Where to eat Sydney: Bennelong

Dramatically-lit artwork

It’s hard to not get suckered in by million-dollar views. While Greedy Girl contends that what’s on her plate is the best view of all, there’s no doubt a window on the world can also add to the dining experience. And so, on a clear night, she found herself negotiating the maze-like underbelly of the iconic Sydney Opera House to head for Bennelong.

Chef Peter Gilmore has secured two of the most high-profile sites in Sydney to wine, dine and wow his clientele. Quay, nestling under the southern end of the harbour bridge at the Overseas Passenger Terminal, has earned international acclaim for a great many years and should certainly be on the hit list for any self-respecting foodie. In this year’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list, it came in at 58th spot. Greedy Girl and gluttonous husband have dined there three times (in the days before this blog came to life) and the experience ranged from astounding (the first visit) to very good; a not terribly surprising result, given the food wasn’t sufficiently different on the subsequent visits to have the same impact.

Earlier this year, Gilmore took over Bennelong. On a quiet night the kitchen teams could almost call out to each other – the two restaurants are virtually opposite on either side of Circular Quay. While Quay (the restaurant) looks out on to the Opera House (when there’s not a gigantic cruise liner blocking the view), Bennelong looks out on to the bridge and across to North Sydney. In anyone’s book it’s an utterly spectacular location.

The restaurant had been empty for some time; French transplant Guillaume Brahimi had run it for 12 years, but he vacated at the end of 2013 and is now ensconced in the hip inner-city suburb of Paddington. Melbourne hospitality mavens Frank and Sharon Van Haandel initially won the tender to take over the space but their flagship restaurant The Stokehouse in St Kilda was razed in the meantime and they did not proceed.

Enter Gilmore and partner, restaurateur John Fink, who envisaged the space divided in two – a fine dining eatery on the main floor and a ‘lite’ version in a mezzanine upstairs. And so, Greedy Girl found herself waiting for foodie friend and contributor to this blog, Madame Lapine at a mezzanine table where the menu is styled ‘Cured and Cultured’ – essentially a series of smaller plates designed to share. Having perused the menu and licked her lips in anticipation, Greedy Girl set it aside along with cocktail list and tried to get attention from a member of the wait staff to order a drink.

There’s no doubt the Opera House and its precincts are prime entertaining areas – virtually all the restaurants and bars in the area were jumping and Bennelong was no exception. The mezzanine was full and a lot of waiters were darting everywhere. How to catch their attention? After 15 minutes of fruitless gestures and ‘excuse mes’ that floated into the ether, Greedy Girl felt she must have put on her invisibility cloak by mistake. She was cranky – and very thirsty. Finally, as she was about to stand up and go over to the bar herself, the sommelier finally made eye contact and came to the table. Ordering a glass of Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, she commented about the wait, which was totally unnecessary given the number of staff members on the floor. When the glass was poured at the table, he graciously offered the champagne ‘on the house’ for the inconvenience. A nice touch.

When Madame Lapine arrived, we jumped straight into ordering dishes and trying a few different glasses of wine. And so, our evening unfolded. The dining rooms at Bennelong are dark and moody – not surprising given the location. The restaurant is housed in an atrium so glass abounds; lighting is used judiciously, surrounding a large open kitchen in the middle of the floor and to bring attention to the range of artwork, which has a distinctly aboriginal feel (see the picture above left). It’s not a quiet place – but the days are long gone where fine dining was the preserve of silent, stately restaurants with seen-but-not-heard waiters and starched white linen. The noise level was significant but we could still converse; tables around us filled and departed as we sat and savoured the food.

Where to eat Sydney: Bennelong

Dark and moody mezzanine

Madame Lapine has a number of dietary issues, so while Greedy Girl was looking forward to tucking into a number of plates, such as the raw kingfish, that wasn’t going to be shared. Taking the more convivial option, our share plates revolved around pork, truffles, beef tartare and yabbies. First up was Byron Bay pig culatello (made from black Berkshire pigs) with barley toast, truffle butter and radish. Culatello is Italian for little, ahem, backside. It’s a cured and salted ham, made from the same muscle as prosciutto. The traditional way of making it apparently involves a lot of wastage so the end result is often quite expensive. This was delectably light and soft and paired brilliantly with the toast, smeared with the truffle butter. Greedy Girl would have enjoyed a bit more truffle but generally, Greedy Girl always enjoys a bit more truffle. Crunching down on a radish afterwards (also dipped into the truffle butter) was a lovely counterpoint. Delish.
Where to eat Sydney: Bennelong


Next up was another element of the truffle fest – a five cheese truffle toastie. Greedy Girl still dreams of the Bikini toastie at Catalunya and this was right up there with the best of them. The combination of cheeses, from a variety of Australian artisan makers made this spectacularly rich. Greedy Girl wishes she’d cut open the toastie to reveal the interior for the shot but she was too darn hungry. It got gobbled up in an instant. At A$22 it’s possibly the most expensive toastie that’s ever seen the light of day but it’s worth every crumb. Indeed, not a crumb remained.
Where to eat Sydney: Bennelong

Truffle toastie

Next we had suckling pig sausage rolls with black garlic. It’s only recently come to Greedy Girl’s attention that the humble ‘sausage roll’ is a bit of a mystery to US diners. The basic recipe is minced pork rolled into puff pastry and baked in the oven. This was a bit more glamorous, with tender suckling pig, topped with delectable dabs of the black garlic sauce. The pork is cooked at low temperature for around 10 hours and flakes apart with divine moistness. The black garlic is from Tasmania and is fermented, giving it an extraordinary ability to cut through the richness of the pork. Make sure you don’t have to rush off anywhere if you want to order these – they’re baked to order.
Where to eat Sydney: Bennelong

Sausage roll – Bennelong style

We then moved to some beef tartare. This was a treat for the senses and a great example of the Asian fusion that Gilmore loves. It was smoked Wagyu tartare with fermented chilli paste, cultured grains, mushrooms and seaweed with an egg yolk on top. Scrape your fork down through the meat to collect the chilli paste and other ingredients and nick the egg yolk to add to the moisture and you have a very delightful dish. Sigh. Even Greedy Girl was beginning to struggle with such rich plates.
Where to eat Sydney: Bennelong

Smoked wagyu tartare

And our final dish for the night was the lightest and, arguably, the most impressive. Greedy Girl loves yabbies – it reminds her of visiting the in-laws who lived in central Victoria with ready access to a number of dams on neighbouring farms. We’d put the nets in overnight and come back the next day to find them full of these delectable freshwater crustaceans, sort of a cross between a crayfish and a prawn (see the picture at the top of this post). Their flesh is incredibly sweet and they need very little embellishment. Here they were served with a lemon jam, cultured cream and buckwheat pikelets. So. Very. Yummy. If ever there was Australia on a plate (notwithstanding the sausage rolls) this is it.

We were done. A cursory look at the dessert menu made our bellies groan all the louder. All we needed to do was drain the last drops of wine and pay the bill. However, late-ish on a Sunday night we found ourselves alone. Being the only table in use upstairs (although that was about to change – we saw a crowd of people emanating from the actual Opera House after a performance) once again we could not attract the attention of a waiter. Greedy Girl leaned over the little balustrade and waved at the hosts guarding the entrance downstairs.

It should be said, the service was very friendly – when we got attention. That wasn’t the easiest to come by – whether at the start of the evening for a pre-dinner drink, to order another glass of wine during, and again to be able to depart. It’s something where the restaurant could lift its game.

This is great food and Gilmore seems to have found a new outlet for creativity, moving away from ‘what’s expected’ of him at Quay, just across the water. No doubt this restaurant will be featuring prominently in 2016 when the various Australian and international awards are handed out.

Bennelong Cured & Cultured

The Foodie World star rating
Opera House, Sydney
Bennelong Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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