What do you get when you pair up Sydney’s most iconic building with one of the city’s most celebrated chef? A dining experience that is worthy of iconic status of course.
The new concept Bennelong replaces the vacant space left when chef Guillaume Brahimi and his award winning Guillaume at Bennelong restaurant departed The Sydney Opera House. Eighteen months and extensive renovations later, Bennelong opened it’s doors with the aim of making dining at this treasured building more accessible yet also special, with the Peter Gilmore stamp right across the menu.
But no, you will not be able to have The Snow Egg here at Bennelong. For that, you will still need to save the coin and go across the water to Quay. What you get instead at Bennelong is a menu that has a different expression to what Gilmore does at his three hatted fine dining establishment. It is a menu not as complex as that of Quay but still had taken well over three months for Peter Gilmore to develop. It is food that is served in a more natural way that emphasises the quality of the produce rather than technique, with a casual and laid-back approach to food that showcase Australia’s best produce in the best location.
In staying with the accessible premise, Bennelong takes advantage of the multi-level layout of the venue and offers an almost overwhelming amount of dining options. The lower level can seat up to 100 diner and it is home to ‘The Restaurant’, which offers a three course a la carte menu for $130. Those who are after a more casual dining option may opt for the ‘Cured & Cultured’ menu which focuses on raw and cold produce. The dishes here cost between $5-$30 and there are various seating options from eating at the kitchen counter with a view of chefs at work or casual seating area in ‘The Circle’ or on the upper level at ‘The Bar’. Given the location, there is also the option of two or three course pre-theatre menu available seven nights a week as well as a post show supper menu. If you have a spare $650 available there is also the option of a 10 course degustation dining at the Chef’s Table, located in the kitchen and overlooking the harbour. Confused much? Refer to the website as it has a very comprehensive breakdown of all the options.
As this was our first visit to Bennelong we went with the ‘default’ option of dining at The Restaurant.
I found it quite difficult to make my decision from the entrée selection as they were all tempting offers but I finally decided on the grilled Hervey Bay scallops served with turnips, radishes and XO sauce. Talk about beautiful presentation and great first impressions!
And this wasn’t just all looks; the tender flesh of the scallops with the spicy Asian flavours of the sauce and the crunch of the fresh vegetables meant that the flavours and textures were spot on here.
My dining companion had the entrée of Fraser Island spanner crab with white corn polenta, palm heart, fresh corn juice and crème fraîche.
The was moreish in every way and the simplest explanation of flavours would be to compare it to a very fancy crab and sweetcorn soup.
I decided to stick with seafood and went with roasted John Dory with saltbush, turnips, native coastal greens and umami butter as my main. However, John Dory was unavailable that night and instead on offer was another deep sea white fish (name escapes my memory).
This dish was the only letdown of the meal as the fish was slightly overcooked. however, the umami flavours and the crunch of the salt bush and other greens was a delight.
My dining companion ordered another winner; the Macleay Valley sucking-pig with confit organic carrots, pickled onions, black and white garlic.
How’s this for another example of beautiful presentation? This was given a big tick of approval for the perfect crackling and the balance of flavours.
And on to dessert. Do not despair for the unavailability of the Snow Egg because the desserts at Bennelong are on a level worthy of equal celebration. The Pavlova at Bennelong is what the Snow Egg is to Quay, and what a dish it is!
An “Instagrammable-to-your-hearts-content” construction of meringue sails that pay homage to the Opera House housed above a tangy mixture of raspberry covered by a delicately dotted hemisphere of fresh cream takes the humble pav to a whole other level. Order this. You will not be disappointed the slightest.
And then there was the “chocolate cake from across the water”. Yes, across the water means Quay. Yes, this is THE eight textured chocolate cake that made Peter Gilmore rather famous and took it to cult status after it’s appearance on one of the earlier seasons of Masterchef. I was particularly excited about this dish as I didn’t get a chance to try this when I dined at Quay.
My palate isn’t good enough to identify each of the eight textures individually but what I can say is that it was rich in parts, delicate in other parts and overall, every chocolate lovers dream come true.
So the verdict: Dining under the sails of the Sydney Opera House is quite a special experience and we were thoroughly impressed by five out of the six dishes we tried. The $130 for three courses price tag isn’t however justifiable on the food alone as I have had much better meals for much cheaper in recent times in Sydney (Automata and Sixpenny are prime examples). However, value must be placed on the location here so for that I would definitely include Bennelong as a worthy contender in my Sydney dining recommendations.