Sydney finally has one of its most beloved dining spaces back. Dan Down chats with its new chef about why Bennelong is more exciting than ever.
Peter Gilmore can clearly see his other restaurant, the three-hatted Quay, from a table at his new venue. It’s only a 10-minute walk away along the bay; a quick hop on a jet ski, if he had one.
So why did one of Australia’s most famous cooks feel it necessary to stretch his talents across such a short distance?
Well, for one thing, not many get to helm the Opera House’s stunning restaurant; Bennelong occupies the entirety of the magnificent first sail and Peter takes over after its 18-month closure, following in the esteemed footsteps of Guilliame Brahimi. But there’s more to it than that.
“This is such an iconic space, I felt that it was important to represent Australian produce here,” says Peter. “The quality of it and the breadth of what’s available.”
The lamb is from Tasmania, the John Dory has been caught in New South Wales, there are delicious Queensland yabbies and the truffles were unearthed in Manjimup, Western Australia.
If you want to sample the finest Australian produce and wines in the country’s most iconic building, this is it.
The ingredients are served across various levels of the cathedral-like structure. While the restaurant is the main event, and a pre-theatre menu will make sure you’re in place for the curtain rising, a new raw bar, Cultured & Cured, is the perfect pre-performance primer.
“There’s a little kitchen on the mezzanine level where you watch the chefs work,” enthuses Peter. “You drop in, have some Byron Bay black pig culatello on a barley and chestnut toast, a glass of Champagne, and go and see a show.”
Straightforward and produce-focused
It was this more relaxed feel that enticed Peter across the bay. “I wanted to explore a different aspect to my cooking,” he says. “As opposed to food that’s more technically driven over at Quay, I wanted to keep it straightforward and produce-focused.”
It’s an approach reflected in the sympathetic design of the interior. Shades of ochre and big brass lights pay homage to the heritage tones of the Opera House, while also warming the area, exposed as it is by huge glass walls, letting in those world-famous harbour views.
The Kitchen Table perhaps best sums up this intimacy: a special degustation is served at four exclusive seats in among the cooks.
While Bennelong is an altogether more relaxed affair, the showmanship of Quay is still evident. “I really wanted to have a lot of fun with the desserts and pavlova is perhaps Australia’s most iconic,” says Peter. “I haven’t messed around with the flavours, but I’ve used the Opera House as inspiration for the meringue sails.”
It’s a slice of whimsy, a bit of theatre from one of Australia’s most exciting chefs to complete an evening at its most dazzling venue. The wait has been worth it.
More information: see Bennelong