of flavour. North keeps this on the menu all year round but this winter he’s serving it with barley miso, tangelo ponzu and pak choi ($28). If you haven’t tried toothfish before, this dish is a must.
All of the dishes at Hotel Centennial can be eaten individually or shared between two. For mains we move on to some heavier dishes with a rich Ranger Valley beef bourguignon ($36). Presented in a small, pipping hot cast iron dish it is deliciously decadent. A hearty winters meal served with Paris mash, forest mushrooms and red wine jus. For a lighter flavour the slow cooked lamb shoulder ($38) is a nice choice if you’re sharing. It’s cooked in a Moroccan spice and served with winter radish, zucchini flowers, heirloom tomatoes and olive jus.
The side of cauliflower mac and cheese is moorish but may be pushing the cholesterol levels. Try simple mixed leaf salad with citrus vinaigrette instead to help break through the heaviness.
Continuing the winter indulgence with dessert there are four options to choose from along with a number of cheeses and petit fours. We order the “Instragrammable hero” vanilla waffles with chocolate ripple ice cream and hazelnut praline ($16). The waffles are light and fluffy against the crunch of hazelnut praline. For something a little heavier and rich in flavour, the steamed ginger brioche pudding with burnt caramel custard ice cream ($16) is a comfort food winner.
Hotel Centennial strikes the unique balance of sophisticated elegance with a warm and inviting atmosphere. It’s fine dining style food but without any pretension and plenty of comfort.
Meanwhile, the front of the venue has recently undergone weeks of renovations and is about to reopen as Oxford Bar. Inspired by Soho House New York, the venues elegant ‘home away from home’ ambience will be even cosier with the addition of a library area, music room featuring a grand piano, video art installation and fireplace.
The Oxford Bar will also showcase live music weekly, host arts focused events and have additional items added to the casual bar menu. It officially opens on July 7th 2016.
88 Oxford St, Woollahra NSW 2025
02 9362 3838
Open Tues – Sat 12pm-12am, Sun 12pm-10pm, Mon 5pm-12am