The humble roast chook. You'll find it popping across more and more top end restaurants across Sydney, re-elevated to the special and celebratory meal it once was. It's the undoubted highlight of a recent meal at Bennelong Restaurant, the whole bird - feet and all - presented at the table before being whisked away for carving.
Cured and Cultured Bar
Sydney rock oysters with lemon pepper granita $5 each
I've eaten at Bennelong twice over the past year: once in the Cured and Cultured Bar (my second visit) and once in the Bennelong dining room.
The Cured and Cultured Bar is still one of my favourite ways to explore the menu here. Small snacks provide the opportunity to try multiple dishes. You can order and little or as much as you like. And you get a front row seat of chefs prepping dishes before you, as well as a sweeping view of the dining room .
We start with plump and briny Sydney rock oysters, freshly shucked, served with a zingy lemon pepper granita. I'm usually a fan of oysters au naturel, but the lemon pepper granita gives a great lift to the oysters without overwhelming its echo of the sea.
Salad of smoked eggplant $24
Crisp falafel, pistachio nuts, currants, labne and house made pita bread
We get hands-on with the salad of smoked eggplant, a textural landslide of falafel balls, pistachio nuts, sweet currants and dabs of labne that we scoop into still-warm pockets of soft and fluffy pita bread.
Preparing our red claw yabbies
We watch with anticipation as our red claw yabbies are plated up. Behind him you can see the flat grill on which the buckwheat pikelets are cooked to order.
Red claw yabbies $32
Lemon jam, cultured cream and buckwheat pikelets
The red claw yabbies are still one of my favourite dishes here. Six yabby halves are curled on a bowl of ice, served with a napkin of warm buckwheat pikelets and pots of lemon jam and cultured cream.
Red claw yabbies with lemon jam and cultured cream on a buckwheat pikelet
Dollop the lemon jam and cultured cream on top of your red claw yabby and pikelet and fold together like a luxe taco and eat. The lemon jam does feel a little on the sweet side but that's because the yabby is incredibly sweet already.
Hot lobster bun $28
We dive into the hot lobster bun, an impressive sight against the sails of the Sydney Opera House. The sesame toasted bun is loaded with lobster tail chunks, lettuce, mayonnaise and crispy fried shallots.
Suckling pig sausage roll with black garlic $24
You can smell wafts of buttery pastry throughout the lunch service. That's the suckling pig sausage roll, a high end version of the humble sausage roll. The buttery flaky pastry encases soft shreds of suckling pig that has been slow-roasted for ten hours. Tiny dollops of black garlic puree add another layer of umami.
Smoked wagyu tartare $28
Fermented chilli paste, cultured grains, mushrooms, seaweed and egg yolk
We relish every spoonful of the smoked wagyu tartare, an elaborate ensemble of hand-chopped smoked beef with a textural wonderland of grains, mushrooms, sesame seeds and seaweed bound together with a raw egg yolk and fermented chilli paste.
Staff subtly inquire whether we're celebrating anything today. Once they narrow down who the birthday girl is, a special birthday cupcake - complete with vanilla bean icing and candle - magically arrives. It's a thoughtful gesture.
Pine lime $28
We finish with the pine lime, a refreshing desert of pineapple, lime and coconut that reminds us of a pine lime splice.
Cherry jam lamington $28
Ordering the cherry jam lamington is a must. The ensemble of cherry ice cream, preserved cherries and chocolate ganache is offset by a spectacular chocolate mirror glaze. The coconut parfait is frozen with liquid nitrogen, enabling paper thin shavings that create dramatic wafts of smoke.
Bennelong Restaurant dining room
Unlike the Cured and Cultured Bar, Bennelong Restaurant mandates a three course meal for $130. At lunchtimes you can stick with just two courses for $100. It's a more formal setting but it does afford you a seat in the dining area, including views of the Opera House forecourt. The glass windows do mean that occasionally you'll find tourists wandering past and gawking at your meal.
Symphony #4 in D Minor $24
Tanqueray gin, elderflower, chamomile, apple and lemon
The cocktail menu runs from $22 to $30. My Symphony #4 in D Minor is ideal for gin fans - light and refreshing with elderflower, chamomile, apple and lemon - and comes adorned with a music sheet pegged to the side of the glass.
Housemade sourdough with butter
Warm slices of housemade sourdough with butter are a complimentary start to our meal. We're offered replenishments (we decline) before the banneton basket is taken away.
(Entree) Butter poached quail
with macadamia rubble and Davidson plum jam
Our table of eight orders an assortment of dishes from the menu. Velvety fillets of butter poached quail are contrasted with the crunch of macadamias;
(Entree) Slow cooked pig belly and sea scallops roasted in umami butter
with crisp seaweed and Jerusalem artichoke
tender slices of slow cooked pig belly are topped with seared scallops and deep fried shavings of Jerusalem artichoke and seaweed sheets;
(Entree) Seared blue mackerel
with takuan pickles, preserved lemon, green wheat, marrow broth and nasturtiums
and a slab of seared blue mackerel rests on a bed of takuan pickles and nasturtiums in a shimmering lake of marrow broth.
(Entree) Tasmanian line caught squid
with mountain shiitake, black pig pancetta and roasted hispi cabbage
My Tasmanian line caught squid is slippery and toothsome, draped over mountain shiitake mushrooms with slivers of fatty black pig pancetta.
(Main) Roasted duck
with kampot pepper, kumquat confit and black fungi
Roasted duck is one of the smallest mains to arrive, but it's prepared to perfection with succulent meat and crisp skin.
(Main) Slow cooked Black Angus beef cheek
with smoked chestnut puree and cipollini onion
Slow cooked Black Angus beef cheek is rich and hearty, complemented by a silky smoked chestnut puree and a slow roasted cipollini onion.
(Main) Macleay Valley suckling pig
with confit organic carrots, pickled onions and black and white garlic
A neat little slab of Macleay Valley suckling pig comes with a tile of brittle crackling. On the side a tangle of confit organic carrot shreds is dotted with black and white garlic puree.
(Main) Roasted John Dory on the bone
with orach, turnips, native coastal greens and umami butter
My roasted John Dory on the bone is one of the bigger mains, garnished with turnip columns, orach (saltbush) and deliciously salty native coastal greens.
(Main) Roasted John Dory on the bone
(Main) Brined and roasted Holmbrae chicken for two
The star of the show is definitely the roasted Holmbrae chicken for two. There was undoubted food envy when it was presented to the table as a spectacular whole bird.
(Main) Brined and roasted Holmbrae chicken with jus gras and lemon thyme emulsion
with sides of sugar snap peas and feta; and roasted Jerusalem artichokes and onions
The whole chicken is quickly carved by the kitchen and then returned with vegetable sides. Brining the chicken creates a silkiness to the flesh. Roasting imparts a sweet caramelisation to the crisp skin. The jus gras, or fatty juice, is addictive, and the lemon thyme emulsion is resplendent. It's a huge dish for two people.
(Sides for the table) Roasted potatoes and red oak lettuce leaves with dressing
Sides for the table include roasted potatoes in their skins and dressed red oak lettuce leaves, carefully reassembled so it looks like a whole lettuce again.
The birthday boy scores a birthday cupcake and several staff make it a point to pass on heartfelt congratulations. It's an impressive display of thoughtfulness.
(Dessert) Chocolate cake from across the water
There are six desserts on the menu including the pavlova, a creme caramel vs mille-feuille and mandarin with vanilla and yoghurt. Our table of eight chooses only two desserts: two chocolate cakes and six cherry jam lamingtons!
The chocolate cake from across the water is of course the eight texture chocolate cake from Quay. Hot chocolate sauce is poured at the table, onto the surface of the cake. There's theatrical tension as we watch the chocolate sauce mill across the surface before suddenly plunging into its core, like a sink hole.
The chocolate components include Amedei Chuao (70 per cent) dark chocolate and Valrhona milk chocolate with accents of hazelnuts, caramel and vanilla.
(Dessert) Cherry jam lamington
Most of us want the cherry jam lamington though. The lure of cherry, chocolate and coconut is far too strong to resist.
It's the first time I've ordered a whole cherry jam lamington to myself, and I find myself struggling with its richness at the halfway point. The intensity of the chocolate mirror glaze against the cherry ice cream is wickedly good. In future I'd probably prefer to share this and order another dessert to try. On the other hand, I could eat a whole bowl of the coconut parfait. It's incredible.
And even though our blood sugar levels don't need it, we polish off the petit fours served with our tea anyway.
Happy celebrations. Happy stomachs.
Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
Tel: +61 (02) 9240 8000
Lunch Friday to Sunday 12pm-2pm
Pre-theatre daily 5.30pm and 6pm
Dinner daily 6.30pm-10pm
Post-theatre daily 10pm-11pm (Cured and Cultured menu only)
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Bennelong, Sydney (Cured and Cultured Bar)
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10/03/2016 02:07:00 am