If it feels like a century since you last visited the Centennial Hotel, relaunched 2 years ago as the Hotel Centennial, then now is the perfect time to reacquaint yourself. This hidden gem of a venue was made for the cold weather and the new Winter Menu is guaranteed to warm and comfort you like nothing else.
Hotel Centennial is located on that dreary stretch of Oxford St on the dual carriageway opposite Centennial Park and you could be forgiven for walking straight past the anonymous exterior with grey curtains obscuring the floor-to-ceiling windows. But duck down the side and through the elegant entrance and you’ll soon realise Hotel Centennial is actually a golden highlight of the adjacent upmarket Woollahra neighbourhood. The interior is a sophisticated mix of contemporary and traditional with both high ceilinged spaces and cosy nooks, an impressive stone fireplace, dark and light woods and a variety of art, antiques and furnishings. It almost feels like you’ve been let loose in a rich relative’s country manor for the evening. But the eclectic style isn’t in the least intimidating; the venue still has the distinct buzz of a warm and welcoming neighbourhood pub, just one with a rather impressive fine-dining room.
The menu is the creation of acclaimed Executive Chef Justin North, who aims to offer what he terms ‘clean-living comfort food’ using locally sourced, organic and sustainable ingredients ie posh pub grub. And this theme is perfectly suited to the colder season. In fact, Hotel Centennial recently launched a new winter menu inspired by the venue’s elegant yet comforting ‘home away from home’ ambience and we were incredibly lucky to be invited to taste it.
What could be a fairly intimidating restaurant actually lives up to the relaxed billing and from the moment we walked in, we were looked after with skill, warmth and friendliness. First observation – don’t eat a big lunch if you’re coming here for dinner. For starters my companion ordered the seared Petuna ocean trout and black sesame miso while I chose the roast free range Crack Willow pork belly with spiced quince purée. Both of us expected traditionally small tasters of dishes and were surprised to be served generous portions of impeccably presented food that could easily have served a small appetite as a main course. And the flavours were delicious.
The trout was perfectly cooked and the miso and cucumber balanced the oily fish nicely. Pork belly is a favourite of mine and when I see it on a menu, I always order it. So I had high expectations and this met them full on. Crunchy, salty crackling, the right amount of melt-in-the-mouth, flavourful fat and succulent, savoury meat. Delicious and perfectly complemented by the individual glasses of wine that accompanied the dishes. I always make a point to ask for wine recommendations by the glass as that way each diner gets something specifically balanced with their chosen dish. Far from being annoyed at such requests, I find wine waiters are always very happy to use their knowledge and skill to choose something suitable at the right price. In this case a delicious rosé for the pork and a Clare Valley Riseling for the trout.
For our main courses we plumped for full-on heartiness with the slow cooked lamb shoulder with Moroccan spice for me and Ranger Valley beef bourguignon with Paris mash for my companion plus a not-exactly-needed side dish of cauliflower gratin. Again, the portions were very generous and the flavours intense.
My lamb was falling apart tender and deeply savoury with olive jus, only just lightened by the radish and tomatoes. Although the cauliflower wasn’t needed for bulk it provided a welcome gentle creaminess to offset the richness of the meat. The beef bourguignon was also outstanding; seriously flavourful meat and jus complemented by the most delicious mild Paris mash. It was so good and I was so disappointed in myself that I could not finish my dish as I was just too full! Remember my earlier note? Light lunch only beforehand… Again the meals were accompanied by individually selected glasses of wine of which the standout was a Barossa Valley Shiraz Grenache.
After a considerable pause to let our meal settle and indulge in people-watching (our fellow diners were mostly well-dressed, cool young things and we spotted plenty of group celebrations as well as intimate dinners a deux.), we were persuaded to share a dessert. While I was tempted by the steamed ginger brioche pudding, in the end we couldn’t go past the Centennial vanilla waffles, chocolate ripple ice cream and hazelnut praline. It was, of course, utterly divine; the perfect mix of hot and cold, soft and crunchy, sweet and bitter. To die for! Especially when, again, accompanied by a couple of dessert wines; a sherry for the companion and a Muscat de Beaumes de Venise for me. I’m not usually a fan of sweet wines but somehow these just made the pudding sing!
We wondered out of Hotel Centennial very full and very satisfied with everything; the food, the wine, the service and the buzzing atmosphere. I will definitely be back and heartily recommend you get down there too; it’s the perfect place for a seriously good food treat. It may not be the cheapest menu but it’s definitely worth it and there are many meal deals as well as the very good value Bar Menu in the newly renovated Oxford Bar – but more of that another time!
The Hotel Centennial
88 Oxford Street, Woollahra NSW 2025
5.00pm – 12.00am
TUESDAY – SATURDAY
12.00pm – 12.00am
02 9362 3838