There’s no denying that a dining experience in the Sydney Opera House can give even the most local drink and dine aficionado a touch of touristy enthusiasm. That was certainly the feeling as we climbed the iconic steps towards Peter Gilmore’s talk-of-the-town, newly opened Bennelong restaurant.
With it’s striking high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows Bennlong is almost as impressive inside as out. Most spectacular of all is, of course, the best view of Circular Quay and the Harbour Bridge. Here we go again with our enthusiastic feel-like-a-tourist excitement.
If you’re after innovative, unique dishes set to wow with foams and theatrics make a booking across the harbour at Quay. For simple Australian ingredients used in elegant dishes with a Gilmore twist Bennelong is for you.
You have the option of dining on the lower level of Bennelong known as The Restaurant. For lunch you can choose from two courses for $100 or three for $130 Friday to Sunday and for dinner three courses for $130 Monday to Sunday. The menu heroes Australian produce with classic dishes such as Wagyu tartare, seared scallops, suckling pig, snapper and roasted duck.
For me, it’s the second dining option at Bennelong that is really exciting. Take a seat on the middle level around the 14 seater raw bar counter and experience their Cured & Cultured menu. Here, the menu highlights singular ingredients and features a selection of raw, cured and fermented dishes. It’s a more relaxed, flexible dining experience with smaller dishes designed to share.
On a warm summers day, start with a glass of Champagne or try one of their refreshing cocktails where seasonal produce continues to shine. Pair with Sydney Rock Oysters topped with lemon and pepper granita and watch the chefs in front of you prepare dishes should you need some inspiration on what to order next.
As you’d expect, the service here is attentive and and helpful, especially with wine pairing suggestions.
There is a heavy seafood focus on the Cured & Cultured menu including the delicate raw sea scallops served with dory caviar, crème fraîche and citrus ($26). My favourite dish is the impressive display of red claw yabbies served on ice with buckwheat pikelets and condiments of lemon jam and cultured cream. Eating them brought back memories of catching yabbies with my dad as a kid and eating them in the back yard with my family. We’d lay down newspaper on the outdoor table with wedges of lemon and bowls of homemade tartare sauce my mum would make. Gilmore’s version is a bit fancier but still just as fun.
Presentation and flavour is at the forefront of dishes such as the roasted carrot salad with almonds, sherry caramel, feta and amaranth (pictured above). It’s topped with pretty edible flowers and is full of flavour.
Then there is the infamous five cheese truffle toastie. It is by far the most expensive cheese toastie I’ve ever had at $22 a pop and has received much attention from the foodie media in Sydney who seem divided on whether it is a hit or miss. Those five cheeses are all Australian and include ricotta, mozzarella, C2 cheddar, Heidi Gruyère, and l’Artisan Mountain Man, a washed-rind cheese from Victoria. Some black truffle has been shaved into the mix and heated between two pieces of brioche. The brioche recipe has apparently been modified to use less butter and egg but more salt than the classic recipe. I think this is a big mistake. We found the bread was too crumbly, falling apart as you picked it up. The truffle is a non-event, overpowered by all of the cheeses. Unfortunately, despite being a big cheese toastie/jaffle fan I feel this one misses the mark.
The smoked Wagyu tartare with fermented chilli paste, cultured grains, mushrooms, sesame, seaweed and egg yolk ($28) is another dish that didn’t quite excite me. I like a wetter, French style tartare and found I needed to take extra gulps wine in between mouthfuls (not necessarily a bad thing when the wine is good).
One of the best things about the Cured & Cultured menu is that it doesn’t leave you feeling bloated. So often you walk out of hatted restaurants with a popped top button and in need of a nap but order right and you’ll be ready to kick on after your long, lazy lunch or dinner. Which means there is always time for dessert. And you do not want to leave Bennelong without trying the desserts.
Order the pavlova that’s plated to resemble a mini opera house with its delicious meringue sails (hello, I’m feeling like an excited tourist again). Playing on the Australian classic you should also try the cherry jam lamington, it’s incredible.
Whether you’re a tourist or a local (or a touristy local) Bennelong is a dining experience that will excite your senses and a must addition to your Sydney bucket list.
Sydney Opera House
Sydney, NSW 2000