That Clam Bar is an absolute knockout is no surprise. The trio behind the new CBD restaurant is Dan Pepperell, Andy Tyson and Mikey Clift of Surry Hills’ Pellegrino 2000 and Potts Point’s Bistrot 916. And while no one would ever refer to Sydney as a city that never sleeps, the team is doing its darnedest to shake that up with its third instalment: a New York-inspired steakhouse. 

“We took inspiration from each of the things that the New York institutions do best,” Tyson tells Broadsheet. “The quality of the steak at Peter Luger, the fit-out at Keens Steakhouse, and the vibe at 4 Charles Prime Rib.”  

Clam Bar takes over the prime spot on the corner of Bridge and Young streets, where Ross Lusted’s much-feted Bridge Room used to sit pretty. The team worked with architect Mike Hanna (Fratelli Paradiso) to source materials for the space – from heavy, vintage silver cutlery to mid-century Murano glass chandeliers and sconces from antique dealers across the globe. 

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The result is pure elegance. The wood-panelled walls, diamond-shaped coffered ceilings, parquetry floors, shuttered windows and buzzing crowd recall New York’s Minetta Tavern. But it’s also true to the irreverent, punk rock attitude the team has developed a reputation for in Sydney: a ’60s taxidermied marlin is mounted on the wall, there are two oil paintings by Sydney painter Laura Jones that were commissioned for the restaurant, and mirrors are painted with abstract forms by Melbourne’s Nadia Hernandez.  

Drinks gun Tyson is very excited about his cocktail list, and his glassware. “We’ve put a lot of effort into the cocktail list – New York classics meet the daggy drinks of the ’80s.” 

There are Martinis served in exquisite tall, V-shaped glasses. But then there’s the Blue Daiquiri. Instead of using food colouring (which your parents most likely used), the white rum is coloured by blue spirulina. “On the exterior they look cheesy but they’re made with the highest-quality ingredients, nothing artificial,” Tyson says. The Jungle Bird comes in a heavy, hand-blown Mexican glass that has the imprint of a face on it. “It’s the classiest tiki glass you’ll ever see.” 

Head chef Sam Galloway (Bistrot 916) leads the kitchen, working alongside Pepperell and Clift to develop the menu, which starts with a full raw seafood bar that leans opulent. Think caviar (sturgeon, oscietra, beluga), prawn cocktails and oysters three different ways. 

The appetisers run classic: there are scallops casino with butter and a heap of pangrattato (a must-order dish), and picked king crab cakes, pan-fried and served with aioli. The dish Broadsheet will be thinking about until we can get back to Clam Bar is the steak tartare. It’s got all the classic moves: rump cap, spiked with gherkins, and topped with egg yolk and a flaked-out anchovy. But, in a delightful twist, the unmistakable beef fat potatoes Pepperell put on the map at Bistrot 916 have made it onto the plate, too. If you know, you know – and no other potato will do. 

Spaghetti and clams, the restaurant’s namesake dish, stars diamond shell clams tossed through fresh pasta, chilli, garlic and white wine. Seafood features heavily on the menu, and the fish of the day is a choose-your-own-adventure, with a selection of sauces, including ginger and shallot, a chilli-garlic crunch, béarnaise, or brown butter and capers.  

Steaks are all cooked on the bone in a state-of-the-art Josper charcoal oven. The opening menu has a 350-gram New York strip, a 600-gram rib eye and a one-kilogram porterhouse, served with condiments (horseradish cream, wasabi and every mustard you can think of) and a choice of anchovy butter, sauce béarnaise, or sauce diane.  

An impressive cast of side dishes proves that peripheral characters often have the best lines. Macaroni alla vodka tastes like the best pasta bake you’ll ever eat; each piece of pasta stands at attention in a pool of kimchi and cheese sauce. There’s also a cup of sensationally seasoned skinny fries, as well as smoky paprika creamed corn, creamed spinach with blue cheese melted through and, thankfully, the beef fat potatoes make another appearance (the kitchen was built to include a deep-fryer dedicated to beef fat). And it wouldn’t be a classic steakhouse without a damn good burger: the patty, cooked on the Josper, is layered with American cheese, raclette and thick-cut bacon, and stabbed through its centre with a large steak knife. 

For dessert, the black and white sundae has coffee sponge, white chocolate cream and crushed pistachios that look like deep green sprinkles.  

Tyson says his wine list is “a selection of the best seafood whites and steak reds of the world”. And while it doesn’t stick to any particular country, there are a lot of old Australian wines on the list. “Classic Australian wines, a big chunk of cooler-climate French wines, some prestigious Italian reds, and difficult-to-get bottles all from topnotch producers” is how Tyson summarises his selections. “There should be more room to drink older stuff that’s not too expensive.”   

Clam Bar is open for lunch and dinner, Monday to Saturday, and will likely lure the top-end-of-town power-lunchers to its corner spot for long afternoons spent over rib eyes and big reds. Tyson says that he would like to keep the kitchen open as late as possible – music to the ears of anyone who’s tried to eat dinner in the CBD after bedtime. 

“We want an exciting city restaurant,” he says. “Whether you’re looking at weekday lunch for people who are more adventurous diners, or those who want to come for dinner at 10pm after the theatre. It’s a place that stays busy from lunch all the way through until late.” 

Perhaps Clam Bar can help Sydney sleep a little less? Time will tell. 

Clam Bar
44 Bridge Street, Sydney
(02) 9016 1590

Hours:
Mon to Sat midday–3pm, 5pm–midnight

clambarsydney.com
@clambarsydney