A visit to Sydney is not complete without experiencing the truly beautiful architecture of the Sydney Opera House. Truly, one of the world’s most iconic buildings, it’s also a symbol of an incredible city. Sydney is home to to breathtaking scenery and equally impressive culinary delights, and food enthusiasts visiting the city will find the ultimate Sydney night, hidden away inside the smallest of the Sydney Opera House “shells”, at Bennelong Restaurant.
Lead by renowned Australian chef, Peter Gilmore, the fine dining restaurant celebrates the abundance of phenomenal local produce the city is privileged to have access to. Australian flavors rightly take center stage in a performance illustrating what is so noteworthy about the city’s fine dining scene. Granted, there is an element of paying for the pure location and view of your table, and the exclusive experience comes with an expected price tag. You’re seated literally inside the Sydney Opera House, and the memorable expedition, simply getting to your table, is an experience in itself. Climbing the sandy, cascading stairs of the forecourt, pushing open the heavy doors to the take in the total grandeur of the building, is absolutely astonishing. Bennelong features a wonderful almost performance-like stage setting, with tables and a bar on the upper level, rippling down to a main dining area below, with views overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
But here’s a little insider’s secret. If you’re not able to secure a reservation for dinner at Bennelong, drop in to the restaurant’s bar, up above the main dining area. You’ll be able to sip on one of their elaborate signature cocktails, and nibble on tasty bar bites, with an accompanying Sydney Harbour Bridge lit up in the golden dusk lights casually behind you. It’s one of the most elegant sunset drinks you’ll find anywhere in the city, and a resourceful way of experiencing some of Bennelong’s hospitality if you’re not able to secure a table for lunch or dinner.
Bennelong exemplifies Australian pride. Everything within the restaurant itself is Australian made, from the tables you’re seated at, to the plates you’re eating off. Gilmore sources small farmers and suppliers he personally knows, and specifically, individuals that are framing because they have a passion for the land and its produce. The chef firmly believes in building working relationships that help to build farmers’ agricultural businesses, while also using produce in a sustainable manner.
As such, the resulting meal itself flaunts many of Australia’s quintessential quality ingredients. Arkady grass fed lamb from Western Australia, slices open to a rich, dark color. Smokey and rich, without any over gaminess, it’s is brightened up with herbaceous local summer leaves, sprinkled with pan fried hep leaves and a sourdough crunch.
Spanner crab is gently poached in butter from Meander Valley in Tasmania, and sits on a base of polenta, topped with a corn puree and creme fraiche. It’s a beautifully gentle plate, with layers of delectable sweetness from the corn and crab dancing delightfully with each other. Fraser Island, off Australia’s eastern Queensland coast, brings royal red prawns with a saphron and orange cream base. Served with fried potato and chorizo, the butter poached prawns are bursting with a lauded sweetness, perfectly offset by the smokiness of the rustic chorizo, and tied together with the tame orange cream base.
Barramundi, for a long time, has been a favorite fish of mine. Gilmore imports the ethically sourced, native Australian fish from northern Queensland, an area known for its pristine, untouched waters. It’s a wonderfully flakey but firm white fish with flavor and texture similar to snapper or a Chilean sea bass. Served on a lemon puree base, topped with parsnip and garlic chips, the fish is perfectly cooked, complete with a delicately crispy skin, and a deliciously satisfying, almost “meaty” texture in each bite of the tender flesh. The unique profile of the fish lends itself to absorbing the citrus of the puree, bringing it to life, highlighting the sweet and salty ocean tones, and a crunch of the parsnip and garlic add a further level of umami to the marvelously composed dish.
But Chef Peter Gilmore has a widely acclaimed reputation for his desserts, and no meal at Bennelong would be complete without a signature sweet ending. It’s a fittingly Australian finale to the meal, with a recreation of some of the country’s most recognizable desserts. A spin on the classic pavlova plates two types of meringue poached and baked, on a wondrously imaginative plate - a homage to the majestic sails of the Sydney Opera House. With a passionfruit curd in the center, topped with vanilla icing, it’s an elegant representation of this simple, yet vibrant dessert, with a strikingly artistic reference to the recognizable motifs of the Sydney landmark. The standout dessert, in my opinion though, is Gilmore’s fantastical deconstruction of the Australian lamington, a small, handheld treat that any local grew up eating as a child. A perfect square of sponge cake, cherry jam, and creme fraiche, is luxuriously drenched in a velvety chocolate ganache that encases the mesmerizing prism. It sits, almost floating, in a pool of liquid nitrogen coconut milk parfait, with its almost feathery white curls of frozen shavings lapping at the decadent chocolate walls. It’s superbly opulent, yet playful and nostalgic at the same time in a merry mix of gorgeously rich chocolate striking chunks of tart cherry, caressed by a creamy coconut parfait. Gilmore creates a sumptuously striking dessert that you’ll photograph, look back on, and wish you could have more of.
Any visitor to Sydney will remember first setting eyes on the Sydney Opera House. It’s nothing short of a passionately impressive sight - a glistening gem in the crown of the pristine Sydney Harbour. And to explore that gem with a meal inside the Sydney Opera House at Bennelong is a symphonic Australian experience that celebrates the abundance of spectacular local voices in a performance to remember.
The author of this article dined as a guest of Bennelong Restaurant.