To View or be Viewed – Bennelong, Sydney
Location: Sydney Opera House, 2A Macquarie St, Sydney NSW 2000
Chef: Rob Cockerill
Hats: 2 (2015)
The Sydney Opera House is an iconic location and as such draws significant crowds week day and weekend alike. This quiet Sunday I forgot the crowds (in a moment of temporary insanity) and suggested to Mookie that we try Bennelong since I noted that it had shot straight to 2 hats after opening. We park and brave the crowd at the Opera Bar to get to the “individual shell” that houses Bennelong 10 minutes early. The door are locked; a quick peek through the glass, witnesses the floor staff busy with the final last minute organisational preparation before lunch service. Not thinking much about my own sneak peek at the time, we sit and await the doors opening, which they do right on the appointed time. Fellow diners are anxious to enter and I can’t help but feel sorry for the wait staff as they plead with the patrons “Please allow us room to bolt the door open so everyone can enter”. Impatience has (sadly) become the norm.
I offer Mookie my arm and we stroll in after the rush has cleared. The maitre de smiles down to us, as we climb the stairs at a leisurely pace. I wonder if she appreciates guests who are not “in a rush” which is likely the norm at a restaurant whose main patrons, I guess, would be dining before an event at the Opera House. We are led to our table in the centre of the lowest of the 3 levels that form the floor at Bennelong. I note with a little disappointment that we don’t have a view but given the late booking this is not surprising – in truth we tried many other 2 Hat restaurants all of which were fully booked. It’s a distracting relief, that our desires for refreshment are taken immediately that we are seated as it is a warm day. The restaurant is cool (temperature), thanks in no small part to the large amount of concrete. I look around the space – an architect might think it cool (interesting) but I think the space is a tad off-putting. Bread arrives with Mookie’s glass of Charles Heidsieck 2000. Mookie smiles. Memories of traipsing through the Heidsieck crayeres in Reims during a private tour play through both our minds. We relax despite the stark dominance of the building structure encasing us.
The menu allows for ‘a la carte’ dining only – a pleasant change from all the degustation menus the Mookie crew have been trying recently. It’s a lovely touch that all the Australian producers and makers that supply the restaurant have been acknowledged at the front of the menu. I choose a glass of Chardonnay (William Fevre Chablis 2013) to accompany my entree (scallops). Mookie is happy staying on her Champagne which clashes with her beef tartare.
Our entrees arrive almost immediately and I must wonder if the kitchen doesn’t have one of each entree ready to serve as Mookie notes how incredibly fast the food is served. To put her mind at ease I assure her that tartare (no cooking) and scallops (20 seconds each side in a searing pan) are probably the fastest dishes on the menu to serve when we are amongst the first patrons for lunch. The scallops are a very pretty dish with spring veg, creme fresh emulsion, lemon jam, herbs. The flowers mentioned on the menu are noticeably absent however and the nasturtium leaves appear old or perhaps heat affected (but that doesn’t affect the flavour). The scallops are small and salty sweet and work very well with the dry Chardonnay. Mookie’s tartare, though clashing with the champagne, stands well on it own. Raw egg yolk is traditional but the seaweed, fermented chilli and puffed grains are a pleasing addition adding saltiness/kick and texture/crunch.
The restaurant is filling and our main course takes noticeably longer to arrive – I can only take this as a good sign. The sommelier selects (when asked for a pinot noir) a glass of Punch (Lance’s Vineyard). It rings Australian (for me a red ant flavour I find I taste in many Australian reds) crossed with dried herbs, coffee, spice and some cherry. Mookie has a glass of Rose (KT Rosa, Clare Valley 2014) to pair with her selection of veal, hazelnuts, mushroom and parsnip. Not a great match – especially given it tastes more of passionfruit than red berry. In retrospect a earthy light bodied red would have been more suited. The duck is a little tough but very flavour filled. The pickled cabbage has an acidity that cuts through the fat, the freekah and miso make for a salty and slightly sweet accompaniment. It’s an interesting dish and I am glad for the spiciness of the wine. Mookie says her veal dish is perfectly rare but the mushroom is overpowering so her choice is to eat them each in isolation of each other.
We sit sated. Mookie is disconcerted by the tourists coming to lean against the glass and peer into the establishment. This makes for a feeling of being the main attraction at a zoo of sorts and Mookie says as much, I guiltily remember my own peek (albeit from a discrete distant) and realise that in such a location that there is as much viewing in, as there is out during the day. If our readers are uncomfortable with being on display then might I suggest an evening booking. Our attention is drawn back to the table by a waiter saying he is surprised to see the glass of the “young gentleman” is sadly dry and suggesting perhaps a more full bodied red to accompany some cheese. Mookie scoffs noting that it more surprising that I might be called “young”, than my glass might be dry. A little stung (this was my first drink in at least a week 😛 ) I agree with the waiter regarding the wine and cheese. Mookie asks for the Pavlova to go with her wine.
The cheese arrives – a dependable Australian selection. I particularly like the blue which has a flavour/aroma heavily reminiscent of cows milk fresh from the udder smelling heavily of grass and pasture. A glass of Cabernet Sauvignon (Woodland, Margaret River, 2012) combats the creaminess of the cheese leaving a clean palate. Lovely. Mookie’s Pavlova arrives and is a homage to the Opera House itself. It is however notably lacking in passionfuit, but thats ok, there is plenty of that flavour in her Rose.
We finish up our meal. This was a good meal from a good restaurant. I must admit to wondering whether its 2 Hats stem from it falling under the Fink Group and the Opera House’s need to have a highly awarded restaurant at the location. I hope to return and experience it living up to the experience its select few peers with equal hats offer. It certainly has the location and service already in the bag.