Looking into the Bennelong restaurant from the outside, with its magnificent floor to ceiling glass windows, one would be forgiven for feeling somewhat intimated to enter, but this restaurant has to be one of the warmest and most welcoming I have ever stepped into. The food, the setting and the location are obviously top-notch, but for me, it was easily the service that blew me away from the get-go and I knew would stick with me as a standard and comparison for all others I would dine in for years to come.
World-famous chef, Peter Gilmore, was appointed Executive Chef of the Bennelong in 2015, the same year the Good Food Guide named it Best New Restaurant, with the restaurant proceeding to collect a total of six hats.
Although the restaurant is located inside one of the world’s most iconic buildings and is indeed still very much a special-occasion one, in my opinion, a meal here is still slightly lower in price and less “fancy” than what you’ll find at sister restaurant, Quay. Lunchtime is the perfect time to go, as you can take advantage of the delicious two-course deal for $100.
Diners can also choose from a two or three-course à la carte menu for lunch on Friday through to Sunday, or a three-course à la carte menu for dinner Monday through to Sunday – but make sure you make a reservation before going!
“WOW, this place is absolutely incredible.” Those are the first words I said to my partner, my sister and her husband as we walked into the Bennelong, situated inside the Sydney Opera House. Looking up and around the building, it’s not hard to see why this restaurant is rated as one of the most exquisite in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Bennelong is separated into three different areas; the main dining room, Cured and Cultured section and the restaurant bar. We chose to spend our afternoon in the main dining room. I would highly recommend this area of the restaurant and menu to anyone celebrating a special occasion or wanting a more formal setting as the room sits encased in a high panorama of glass facing the city, with some table views of the harbour, and other tables, toward the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Higher up, towards the back of the restaurant, is the less formal dining area, Cured and Cultured, where cold plates of food are served and besides is a smaller dining area along with the restaurant bar. Although these two sections might not be deemed as “formal” as the main dining room, they do feature a pristine view of the harbour and the bridge. The perfect spot for pre or post drinks with family, friends or on solo.
Whichever experience a diner chooses, there’s a special thrill just being in this gorgeous setting, under the vaulted beams of the clam shells, surrounded by oversized brass globe lights. And, of course, watching the harbour through the panoramic glass walls.
As for the food itself, there’s a range of dining options available to suit every occasion, whether you choose to eat in the Restaurant, Cured & Cultured, The Bar or Pre-Theatre Dining.
On the Cured and Cultured menu, guests can enjoy dishes consisting of produce-driven plates of raw or cultured foods such as the freshest South Coast oysters and organic vegetables, and you can enjoy it all whilst watching the talented chefs prepare the picture-perfect plates of food from the menu.
We decided to order from the pre-theatre set menu, which features some of the most inventive dishes I have ever seen or eaten. Dishes honour their iconic Australian location and are made of the highest quality, locally grown produce.
For starter and main, we all went for something different on the menu, with the (well we thought) smart idea of being able to have a little taste of each other’s dishes! I’ll let the pictures below do the rest of the talking, but in my opinion, the top two starters had to be a) the Fraser Island Spanner crab palm heart with corn on a sunflower crème fraiche and soft polenta and b) Eugowra quail with pumpkin rice and crispy skin and for the main my top two dishes were a) Wild Cape York barramundi served with crispy parsnips and b )Arkady grass-fed lamb. Whatever you choose I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
As for the star of the show, that’s easy! Bennelong’s desserts are truly out of this world. Light, refreshing and absolute perfection, in terms of not just how they taste but how they are presented. I mean just look at the pavlova – it’s shaped like the Sydney Opera House but is actually constructed of poached meringue, dotted with piped Italian meringue and whipped cream with rose-tinted rhubarb. Thin fragments of classic meringue also decorate the top to replicate the House’s famous sails. Just wow. If you like taking pictures of your food (guilty!), then order this Instagram worthy dessert.
My sister had also been undecided about her choice of dessert and the restaurant manager was kind enough to bring out an extra dessert on the house. This dessert was by far my favourite. Bennelong’s version of the Australian cake, known as the Lamington – a sumptuous yet light dessert made up of dark chocolate, sour cherry jam and a halo of frozen curls of coconut milk that just melt in your mouth!
As mentioned in my intro, the service was the absolute cherry on top of an already wonderfully special dining experience.
My partner and I had spent the last 3 weeks travelling around Australia and spending time with my sister and her husband, who live out in Sydney, and as it happened to be our last meal with them we wanted it to be a special and memorable one – especially as my sister was pregnant and the next time I would see her, we would have a new addition to our family.
Upon arrival, we were shown to our table and made to feel like part of the Bennelong family the minute were shown our table in the main dining room. The wine specialist came over within the first 5 minutes and spent some time helping us choose a bottle of wine that would best suit all of our tastes – something light and crisp, as it was lunchtime after all!
Our waiter and the restaurant manager, who both served us, were attentive and funny, without being overbearing, and came over to our table before we ordered to ask if we had any allergies that the kitchen should know about. We took the opportunity to mention that my sister was pregnant, and from then on all of the waiting staff took extra care of her, taking the time to recommend dishes that were pregnant friendly! I.e. My quails-egg loving sister had originally chosen the quail dish for her starter, but the waiter attentively came back to our table and suggested she choose another dish, as the egg wouldn’t be cooked all the way through.
This is the sort of service that makes a restaurant stand out above all others. As each dish was served, the waiter also explained in great detail what was on the plate, ensuring that we knew what everything was.
To top off the lunch, executive chef Peter Gilmore himself happened to be in the restaurant and came over to our table to ask us how our meal was going and took the time to have a friendly chat with us for a few minutes. This was an especially special moment that I don’t think any of us will ever forget. How fantastic it was to meet the man behind the vision some of the best dishes we had ever eaten.
Bennelong is a truly breath-taking restaurant. Whether you’re sitting by the windows overlooking the harbour or facing the restaurant, you’re getting one of the most spectacular views in the world. In my opinion, a good view is always worth every penny, but if you add even better food and service, then you’re definitely onto a winner.