As restaurants go, there’s no doubt Bennelong is an incredible location. On the mezzanine floor of the Opera House, with a view across Circular Quay to the Harbour Bridge, it’s as good a venue as it gets and a bastion of Sydney fine dining.

Greedy Girl had already sampled the delights of the Cured and cultured menu upstairs on a previous visit with foodie friend Madame Lapine. Designed as a more casual spot for drinking and snacking, she found it quite enjoyable. Not needing much of an excuse to come back to Sydney to catch up with friends visiting from Japan, we immediately got a booking for the restaurant proper, which has a fixed price, three-course menu for A$130 per head, plus drinks.

It was a typical Sydney summer’s day. Steamy, stormy, rainy. The water ran like streams down the huge atrium glass panes but, as the evening got darker, the rain disappeared. Our group of six was ravenously hungry by the booking time, having already hit the pre-dinner drinks out of the park elsewhere in the precinct. Greedy Girl ordered a bottle of easy drinking Clyde Park Pinot Noir from Geelong in Victoria, and we proceeded to make our food selections from a small-ish number of options. Sorted.

The restaurant is dark and dramatic at night, although the views from the lower area aren’t as good as the bar upstairs. It’s also a very, very noisy room, so conversation with our friends down the other end of our table for six wasn’t really possible. Ne’er mind, we were there to eat.

The chef here is Peter Gilmore, noted for his fine dining establishment Quay, just across the water at the overseas passenger terminal. Our view of that was blocked by one of the gigantic cruise liners that always seem to be berthed this time of year. Gilmore’s pedigree, plus the lovely snacks Greedy Girl had consumed on her previous visit to the ‘cheap seats’ upstairs meant we had solid expectations.

But the reality was, well, a bit meh. Apart from the excellent scallop and heirloom radish dish pictured at the top of this post, none of our selections hit any great heights. The food was tastier from the Cured and Cultured menu.

As you’d expect at a restaurant at this level, every dish was plated beautifully but that tended to be the best thing we could say about the experience. The dishes ranged from reasonably enjoyable – a seared blue mackerel and a spanner crab with white corn polenta – to, well, odd. The tartare was both a strange texture with what tasted like cornflakes dotted about the beef and a sweet flavour. It looked great and Greedy Girl had sampled the dish upstairs before but didn’t recall it being like this. Such lovely Blackmores wagyu beef and yet no-one could taste the meat.

Sydney fine dining: Bennelong

Wagyu beef tartare, cultured cream and grains, fermented chilli paste

We moved to main courses. Greedy Girl and her friend from Japan took the suckling pig. Sourced from the Macleay valley, it was served with confit organic carrots, pickled onions and black and white garlic. It was OK. Edible but no wow factor. A tiny amount of skin was slightly crispy. Apologies for the quality of the photo – a very dark restaurant and black plates were a tricky combination.
Sydney fine dining: Bennelong

Suckling pig

Gluttonous husband was having a trip down memory lane. Murray Cod was on the menu and he was delighted at having a fish he’d enjoyed on countless camping trips – having caught it in the mighty river of that name. Indeed, one holiday we’d spent on the Murray River, he rhapsodised about this fish, which grows to considerable size. He commented that, because of its habitat, it tended to be a strong fish with an oily texture – both characteristics were to his liking.

It was a pretty-looking dish but the flavour was unremarkable, almost bland. Served with green onions, garlic chives, pepitas and a ginger congee, gluttonous husband heartily tucked in, expecting a wham of flavour from the fish. When that was not forthcoming, he enquired of our lovely waitress whether the fish was caught wild or farmed. She enthusiastically told us of the process where the water the fish are kept in being ‘regularly changed’ and therein was probably a major reason the fish itself was so mild. Murray Cod is a creature of its habitat – the murky river water makes the fish oily and fatty. While no-one would want to eat the fat, according to gluttonous husband, he was looking forward to a strong-tasting fish. It didn’t happen.

Sydney fine dining: Bennelong

Murray cod

Around the table, no-one else was really in love with their mains; Greedy Girl’s friend The Hipster ordered the lamb. He commented it was well-cooked but also didn’t have a huge amount of flavour. Disappointing.

We moved to desserts. Gluttonous husband, trying to minimise his exposure to sugar, opted for an Australian cheese plate which looked fine – three substantial wedges of a hard, blue and goats cheese. He commented the soft goats cheese was outstanding but found the selection of crackers offered to be a bit underwhelming – it looked ‘fancy’ but was rather flat.

Sydney fine dining: Bennelong

Australian cheese selection

Our friend from Japan ordered the deconstructed creme brûlée. This was an interesting plate of food.
Sydney fine dining: Bennelong

Creme brûlée

Deconstruction is one of those fine dining fads that, for the most part, Greedy Girl doesn’t particularly enjoy. Some chefs, such as Singapore’s Andre Chiang (at Restaurant Andre) do it well, with his various iterations of a deconstructed Snickers bar. This take on one of the French classics was OK taste-wise but didn’t look appetising to anyone seated at our table.

Greedy Girl opted for the chocolate from ‘across the water’. This is one of Gilmore’s famed desserts from Quay restaurant; a ‘puck’ of various treatments of chocolate and vanilla with a hot chocolate sauce poured at the table that melts through the centre. It’s a decadent dessert and an accomplished piece of cooking but, even for Greedy Girl, it was too rich. She was happy to pass it around the table for tasting.

Sydney fine dining: Bennelong

The chef’s signature chocolate dessert

A few members of our group ordered espresso to finish. Most of it was left in the cup. Our friend from Japan pronounced it undrinkable. Not the greatest note to end but there was still more to come. We paid our bill and prepared to depart. At the host’s station, we handed over the disk that had been given to us on arrival when we checked our umbrellas and a jacket. After handing over one umbrella, the host decided to take issue with giving us the rest of our items, stating emphatically we needed tokens for each of them. He wasn’t particularly moved when we told him we’d been given one token at the beginning of our evening for the lot. Greedy Girl decided to take matters into her own hands; spying her hotel umbrella (a fetching shade of orange, easy to spot), she moved forward to claim our little group’s belongings – which just happened to be bundled together. Hmmm. Seemed to be a problem arising out of precisely nothing. Note to restaurants – at any level: make sure all your staff is trained on the system for checking coats/bags/umbrellas/whatever. It’s an unnecessary aggravation to be informing your guests at the end of the night what ‘should have’ happened.

Peter Gilmore is obviously a very good chef – given Quay has featured on the list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants, there’s no doubt he knows his stuff. This particular iteration of the menu, or its execution during our visit, wasn’t his strongest. Nothing was inedible, but apart from the scallop dish, it was unmemorable. That’s possibly the most disappointing aspect of one of Sydney’s best restaurants.


Sydney Opera House
Bennelong Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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