Order the bouillabaisse. Just do it. The seafood-laden Marseille-born dish – a gumbo-esque semi-stew, semi-soup – is a thing of sheer beauty. It’s a gorgeous mess of scallops, mussels and clams, semi-submerged in a deeply satisfying tomato, garlic, saffron and butter-filled broth. It’s garlanded with wreaths of dill, quivering cherry tomatoes and crowned with a splayed bug, ready for devouring. A basket of baguette slices to mop everything up is optional, but it’s really non-negotiable.
This is the standout entree at Martinez, the latest from House Made Hospitality, whose stable includes Promenade Bondi Beach and the nearby Hinchcliff House (Apollonia, Grana, Lana) – and is expanding soon with a bumper four-venue CBD precinct. While many of the group’s projects have an Italian bent, Martinez crosses the Ligurian Sea to focus on the French Riviera, taking its inspiration from beachside art deco icon Hotel Martinez.
It's in Quay Quarter Tower, near Circular Quay, a couple of floors up. You can access it from within the building, but the best way to get there is via the dedicated dark and brassy Martinez-emblazoned elevator at street level. Upon entry, you’re faced with a tough choice: whether to have a drink on the outdoor terrace – in many respects its own venue – or settle in for a large meal in the dining room. Of course, doing both is the correct answer.
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You’d also be wise to come on a weekday between 3pm and 5pm. Every day in that slot, there are $10 spritzes, plus $7 wines and beers. Those happy hours are best enjoyed al fresco in the terrace bar, a leafy space with great views of the Harbour Bridge (but not so good that you’ll stress out about finding a seat). The menu out here is simple, with a fun range of Côte d'Azur-inspired cocktails – go for the best-selling Spritz Tropique – and a wine list that’s split evenly between local bottles and French producers. Find all the usual bar food suspects to graze on, as well as a few cameos from the main menu.
Inside, things get more on theme. This beautiful space is dripping with luxe fittings and finishes. Marble, velvet, thick-walled corduroy and lipstick-red leather all get their dues, and you feel like you could be in the foyer of a luxury hotel in Cannes, rather than in a CBD high-rise. The room feels warm and well sectioned, and the ergonomic design makes what could be an awkward space in lesser hands feel vibrant.
The à la carte menu is a punchy one-pager that features many of the hallmark dishes and flavours of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of south-east France, a bifurcated cuisine where seafood meets game meat and butter meets olive oil. Highlights in the amuse-bouche-style starters section include the petite pissaladière, a miniature version of the Nice-born original, and a leg of fried quail topped with caviar.
Over in the entrees, the must-order is that bouillabaisse, which is big enough to pass for a main. For actual mains, head inland with a lamb daube ragout or chicken fricassee, or keep it Cannes-coastal and stick with poisson du jour, saffron tagliatelle or swordfish with a niçoise salad. The food is complemented by a lengthy drinks list, upholstered in L’Occitane en Provence-core yellow, which features plenty of pastis (if you’ve never tried it, imagine if liquorice was refreshing and got you drunk) and cognac, and a French-heavy wine selection that’s equal parts crowd-pleasing and erudite.
The Paris Olympics are more than six months away, but Sydney’s already in the grips of all things Français. Many of the recent big-hitters – Caravin, Bistro George, Armorica, The Charles, Chez Blue, Charlotte Bar and Bistro – feel particularly indebted to the City of Lights in some way or another, so it’s exciting to see the attention turning away from the steak frites and crème brûlée of Paris towards the riches of the south. Especially when it's being done with as much panache as Martinez.