It was an easy decision for Kent’s milestone birthday celebration this year. When asking Kent about it two years ago, he said to me, ‘The Sydney Opera House Restaurant would be nice!’ And of course, that famous Sydney Opera House Restaurant is Bennelong. I booked a Sunday lunch to take advantage of the panorama view from its floor-to-ceiling glass wall, plus, for Sundays only, the live jazz music.
Dining At One Of Australia’s Most Iconic Landmarks
Set within the Sydney Opera House’s immense shells, making dining at Bennelong an extraordinary experience on its own. As soon as we walked into the belly of the giant shell, Kent and I looked up and around in awe. It’s so spacious inside! The room was filled with plenty of natural light! We saw Indigenous art pieces, a stage for live performers, and the place was decorated with funky sculptural Tom Dixon lamps. The vaulted concrete ceiling evoked the rib cage of a whale to me, and the parabolic-shaped space made me think of a spaceship.
A Table With An Uninterrupted View
Here’s a tip besides booking early: always request the best table you could possibly get. I did just that to ensure a memorable time here – ask nicely by leaving them a note with my booking. And ‘Voila!’, a table with a view looking over part of the Royal Botanic Garden and Circular Quay awaited. We were very lucky weatherwise as you could see from this image taken by my mobile phone. It was a glorious winter day!
Kicking Off Our Celebration With Rosé And Mandarin Soda
Based on the choices of my entrée and main course, I thought a glass of rosé would serve well throughout my meal. This glass of rosé was not only pretty to look at, but it was also refreshing, mildly fruity, and had a great balance of citric and sweetness. Whereas Kent’s mandarin soda water… well, soda water, yes, but the mandarin flavour was more like a light hint.
Complimentary Sourdough With Cultured Butter
I enjoyed the airy, and chewy (but not rubbery) texture of this sourdough. Although I wouldn’t mind if it was a little more dense and more sour. However, the cultured butter was overly light and watery for me.
Kent’s Entrée: Smoked Pig Jowl – Truffle, Salami And Mushroom Ravioli
The ‘truffle, salami and mushroom ravioli’ was a line of small printing under the ‘Smoked Pig Jowl’. And that’s the reason why Kent and I looked confused when a bowl of ravioli arrived at our table. ‘Does it say ravioli on the menu? It must have!’ Kent looked at me searching for an answer. ‘Obviously, I missed that too!’ I must have overlooked the fine print myself. Once Kent overcame his ‘surprise’, he joked, ‘I thought I was getting a whole jowl… but that’s okay, I like ravioli too!’ When asking Kent again about his entrée, he recalled: ‘It had richly pungent tastes from pork, mushroom, and broth. In fact, it was the most flavoursome dish I had on that day!’
My Entrée: XO Squid, Crispy Eggplant – Radish, Smoked Bacon, Aioli
The television version (on MasterChef Australia 2023) of this starter has pipis and scallops, and instead of radish, it has striped peanuts. I watched this catchup episode a few weeks later after our lunch. While I was glad that the striped peanuts were replaced by radish; I was disappointed with the absence of pipis and scallops. Including pipis and scallops makes more sense to me, as they would provide a silky mouth feel to fulfill this texture-rich dish.
And about the portion… The toppings above the tempura-style eggplant looked more compact on Bennelong’s social media showings (and on MasterChef) than the plate in front of me. If the chefs decided to ditch two elements, I thought they could at least top up with the existing ingredients… Yes, call me greedy. The squid noodle was top-notch, I certainly wouldn’t mind having some more!
Side Dishes: Potatoes And Green Beans
There are two side dishes included in a three-course menu. It was an easy decision for us as Kent loves his green beans and potatoes! Well… a birthday boy should have his wish.
Kent’s Main Course: Blackmore 9+ Wagyu – WA Truffle, Madeira Jus (Additional Supplement)
For an extra $50, one may choose a special main course, what is called the ‘additional supplement’. On our visit, this unique supplement happened to be a Wagyu dish… Kent loves beef! This Blackmore full-blood Wagyu steak with a marble score of 9+ looked melt-in-the-mouth impressive! Even someone like me who is not so keen on steak was enticed to take a bite. It looked raw to me, and Kent looked happy.
The magnificent looking slices of fresh truffles turned out to be a fancy decoration. According to Kent, they had no truffle’s distinct aroma, and no taste. ‘You might as well eat cardboard!’ As Kent put it. This was later explained by one of our waitstaff, telling us that these Western Australia truffles were particularly mild – both in smell and taste. On the other hand, the Wagyu beef was as tender and juicy as it looked.
Another Glass Of Rosé To Go With My Main Course
My Main Course: John Dory – Spigarello, Pea And Flowers, Sudachi Citrus Emulsion
For the main dish, there were four choices if not counting the additional supplement. The four options were: John Dory, Maremma Pasture Raised Duck; Kurobuta Aged Pork Rack, and Winter Vegetable Tart. Since I fancied seafood that day, I chose the John Dory despite it being a lean fish. They say you eat with your eyes, when this piece of John Dory dressed in dark green spigarello, decorated with peas and pretty flowers arrived at the table, it charmed me.
The fish itself? The fillet was a bit firm and dry for my liking. I guess I still prefer fatty fish such as salmon or trout’s moist and tender flesh. Unfortunately, I found the sudachi citrus emulsion rather bland. It was a gorgeous dish to look at, but sadly, the magic stopped there for me. For a two-hat fine dining meal, I was expecting more.
Soak Up The Atmosphere
Kent made an effort on his appearance for this occasion. And so did I. I can confidently say that we were among the better-dressed guests that day. After all, we wanted to create an unforgettable memory, and the Sydney Opera House did not disappoint. Kent thought it was like being in a fishbowl. Whereas I thought it was like being in a spaceship. Both of us agreed that it was worthwhile to dine here for the experience alone.
In between courses, we indulged in jazz music, enjoyed our views, and amused ourselves by idly observing fellow dinners and the Sydney Opera House visitors. Some children from outside the glass wall waved at us, and we waved back. We counted how many bridal photo crews and commented on each very different wedding gown. A few curious visitors even walked up to our table and gazed at our food through the glass wall (yes, our fishbowl moment)! These interactions with passing crowds made our lunch so much more fun!
Cappucino For Two And Kent’s Birthday Cupcake
Coffee was a good idea… especially knowing our sweets were coming. But first, Kent’s complimentary birthday cupcake! Judging by this photo, I must have encouraged Kent to make a wish.
My Dessert: Bennelong Pavlova
Hatted-chef Peter Gilmore married two Australian icons – pavlova and the Sydney Opera House. And that’s when the Bennelong Pavlova was born! This year, marking the 50th anniversary of the Sydney Opera House, this signature dish is back on the menu. I knew one of us had to order this Opera-House-inspired dessert from the moment I booked our table. Since Kent went for Crème Caramel vs Mille-Feuille, this iconic dessert was all mine!
The Bennelong Pavlova – poached meringue filled with passionfruit curd, topped with whipped double cream and fluffy meringue, completed with crisp meringue sails, finished with fresh passionfruit juice poured by our waitress at the table. It was as delightful as it looked, easily the dish of the day for me. Kent’s 60th birthday versus Sydney Opera House’s 50th anniversary… let’s call it a double celebration!
Kent’s Dessert: Crème Caramel VS Mille-Feuille
Kent found his dessert underwhelming and confusing. He didn’t get the joy of having crème caramel, or custard slice (mille-feuille). ‘Sometimes you just need to leave things alone and stick to the classic.’ as he said.
A Diner’s Note
They say ‘experience is the new luxury’. There’s no doubt that dining in one of the most spectacular buildings in Australia (and in the world!) would give us that memory we seek to treasure. However, at $180 (in Kent’s case, $230) for a three-course meal, plus live jazz cover at $70 for two, and plus a 10% Sunday surcharge to all food and beverage, it was pricy. (At the time of writing, the three-course option has gone up to $190 per head.) In a way, we were happy that we ticked this box off our to-dine list. Nevertheless, Bennelong is one of the best options to choose for a special occasion in Sydney. This post is about our lunch. We then moved on to Bennelong Bar for some cheese and drinks to continue our celebration. I’ll share it in my upcoming Part Two post!