Walking up Surry Hills’ steep Foveaux Street from Central Station in Sydney can require concentration, and diaphragmatic moderation. You’d be forgiven for puffing straight past Bar Suze – the candlelit wine bar and bistro specialising in Scandi-adjacent flavours and a tightly curated natural wine offering – though you wouldn’t regret stopping in. Bar Suze is helmed by long-time colleagues and friends Phil Stenvall, head chef, and Gregory Bampton, on drinks and front of house service. The venue’s small footprint makes for a personalised dining experience, with a view of Stenvall behind the stove accessible from nearly all seats, and the food perpetuates the neighbourhood vibe with a rotating smorgasbord of seasonal snacks and share plates.
For Stenvall, the path to Bar Suze began at 22, “which is fairly late” to start cooking, he says. “I managed to get a kitchen hand job at this restaurant in London run by some very talented chefs at the tail end of their careers,” says Stenvall. “They happily taught me everything they knew, which helped me climb the ranks in the kitchen.”
Below, Stenvall talks with T Australia about preserving the “post-service buzz”, relentless experimentation, the positive response the bar is receiving to Scandinavian food and shares his recipe for the venue’s beloved Toast Skagen.
On what drives him …
It has never been a chore for me to get to work. ‘If you love what you do, you don’t work a day in your life’ is something I’m fortunate to live by. It’s also something I’ve keep to myself until now, after noticing the extremely triggering effect it can have on others when spoken about.
On unwinding after service …
I have been trying to find a way to preserve the post-service buzz for many years now, as my body seems to do the unwinding by itself these days.
On what he cooks at home …
The level of cooking I do behind closed doors in the comfort of my apartment wouldn’t extend past opening up a packet of smoked salmon and maybe, if it’s a special occasion, boil a few eggs.
On what he’s most excited about at the moment …
The way people are responding positively to our Scandinavian-influenced food is very exciting. It seems there is a place for it in Sydney. Who knew pickled flavours, dill, and dairy with fish would appeal to the masses?
On the other venues on his radar …
It’s not one venue or one chef that excites us, it’s rather the fact that a lot of young people are opening up small independent venues across the city and Australia, building the industry and creating a diverse, and more interesting scene. We believe that this is something that should be encouraged and supported from the top down.
Bar Suze’s Toast Skagen
500g tiger prawns
1 bunch dill
1 bunch chives
3 tbs brown butter
3 slices soft rye bread
50g caviar (optional)
Place prawns in heavily salted pot of boiling water for 2 – 3 mins or until cooked. Strain and place in ice bath.
Peel and dice prawns once cold.
Chop dill and chives. Mix everything together with mayonnaise.
Squeeze half a lemon into mixture. Fold in prawns and season to taste (if the mixture is too dry looking add some more mayonnaise – you want it creamy, not runny)
Put 3 tablespoons into saucepan, gently stir until it turns an amber colour and a caramel smell – set aside to cool.
Cut bread into triangles and pan fry until golden, and cut the second half the lemon into wedges.
Place skagen mixture onto bread, topping with a sprig of dill and a spoon of brown butter (and caviar, if desired)