Sydney Opera House
Sydney NSW 2000
+61 2 9240 8000
I once took Bean and his mother out for a birthday dinner at the much-loved and acclaimed Bennelong at the Sydney Opera House. For what it was worth (i.e. a lot of money), we were expecting to be wowed by the food but we weren’t. Okay fine, we get that we were paying for harbour views in a city where rent isn’t cheap but c’mon, at least serve us suckling pig that wasn’t reheated – and this is coming from an Austrian lady who’s had decades of experience in hospitality and cooking European food. So anyway, we steered clear from Bennelong after that experience.
That is, until a month ago. I can’t remember who, but someone told us that you can get a Bennelong experience for a fraction of the price if you dined at the ‘Cured & Cultured’ counter. It’s meant to be a more casual and accessible dining experience if you want to get some Peter Gilmore action if you don’t feel like splurging $135 to $145 for three courses. That sounded good to us so we decided to make a Friday afternoon out of it.
With a glass of Australian wine each in hand (and after spotting Executive Chef Peter Gilmore sitting a few tables behind us), we ordered a selection of little plates from the menu. The serving sizes aren’t that big so you’d need at least five between two to feel even the slightest bit full. But first, some nuts. I don’t normally order nuts at restaurants but we couldn’t help but be curious about the lime and salt roasted almonds. Naturally, they were activated. Surprisingly, they were dangerously addictive. We’ll be attempting to make these at home one day.
The first savoury dish arrived, the yabbies. Served on ice and watercress, each yabbie had been pre-shelled before being served in its shell. This was a DIY dish where you were required to eat each yabbie with a buckwheat pikelet and spoon as much lemon jam and cultured cream as you wanted. It was excellent and not to mentioned a fun way to eat. Curiously, there were two extra pikelets left over when we were done with the yabbies…
The seared Rangers Valley wagyu tartare was probably my favourite dish. The mixture of beef cubes, capers and parsley rested on top of a base of horseradish cream; rounding out the ensemble was a handful of fried beef tendon crisps. A fantastic balance of flavours and texture.
The Tasmanian inspired scallop pie was the dish I was most excited about. While it was nice, it lacked flavour (did the chef forget to put the salt?) and the pastry could have been a bit flakier. Oh, and the photo below makes the pie look bigger than it actually is.
It was now time for dessert. I found it odd that the desserts were all priced at $28, on par with a lot of the larger plates. Fair enough, I guess, they were presumably from the Quay kitchen. Hence, the name of Bean’s dessert: ‘chocolate cake from across the water.’ The dessert was based on the eight-layered chocolate cake that was once on the Quay menu. The eight layers include mousse, dacqouise and praline and warm melted ganache. It’s not a dessert for me (not being a chocolate person and all) though Bean said it was nice. That said, he admitted that it was a poor man’s imitation of the Quay version and they could have used more ganache.
Far better was the five textures of Queensland mango: mango whipped cream, mango panna cotta, frozen mango parfait, fresh mango and mango ice cream. It was light, refreshing and full of summer flavour and, well, textures. I loved it but I also think it was partly because I had just returned from living in Germany where fresh mangoes were a rarity.
All up, it lunch for two was around $180 not including tips. Yes, it was cheaper than going a la carte in the dining room but it was still not an inexpensive lunch. The service wasn’t terrible but I got the feeling that our waiters (all Europeans) weren’t terribly passionate about hospo and wishing they were elsewhere that afternoon. I love Bennelong’s concept – combining Australian ingredients with classical technique – and I would tentatively offer it as a suggestion to any visitor who wanted to try something uniquely Australian. But as a local, I probably wouldn’t return, despite the spectacular water views.