Sydney Opera House, Bennelong, Sydney (map)
(02) 9241 1999
I was up in Sydney for five fabulous days over New Years. It started with a bang with a dazzling dinner at Guillaume at Bennelong. I went with other members of my family as we had been invited there by my Sydney uncle. I was delighted when I learnt of our destination, given that I've never had the opportunity to dine at Guillaume Brahimi's Melbourne restaurant Bistro Guillaume (apart from attending an entirely fabulous 30th cocktail party last spring in the white dining room... man, their bar does a mean Negroni).
Guillaume at Bennelong is housed WITHIN the Sydney Opera House (for the uninitiated, that's the brown glass inside the famous sails in the above photo), so for Syn City tourists like us the views of the Bridge and the city at sunset (champagne cocktail in hand, natch) were just perfect.
To commence, we were each brought an amuse-bouche of duck fois gras, sandwiched between two discs of gingerbread. The soft rich creaminess of the fois gras tasted brilliant with the slight sweetness of the gingerbread.
Several of us ordered one of the signature entrees, the turban of scampi with spaghettini and warm lemon and Sterling caviar sauce. Champagne and fois gras and caviar, oh my! At $60 for an entree it is certainly NOT cheap but boy it was delicious. I feel sorry for whoever has the job in the kitchen of arranging each strand of spaghettini over the scampi. The lemony caviar sauce was pretty amazing... I had to resist licking the plate.
My Sydney aunt had the scallops which were gently sealed and served with cauliflower purée, shiitake mushrooms, spinach and chicken jus ($40). I didn't have a taste, but admired from afar. Unusual combination of ingredients, too - scallops with cauliflower.
My brother Buster had the sashimi of hiramasa kingfish, served on a bed of crème fraîche and Sterling caviar with "traditional accompaniments" ($40). He adored it. Much as I loved the turban of scampi, I can't help wishing I'd ordered this entree instead - I'd've got my sashimi fix as well as my caviar fix.
Mum had the special, which was a salad of hand picked blue swimmer crab, with thin slices of cucumber above and thin slices of avocado below. In her words, it was "light, not too fishy... a perfect summer entree". :)
The service was as professional as you'd expect. Rumpole (aka Dad) had great fun losing himself in the wine list and discussing various wines in depth with the sommelier. Some of the wines we enjoyed included the 2008 Kanta Riesling, a Paradigm Hill Pinot Noir and an Evesham Wood Pinot Noir.
For my main course I chose the crisped skin baby snapper with roasted fennel, kipfler potatoes, fig, olive tapenade and a balsamic reduction ($50). It was quite a hearty dish, what with the potatoes and big butch fish and all, that I liked a lot - particularly the olive tapenade with the crispy fish skin, and the smooshy figs.
Mamma had the very impressive sealed John Dory on a bed of pea purée, asparagus, baby carrots, pommes allumettes and a tarragon butter ($50). The pommes allumettes, despite their name, didn't look much like matchstick fries - instead they formed a beautifully wispy nest that perched on top of the fish.
The others all got very meaty. Buster had a gorgeous looking Cape Grim tenderloin, but my blurry photo utterly failed to do it justice. Rumpole and uncle R shared the White River veal rack ($120 for two, pictured left). It was roasted on the bone with speck, spring onion, peas, sweetbread croutons, pommes parisiennes and jus gras. Sydney aunt had the slow roasted leg of Flinders Island spring lamb with a duo of zucchini, gnocchi and goats cheese ($50, pictured right).
We each had a dollop of Guillaume's famous Paris mash, which was creamy and dreamy. The other side dish that I really liked was the salad of baby beans with pistachio pesto ($14). What a difference subbing pistachios instead of pine nuts makes.
The swooping interior looked even more impressive by night.
After our mains had been cleared away we were each brought a simple palate cleanser of blood orange granita, topped with finely chopped mint.
For dessert I had the nougat with roasted peanuts, caramel ice cream and banana ($25). I figured the peanuts would make the caramel slightly salted, plus I love desserts that incorporate banana (that aren't just nasty banana fritters). As well as loving the flavours I was really struck by the presentation of this dish: CALL ME CRAZY, but if you squint doesn't it look a little like a landscape painting?
The way I see it, the nougat is a little white cottage, the slices of caramelised banana form the cottage's thatched roof. The scoop of ice cream is a bale of hay behind the cottage, and the drizzled ribbons of caramel are the furrows of a freshly-tilled field. Anyone? Bueller? No? Guess it's just me then!
One of the other desserts we were less keen on was the poached peach with almond panna cotta and champagne granita ($25), which Buster ordered. We just didn't like the combination of flavours (the peach and almond overpowered the champagne) and textures. However we all loved the absolutely divine dessert wine, Les Larmes Célestes 2004 (Pacherenc du Vic-Bilh).
Some great petits-fours, too: raspberry tartlets, coconut meringues, mint macarons, caramel squares, dark chocolate tartlets and quince jellies. Am now very keen to try out Guillaume Brahimi's Melbourne restaurant: I want to see his take on French bistro fare.
Oh yes. The Sydney holiday was off to a VERY good start. To be continued!