When I found out that Guillaume by Bennelong was closing, I was sad that I never managed to eat there before it closed, even though it was definitely on my wishlist. There was a lot of back and forth about who exactly was going to take over the iconic Opera House space, so when The Fink Group re-opened Bennelong under the helm of Peter Gilmore, I was so ready to book a table.
This proved more difficult than it sounded, because even though it’s been six months since it first opened, Bennelong shows no signs of slowing down. We had to book a couple of months in advance just to find a Saturday night booking that was at a reasonable time (i.e. not a 9.30pm booking), and so it wasn’t until late last year that we managed to finally sit down and enjoy our meal there.
There’s a choice of dining in the Cured and Cultured area or in the Restaurant. We chose to go down the Restaurant route, which meant that we were seated on the lower level of the dining area underneath the soaring glass windows that give you unparalleled views of the Bridge and Sydney harbour. The three course a la carte menu will set you back $130pp with about 6 different dishes to choose from per course.
The first thing that strikes me with each dish is that it is impeccably plated. Every dish is styled to perfection, so that your eyes can feast on the food before your stomach does. The grilled Lady Elliot Island bug is no exception, with a golden piece of the bug meat draped over turnips, pink baby radishes and micro herbs. The XO sauce really accentuates the seafood flavours of the dish, and complements the sweet, juicy bug meat nicely.
I can’t resist ordering beef tartare when it’s on the menu, and this rendition of the classic French dish has been given an Asian twist. I notice that Gilmore uses quite a few uniquely Asian ingredients in the dishes, with the tartare being spiked with gochujang, a Korean fermented chilli bean paste. The egg yolk sits proudly on top of the pile of delicately smoked raw wagyu and cereal-like flakes of crispy grains. Even after mixing in the egg yolk, the flattened grains retain an amazing amount of crunch, and adds a wonderful textural contrast.
It was a tough choice between main courses but Sir D ended up with the suckling pig. The pork is presented a two ways here, as a huddle of shredded pork meat hiding under the tumble of confit carrots, and as a neat rectangle of pork belly with crispy skin. The pork is succulent and tender as expected, with a layer of fat separating the skin and the meat. There are also little monochromatic gels of black and white garlic, which give little punches of extra flavour when eaten with the sweet carrots and juicy pork.
I have to admit that the real reason I chose this dish was for the umami butter, but let’s start with the star attraction which is the whole roasted John Dory. If you don’t like bones, this probably isn’t the dish for you as it’s a little finicky. But it is well worth the effort because the reward you get is fish that is silky, tender and flavoursome. On top of the fish are coastal greens, orach (saltbush) and perfect cylinders of turnips. And that umami butter – it really brings the dish together, marrying the slightly salty greens and the delicate fish.
We thought choosing mains was hard enough, but choosing desserts was even harder! We really wanted one of everything, but in the end settled for the intriguing crème caramel vs mille-feuille. Now I love both of these desserts, but how would they be combined? One word: amazing. This dish is a symphony of textures – there’s creamy chunks of crème caramel, shards of crisp puff pastry, blobs of bitter caramel and a crumbly milky base which melts in the mouth.
I’d heard the pavlova was a must order, and it didn’t disappoint. Apart from being visually stunning with the ‘sails’, it also reconstructs the flavours of a typical pavlova in a way you wouldn’t expect. The base of the pavlova is a poached meringue hiding a raspberry centre within, and the little kisses on top of the poached meringue dome are mini pillows of whipped cream and Italian meringue. The shell of the pavlova is echoed by the sails, which are made up of a crisp, light as air meringue. You’d think with all that meringue that it would be super sweet, but there is a balance of sugary meringue, slightly tart fruit, and cream.
When I eat out, there is usually a dish that stands out as my firm favourite, but I struggled to pick a favourite because they were all so good. Since I’ve got a bit of a sweet tooth, the desserts for me were a highlight, but really every dish was outstanding and I would happily eat all of it again and again. At $130pp, it’s probably not somewhere that you’ll be frequenting often, but I would highly recommend going at least once, because you won’t regret it. And whatever you do, don’t skip dessert!
Sydney Opera House
Sydney, NSW 2000
Ph: +61 2 9240 8000