Chef Mike McEnearney doesn’t think Sydney’s CBD is looking for upmarket venues anymore. “The city has changed a lot in the three years since I opened No 1 Bent Street,” he says. “It seems to be in a hurry to turn itself into a 24/7 metropolis, but the critical mass of town isn’t here yet. So I think we need something simpler that fits in the current climate.”
Kitchen by Mike, the CBD incarnation of his much-loved original Rosebery canteen, is the answer.
In mid-April McEnearney closed No 1 Bent Street (which, ironically, he opened after closing the more casual original Kitchen By Mike), upcycled what he could (he swapped the bar for a canteen-style ironbark servery) and on May 1 reopened as Kitchen by Mike.
In the days approaching the opening, McEnearney says people in the area were already paying attention. “I was sitting on the stairs outside when a bus driver stopped, got out and told me, ‘Mike, I’m so stoked you’re opening again. My wife and I used to come to Rosebery every week, and I’m going to be one of your first customers here’.”
McEnearney is delighted by this story. “We get CEOs, bus drivers, students. Kitchen by Mike is available to everyone.”
He’s also excited about being able to open the canteen in the CBD. “In 2012 [when Kitchen by Mike opened], Rosebery had its imperfections. No one knew where it was and, let’s face it, the area was industrial. But people came. There, it wasn’t about the people in the immediate vicinity. But here we have a huge captive audience.”
While corporate Sydney is very different to Rosebery, McEnearney (who is also creative director of Carriageworks Farmers Market) says little has changed with his approach. “It’s about respect for the ingredients and trying to use as much local produce as possible.”
For breakfast, that could be a bacon butty on house-made sourdough, and for lunch wood-roasted chicken with salads of plum, radish and pistachio. For dinner, there’s pickled spanner crab and fermented hot sauce on toast, and a casserole of chorizo, rosemary and wood-roasted rock cod.
He takes a similar approach with the drinks menu. “The list is all Aussie distillers, brewers, winemakers. We don’t use foreign stuff unless we can’t find it here,” he says.
And he has plans for a “Physic Garden”. “I’m desperate to have a garden again,” he says of the patch he had in Rosebery packed with medicinal herbs focusing on nourishing specific parts of the body, which was inspired by his time living on his mother-in-law’s property in Wales. “We’re about to put in a DA [development application] so we can put planter boxes along Bent Street. It’ll be an educational process for people walking down the street to understand there are medicinal benefits to everything we eat.”
And just like at Rosebery, McEnearney will be a fixture at the counter, carving chicken and serving hungry Sydneysiders. “I’ve missed that – the connection with people. You can see in people’s eyes whether they’re satisfied or not, and it gives me an immediate way to witness the joy in what they’re eating.”
Kitchen by Mike
1 Bent Street, Sydney
(02) 9252 5550
Mon to Fri 7am–11.30am, 12pm–3pm, 5.30pm–late