For a city with deliciously sunny weather, Sydneysiders sure do like it underground. The Gidley is the newest subterranean CBD venue to open, joining the likes of Double Deuce Lounge, Restaurant Hubert and Marys Underground, among many others.
It’s an American-style steakhouse one level below King Street, the latest venture for James Bradey and Warren Burns, the duo behind fellow underground eatery Bistecca.
“Warren and I met in Year 6 and we’ve been friends ever since,” says Bradey, as he sits in one of The Gidley’s velvet booths sewing a button onto a dinner jacket.
It’s 15 minutes until doors open to the public for the first time, and Bradey seems relaxed. This isn’t his first rodeo, after all. As well as the highly successful one-steak-on-the-menu-no-phones-allowed Bistecca, the duo is behind much-loved bars Grandma’s, Wild Rover and Wilhelmina’s. They want their latest project to feel like a rabbit warren.
“It’s dark and moody and there are doors and corridors leading to different spaces. By the time you’re in the dining room you don’t know where the street is. We want it to feel like an extravagant dinner party in a stately home in the Southern Highlands,” says Bradey.
And it does. From the moment you descend the stairs into the (very) dimly lit lounge, the service is warm, the jazz is loud, the booze is flowing and the atmosphere relaxed. There are velvet-lined booths and banquettes facing a dark wood-panelled galley-style bar filled with crystal drinking paraphernalia and bottles (and American whiskies). But there’s no actual bar.
“I love hosting people at my house,” says bar manager Jono Carr (Archie Rose, Kittyhawk, Door Knock and Burrow Bar, “and it almost feels like the same thing. There is no bar to hide behind, no separation between us and you.”
As a result, drinks are prepared and bottled before service and then finished in front of guests at the lounge or at the table. The Adonis, for example, is pre-diluted and poured at the table from a crystal decanter. It’s made with pineapple skin sous vide, sherry, and a house vermouth. “It’s the drink you drink while you’re thinking about what you want to drink,” says Carr.
Martinis come deconstructed – a kind of choose-your-own-adventure – presented on a silver tray, half-poured, with the remaining booze resting in a glass carafe on ice. (Being able to pour yourself more makes it feel like two drinks, even though it’s not.) The tray includes three ramekins filled with garnishes so you can make it how you like it: lemon rind for a twist, pickled onions for a Gibson, or green olives. Those who like it dirty can enjoy three drops of brine from a dropping bottle artfully positioned on the tray. Apothecary fantasy complete.
The interiors are by Sydney design firm Tom Mark Henry (Bistecca, Dopa by Devon, Ramen Zundo), with inspiration from Old Australiana. The flora and fauna references are a nod to the restaurant’s namesake – the third governor of New South Wales, Philip Gidley King – and the time he spent on Norfolk Island. The lounges are upholstered in velvet and floral fabrics, and the elaborate wallpaper changes from room to room. It’s all very tactile, decadent and plush; you just want to lean back and smooth something.
At Bistecca, Bradey and Burns were singular in their approach: one cut of beef and no phones. At The Gidley they still take your phone away in the dining room (you can email, text and talk to your heart’s content in the lounge) but the menu doesn’t stop at steak.
The star is still a hunk of meat, this time the tasty Riverine Black Angus rib eye done one of three ways: chargrilled on the bone cooked over ironbark and charcoal (American-style, glamorous and showy); as a standing prime-rib roast in two sizes (700 grams or 300 grams); and as a 220-gram portion of spinalis or rib-eye cap trimmed off and served separately (“arguably the most succulent cut in the world”).
There’s also brick chicken – a whole bird deboned, butterflied and flattened under a brick. And a whole flounder served with butter, lemon and capers. And a classic American pumpkin pie.
The accompaniments are always important at a steakhouse and classics such as crisp potatoes arrive under a weight of sour cream, smoky egg yolk and a tangy pop sprinkling of flying-fish roe.
The Caesar salad is deconstructed into crisp boats of cos loaded with egg and anchovies. The killer supporting cast extends to garlic and vermouth mushrooms, Gruyere mac’n’cheese, thick-cut bacon, and broccolini with braised leek.
The entrees are a luxe bunch – a tray of oysters alongside diamond clams topped with tangy pickled mustard seeds is a decadent introduction.
Head chef Pip Pratt, formerly of Bentley and Bistecca, is once again on the pans, and Alice Massana (Merivale, Bistecca) is in charge of the wine list. “It’s a classic-oriented list,” says Bradey. “She’s chosen mainly Australian wines that customers will recognise. Alice is passionate about women in the wine industry and about 50 per cent of the wines on the list are female winemakers.”
While there is an element of silver service – they fillet the fish at the table – there’s also a lot of personality and “Aussie larrikin” cheek. “We want people to be a bit smart-arsey,” says Bradey as he finishes his sewing and tosses the jacket to Burns (it’s his jacket he’s been mending). “This is not a stiff place – Warren and I are not stiff people. We want to offer the finer things, but also give you a good time while we’re doing it. I want it to feel like ‘Fancy People Getting Pissed’.”
161 King Street, Sydney
Tue to Thu & Sat 5pm–late
Tue to Thu & Sat 5.30pm–late
Fri 12pm–3pm, 5.30pm–late
This article first appeared on Broadsheet on November 18, 2019. Menu items may have changed since publication.