On the corner of King and Clarence Streets in the CBD, the new 100-seat pan-Asian restaurant from the Bentley Restaurant Group (Monopole, Yellow, Bentley Restaurant & Bar, Cirrus, Brasserie 1930) is gearing up to open.
King Clarence, the sixth restaurant from Brent Savage and Nick Hildebrandt, will bring together a fusion of Chinese, Korean and Japanese flavours and techniques with the usual meticulous attention to detail and razor-sharp execution the group’s known for. Overseeing the menu and vast kitchen will be Khanh Nguyen, the star chef who’s just departed influential Melbourne restaurants Sunda and Aru.
In Sydney, Nguyen’s new playground is huge: a custom barbeque and grill, dedicated wok and dumpling stations, on-site dry-aging facilities and a live fish tank that pays homage to those seen across Chinatown. “It’s a dream for a chef,” Nguyen tells Broadsheet. “We've got a massive coolroom downstairs where we’re going to be dry aging ducks. It’s one of my signature dishes that I've done in the past few years. With most restaurants you don't have the freedom and space to do it properly. This is the first time [I’ve had] an abundance of space, where I can really take care and dry age the ducks in the way I want.”
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The hire marks the chef’s return to the city, where he started his career with lengthy tenures in some of our best kitchens, like Mr Wong and the group’s own Bentley. “We always joked around about me coming back and working with them. And I was like, ‘Open an Asian restaurant and I might come back.’”
Fusion will come in flavour and technique, for example black-pepper crab given a cheesy Korean twist. Live lobsters will be plucked from their tank, to be served with a choice of sauce. “In Cantonese restaurants, even in Singapore, you get a lot of black-pepper crab, white-pepper crab. We're going to do a mix of four different types of peppers. And we’re going to serve it with sweet corn and cheese. It’s a Korean influence, a play on both flavours. It’s one of my favourite flavour combinations.”
Nguyen says it’s a culmination of his experience and interests. “The menu’s going to be focused on Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Obviously I cook a lot of Southeast Asian food, but Japanese cuisine’s always been close to my heart – I've been to Japan a few times. I worked at Mr Wong for three and a half years; I love Cantonese and Chinese flavours as well. With the foods that I've done in the past, it's always a mix of cultures – different elements from different cuisines.”
One dish that Nguyen’s particularly excited about is the bossam, from Korea. The braised pork belly is traditionally served with an array of condiments, chosen by each diner to then be rolled in salted cabbage leaves with the meat. “It’s a style of eating I love, very similar to Vietnamese rice paper rolls. We’re going to do roasted pork belly with a crispy crackling over the fire. And we’re going to do our play on the condiments.”
From Hildebrandt there’s a short, sharp cocktail list, crisp beers and food-friendly wine. Expect 40 drops by the glass, with an expansive, internationally powered wine list – and “lots of riesling,” he says. The group's Polly Mackeral (head sommelier Cirrus) – who this year won the Judy Hirst Award along with Hildebrandt for Australia’s Wine List of the Year – will take on the role of head sommelier.
Long-time collaborator Pascale Gomes-McNabb is on the interiors, which will bring an industrial feel to the venue while delivering a “fun, loud and busy” atmosphere. The venue was first tipped to open in October but will be opening doors just in time for holiday celebrations.
King Clarence is set to open on December 1, 2023 at 71 Clarence Street, Sydney.