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Macleay St Bistro

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Macleay St Bistro's head chef Clancy Atkinson has come home, he feels. It's a pretty busy 'home', though. The night we visit he is running hot. The restaurant is packed with pre-Christmas diners, celebrating the season, or maybe they're just plain celebrating this Potts Point icon.

"I love it," he says. "It's the best thing to be busy." Not that Atkinson has been resting up in the eight years since he was last at these stoves that are open to view behind the two-room dining area. During the time away he has honed various skills at bespoke catering company, Plated, and also at John Wilson's John and Peter.

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But the 25-year-old bistro, established by Mark Armstrong and Daniel Gantiez in the 80s, which quickly became something of a Sydney 'institution' in the 'Paris' end of Potts Point, has always been loved because of its relaxed and welcoming ambience and its style - understated but perfect for this neighbourhood. Much of the latter is now down to owner, Carole Fiorelli Becka who manages to be everywhere at once, and seems to know everyone who appears at the street-front doorway.

Her welcome brings each couple - each group - into the warmth and cosy chatter of the room and installs them at their table as if it is her personal delight that they are dining with her and her friends tonight. As indeed it is so, she would agree if you asked her.

But you need to know more about chef Atkinson's food, too, because that is, of course, the other part of the success-equation here.

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This may be an established restaurant (quite 'elderly' by Sydney terms) but the new trends have not passed them by. Sharing food is popular and many of the dishes are ideally served with two plates, and two forks or spoons. There's a huge blackboard menu at the back of one room and I end up being sorry I took so long deliberating of the tantalising printed menu, because when I finally say .. "and I'll have the pork belly" (slow-roasted with braised pumpkin and red cabbage too!) I find it has been gobbled up by others. I can tell who they are: the ones with self-satisfied smirks on their faces. 

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I settle instead for a cotelette of pork with parmesan slaw ($34) and it's beautiful, tender and tasty, as have been the (shared) starters of pickled beetroot and creamed goats cheese and crostini ($12) and grilled scallops on a Thai-ish salad of grapefruit, snowpeas and peanuts ($18). My partner seems just as pleased with his main of chargrilled Riverina lamb backstrap, $36. It comes with a shaved carrot, pea and cress salad and pea cream. It's a restrained combo that allows the wonderful flavour of the seasonal lamb to take centre stage, as it should.

This is one of the major skills of the team here. Personal egos seem to have been left at the door. It's all about the food, the experience, the night.

However the menu straddles time and trends and there are still standards that we all love, such as freshly shucked oysters, steak tartare and top-drawer beef dishes - but the kitchen team that includes chefs David Pattenden and Sophie Heath, is not afraid to pop in a dish of prawn dumplings on celeriac roulade, just to make sure our palates pay proper attention to what we are eating.

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The foundations are long and strong in this establishment and all the classic bistro-props are here: a wall of mirrors, crisp white cloths on the tables, intimate shadowy corners for romancing, and a salon feel helped along by the cheeky red crystal chandelier in the entry area.

The package is inclined to envelop diners in a way that makes dining in this bistro feel more like you've been invited to join a select club. You've become one of those who are in the know about a place that surely by now everyone knows about - but if they don't, well maybe you'll just be rather selective about who else you'll tell!

It would be a shame to miss out on that pork belly again, now, wouldn't it?!

 

Macleay Street Bistro, 73a Macleay Street, Potts Point, +61 2 9358 4891, www.macleaystbistro.com.au Open: nightly for dinner from 6pm, Licensed and BYO wine only.

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