Bennelong. It's the home of a $22 cheese truffle toastie, a $24 sausage roll and a $28 lamington. Say whaaat? But Sydneysiders can't get enough of it. It's been five months since Peter Gilmore's newest restaurant opened at the Sydney Opera House, taking up residence on the site formerly held by Guillaume Brahimi for ten years. There's been more than just a multi-million dollar makeover here. Bennelong heralds a new shift for the dining public, offering a more casual service with longer opening hours. And fancy sausage rolls.
Bennelong Bar with a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge
Casual dining at the Sydney Opera House is never going to be a cheap night out, something easily forgiven once you get a load of the view. It's one thing to see a play or a show from deep within the building, but the view from within the glass-walled sails is something else. Sipping on a cocktail while you watch the Sydney Harbour Bridge flame red from the evening sunset has to be one of the most spectacular settings in the world to wait for your table.
View of the Botanic Gardens looking out from the front sail of the Opera House
The main dining room - at 99-seater - is housed within the front sail of the Opera House, the soaring ceilings providing an impressive view of the forecourt steps, the Botanic Gardens and the looming skycrapers of the Sydney CBD. The a la carte dinner menu will set you back $130 for three course.
Cured and Cultured Bar
We take up our stools at the Cured and Cultured Bar where you can eat as little or as much as you please from a menu that runs from $5 to $30. You also score a neat view of the chefs, cooking buckwheat pikelets on the grill, baking sausage rolls in the oven (that buttery pastry smell is stomach-rumbling), and plating the bar dishes with long handle tweezers.
Red claw yabbies $30
Of the 14 savoury dishes on the menu, our party of five ends up ordering ten of them to share between us. The red claw yabbies are the first to arrive, three whole crustaceans split down the middle and served on a bed of ice.
Red claw yabby on a buckwheat pikelet with lemon jam and cultured cream
A heavy cloth napkin holds a warm pile of freshly made buckwheat pikelets. It's a hands-on affair of stripping out the yabby from the shell, and rolling it up in the pikelet with dollops of lemon jam and cultured cream.
The lemon jam is a little too sweet, and would probably have been better restrained to a mere smidge, especially when the yabby itself is already so naturally sweet from the sea. But it's a beautifully elegant dish otherwise, especially as your fingers curl around the still-warm pikelet that is soft and nutty.
Raw kingfish $27
with artichoke, capers and ice plant
Raw kingfish might seem like a simple dish, but it's the quality of the fish that's the star. There's a firm plumpness to each chunky slice, garnished with lightly salted capers, nasturtium leaves and the juicy crunch of ice plants, one of my new favourite vegetables.
Raw Mooloolaba yellow fin tuna $28
with mushroom, soy, pickled white radish, sesame oil
There's just as much to love about the raw Mooloolaba yellow fin tuna, a silky mouthful of softness draped with a trail of the tiniest mushrooms you ever did see. The inclusion of soy, sesame oil and pickled white radishes give a welcome Japanese vibe to this dish.
Holy Goat La Luna $24
with broad beans, fennel, pickled apple and sea parsley
Goat cheese can be a little strong in flavour for some, but Holy Goat La Luna is so smooth and creamy it could easily convert the most reluctant. A congregation of broad beans, fennel and pickled apple add contrasts of texture and a zingy freshness.
View of the kitchen from the Cured and Cultured bar
As darkness falls outside, so too does it affect the bar area. Chefs use flexible lamps to illuminate their stations.
Roasted carrot salad $24
with almonds, sherry caramel, feta and amaranth
Are roasted carrots the new black? Here they're a tumble of ribbons amped up with the sweetness of sherry caramel, the creamy tang of feta and the satisfying chew of amaranth. Toasted almonds give a terrific crunch.
Smoked wagyu tartare $28
with fermented chilli paste, cultured grains, mushrooms, seaweed and egg yolk
The smoked wagyu tartare diverges from the usual cornichon and caper execution, and takes on more Asian flavourings with fermented chilli paste and seaweed thrown into the mix. And those crispy bits? Most diners will crunch on these without much thought but it's not until we chat to the chefs that we realise the complexity of its preparation.
The crunchy component consists of black barley, green rice, fermented rye, kombu and shallots. The black barley are green rice are deliberately overcooked, chilled for two hours, rolled flat and left to dry overnight before deep frying into puffs.
The rye is cooked, koji (a fermentation culture) is added, and the mix is left to ferment at 32C for 1.5 days in a styrofoam box. It's then brined for a week before meeting the deep fryer.
Layered kombu is fried in sheets and shallots are thinly sliced are then fried at 170C.
Sitting at the bar offers more than just visuals. We're grateful for the chef's insight, and end up ordering another serve of the smoked wagyu tartare to share. It's a different experience once you know the amount of work behind the dish, thoughtfully chewing on the hand cut beef cloaked with the richness of egg yolk and those ridiculously intricate crispy bits.
Salad of saltwater chicken $27
Single origin wheat noodles, palm heart, sesame and peanuts
There's an Asian echo to the salad of saltwater chicken too, a nest of single origin wheat noodles covered in a mountain of soft and silky white cut chicken, palm hearts and a rubble of peanuts and sesame seeds.
Five cheese truffle toastie $22
The $22 five cheese truffle toastie is something to behold. It's picture perfect, from the even golden hue on its surface to the tantalising ooze of molten cheese escaping from the side. Cast aside any childhood memories of the Kraft cheese toasted sandwich of your childhood. This is decadence that is off the charts, starting with the house made brioche slathered with truffle butter to a gun-slinging combo of Australian cheeses: Bruny Island's C2 (Australia's first raw milk cheese), Heidi gruyere from Tasmania, Shaw River buffalo mozzarella and Mountain Man L’Artisan washed rind, both from Victoria, and Paesanella ricotta from Marrickville, Sydney.
There's no mistaking the whiff of washed rind tempered by the creaminess of ricotta, the sweet nuttiness of the C2 and the tantalising stretch of buffalo mozzarella and gruyere. Shavings of West Australian Manjimup truffle offer fragrance but tends to get a little lost flavourwise, in amongst all the cheese. It's so rich you could easily share this between two.
Byron Bay pig culatello $30
Barley toast, truffle butter and radishes
The Byron Bay pig culatello is another DIY affair, a rack of toasted barley bread with a pot of truffle butter on the side. Spread on as much as you like and add the finest shavings of flavour intense culatello, made from the rear part of the back leg. Culatello is often regarded as the most prestigious cured meat. A nibble on a palate-cleansing breakfast radish is exactly what you need between mouthfuls.
Suckling pig sausage roll with black garlic $24
Our finale is the suckling pig sausage roll. Once again, everything is not what it seems. Forget everything you know about this Aussie schoolyard classic. Here they take a Bryon Bay pig and cook the pork shoulder at 85C for 8 hours. What you get is a sigh of tender pork shreds wrapped up in a rich and buttery pastry that smells so good it will make your toes curl. A teardrop of black garlic puree is the fancy alternative to tomato sauce. It works.
Jersey cream, white nectarine nectar and fresh coconut granita $28
Desserts seem a little on the steep side at $28 a pop, although this is probably the easiest way to score Quay's famous Eight Texture Chocolate Cake without forking out a minimum of $175 for dinner ($150 for lunch). We go with the jersey cream, white nectarine nectar and fresh coconut granita. It's super light and refreshing and probably big enough to share.
Cherry jam lamington $28
The cherry jam lamington, on the other hand, is a dessert you may not give up so easily.
Cherry jam lamington cloaked with smoke
Its arrival is pretty spectacular to begin with, obscured by plumes of smoke that waft and billow. By the time the smoke clears, you'll be itching to sink your fork into the square of sponge cake coated in a shiny chocolate mirror glaze.
Inside the cherry jam lamington
Inside the lamington you'll find a light sponge, chocolate ganache, coconut cream and tart blobs of rich cherry jam that cut through the sweetness. And those curls you think are shaved coconut? It's coconut milk parfait frozen with liquid nitrogen and then shaved so each delicate curl disappears on your tongue before you've even had a chance to close your mouth. It's wondrous fun.
Sydney Opera House
Bennelong Point, Circular Quay, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9240 8000
Lunch Friday to Sunday 12pm-2pm
Dinner 7 nights 6.30pm-10pm
Pre-theatre 5.30pm and 6pm
Post-theatre 10pm-11pm Cured and Cultured only
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12/06/2015 04:15:00 pm