“We’re not into minimalism,” says Greg Sanderson, gesturing towards the dining room at The Sanderson, the Speakeasy Group’s sumptuous new restaurant opening in the CBD on Thursday. “We want you to feel something when you’re in this space.”
This 120-seat saloon, inside the heritage-listed Beneficial House, definitely makes a big first impression: dark, timber-clad pillars; marble counters and tabletops; navy-blue walls, velvet booths and coffee-coloured couches; brass everything. It feels like the kind of place you book when you have something big to celebrate.
Sanderson (who insists he didn’t come up with the name) runs The Sanderson with business partner Sven Almenning. Together they form the Speakeasy Group, the team behind popular venues such as Nick & Nora’s, Mjølner, and leading cocktail bar Eau De Vie (which just reopened after a two-year hiatus, below The Sanderson, last week). It’s a motley crew of bars and restaurants, but they share one through line: a bone-deep commitment to a memorable guest experience.
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An example of that commitment is the fact there isn’t a dud table in The Sanderson. Because even if you can’t nab the covetable seats by the heritage windows, the Speakeasy Group and designers Studio Y have ensured that each area of the cleverly sectioned room has its own unique advantage. Two viewless booths at the front, for example, are the only two tables where the chef will personally serve you your food and explain your dishes to you.
“We try to build in elements of an amazing experience into our sequence of service, that we know is executed to every single guest,” says Sanderson.
That sequence begins when you’re seated: every guest gets a complimentary cocktail shot (non-alcoholic amuse-bouches are also on hand). Other flourishes include tableside cocktail blazing, and getting to select your own unique steak knife – a nod to Mjølner.
The Sanderson takes the drama and interactivity that are typical of a cocktail bar and applies this to a dining context. And it’s done with style thanks to some serious firepower in the kitchen, led by head chef James Green (most recently executive chef at Manta).
While you can start with elegant hors d’oeuvres such as a smoked carrot fritter and a carbonara eclair, the Sanderson’s guéridon service sees dishes such as Cape Grim beef tartare theatrically prepared tableside with jalapeno, mint, bagna cauda and wasabi leaf.
The rest of the menu is divided into “Earth”, “Land” and “Sea” sections, which means there are options for everyone – from a veg-forward selection of dishes such as abalone mushroom with butternut pumpkin and koji, to the usual meaty suspects including premium cuts of Blackmore’s Wagyu and Jack’s Creek beef, Margra lamb rump and smoked Wollemi duck. There are plenty of sides, though many mains, such as the lobster pasta, more than stand on their own. Dessert options include gussied-up takes on nostalgic favourites such as sticky date pudding and bombe alaska.
The drinks selection takes full advantage of The Sanderson’s position above Eau De Vie and its impressive whisky cellar. To that end, there’s also a wide array of signature cocktails. The wine list largely sticks to classics from France, Italy and the Iberian Peninsula; a robust offering of champagnes and Guinness on tap rounds things out.
The Sanderson isn’t low-key, and it’s not trying to be. Instead, its focus is on pulling out all the stops to ensure your evening is an unforgettable one.
“We don’t want to be involved in someone going out for a pint and a parma,” says Sanderson. “It doesn’t get me out of bed, it doesn’t get me excited – I love that people come to us for those special moments in life.”
The Sanderson opens Thursday May 25.
285 George Street (enter via Wynyard Lane)
(02) 7225 5559
Tues–Sat 12pm–4pm and 5pm–late