Restaurant of the Week: Bennelong
Housed in the smallest sail of the Sydney Opera House, Chef Peter Gilmore's architectecturally dazzling Bennelong is fast becoming an icon of the Australian dining scene. Considered the "sister-restaurant" to one of Australia's most awarded-restaurants, Quay, Bennelong takes the same quality ingredients found at Quay, yet presents them with "fewer processes", in Gilmore's words. With food this good, it's hard to imagine why you'd need the extra processes in the first place.
It's immediately obvious upon entering the restaurant that we're in for a one-of-a-kind dining experience. If you're looking for a beautiful venue to eat a meal, look no further. The grandiose sight of the Opera House's skeletal wooden interior structure accented with towering gold Tom Dixon Melt Lamps stops us in our tracks, but the smiling Aussie Maitre-D quickly reminds us of the task at hand. We're early, and so we're escorted upstairs, where cocktails and craft beers are being poured at a robust brass bar overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Not a bad spot for a pre-dinner drink. A word of advice here too: don't be tempted by the enticing bites on the bar menu - you'll need all the room you've got for what's ahead.
Our table is on the ground level of the restaurant next to the impressive glass façade facing the steps leading up to the Opera House, making for perfect people watching. Service is to-the-point and professional - there's no time for chit-chat here. The menu is à la carte, at $145 for three courses including sides. As with most restaurants of Bennelong's calibre, the menu is seasonal and ever-changing, however Gilmore maintains a consistent focus on quality Australian-sourced ingredients year-round.
To start, the Seared tartare of Rangers Valley wagyu with horseradish cream, capers, parsley and crispy beef tendon is a delightful mix of textures and tastes, while the Princess Charlotte Bay bug dumpling with hispi cabbage, buckwheat, finger lime, nori, and brown butter is so delicious I find myself wishing I could have it again for main course. But of course, the best is yet to come. The Wild Cape York barramundi with crisp parsnip & hazelnuts and whole lemon puree arrives beautifully presented, and is eaten almost as quickly as it arrived. The Macleay Valley suckling pig with confit organic carrots, pickled onions and black & white garlic appears to be a favourite among neighbouring tables, and for good reason too - it's a pork lover's dream. Sides of mixed potatoes and a simple green salad arrive, and while they're by no means necessary given the generous portion size of our mains, they add a nice touch.
A short break allows time to regroup and contemplate a dessert wine to accompany the impending third and final course. Plucked from the menu at Quay, the opulent Chocolate Cake From Across The Water is everything you'd expect and more - eight layers of pure decadence, with the added show of the hot chocolate sauce being poured at your table. The Crème Caramel vs Mille-Feuille is a mishmash of textures, from creamy caramel and bouncy panna cotta to crispy crumble and crackling caramel shards. Gilmore's deserts truly are in a class of their own.
With food at this standard in a setting so unique, it really is too bad that Michelin don't extend their star rating to Australia.