The idea for new Mediterranean restaurant in Darlinghurst’s Taylor Square, Bei Bar & Bistro, was born during a bike ride. Chef Felix Rutz – who, together with his partner Leigh Cholakos, has run Darling Point institution Bei Amici for the past 16 years – was cycling past the Oxford Hotel when he noticed the space next door was for lease.

“I came and had a look at it, and really liked it,” Rutz, who wasn’t thinking of opening another restaurant, tells Broadsheet. “Leigh was away on holidays and when she came back I showed it to her. We investigated what was happening around Taylor Square and saw that QTopia was opening [in the former Darlinghurst Police Station].” The pair also discovered there were plans afoot for the National Art School to transform the Darlinghurst Courthouse into a cultural precinct.

All this made Bei Bar & Bistro a great location. The square is a top spot for people-watching, even better with a glass of wine and bowl of pasta. The restaurant’s home is the ground floor of an early modernist building, which dates to 1923. “It’s iconic,” says Cholakos. “Can you imagine what went on here in the 1920s?”

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The design, done together with artist Richard Blackwell, emphasises heritage features while bringing in a light industrial feel. High ceilings and white tiled walls surround metal bar stools, olive banquettes and glittering artworks by Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran. Wide concertina windows open to the outside area, where groups gather on red-legged benches under bright Campari umbrellas.

As at Bei Amici, the menu is tight and devoted to simple fare, but most of the dishes are new. “It’s Mediterranean, but with a strong Italian influence,” says Rutz. “Big flavours, generous serves, fresh vegetables, fresh seafood, house-made pasta, house-made breads.”

Make your first stop focaccia – laden with house-made butter laced with garlic fermented in honey – before moving onto a zesty dish of calamari with farro, sweetened with currants and made crunchy with almonds. Next up? The one dish from Bei Amici that couldn’t be left off the menu: tagliolini with chilli and garlic king crab.

One way in which Bei Bar differs from its older sibling is its hibachi grill. “Anything made on it is really popular,” Rutz says. Chargrilled Black Angus flank with house-made fig mustard is topped with fine slices of radish, while flame-licked swordfish arrives in classic Sicilian style: topped with salmoriglio (a mix of oregano, chilli, lemon and olive oil) with a green bean and watercress salad.

Behind the Darlinghurst venue’s drinks is Vašek Čech (ex-Bistro Rex, China Doll). He’s devised a tight, seven-part cocktail list that counts the Bei Spritz (an Aperol Spritz zinged up with a Hotel Starlino liqueur) and the Italian Paloma (where Muyu Chinotto Nero – a blend of cinchona, oak moss, curacao orange, and cacao – is added) in its ranks.

“Ultimately, we want people to come here for good food, good wine and cocktails, and stimulating conversation,” says Cholakos. “I walk in this area all the time and I think this place – these crossroads – are a powerful place. They represent a coming together of art, politics, fashion.”

“We want to create an oasis in the city, where you can just go and relax,” says Rutz. “It takes a long time, but maybe in 20 years this place will still be here, even though we might not be running it.”

Bei Bar & Bistro
371 Bourke St, Darlinghurst
(02) 9167 5726

Tue to Thu 4.30pm–11pm
Fri & Sat, midday–11pm