May 14, 2013

Guillaume at Bennelong

Guillaume At Bennelong
Sydney Opera House
Sydney NSW, 2000

4 Courses a la carte $150
8 Course degustation $195/$275 (with wine)
Reservations essential.

Guillaume Brahimi's flagship Sydney restaurant has been on my must-visit list now for a number of years, even more so since his run with French Food Safari and MasterChef Australia. A lot of reviewers will ponce on about the location, the view, and throw words around like "Iconic" - I'm not going to do that. 

Yes Ondine and I got there early and possibly got the best view from the house, but to be totally honest, the food was more captivating. We very much ate with our eyes on this trip.

To set the scene, the style is big-flavoured, modern French, and Brahimi doesn't rely on Asian or African influences too often, which was refreshing. The tariff is higher than other Sydney restaurants of similar quality, but having just flown in from Perth, and on meeting their friendly, knowledgeable staff, it didn't feel like poor value for money. 


Pumpkin Mousse, with ginger, chives, burnt butter and seared foie, served in a shot glass. Delicate, seasonal, and a great way to start the meal.

First Course

Eel, silverbeet, brussels sprout, oyster and chicken oysters "sot l'y laisse"
Perhaps the chef was being playful here - this dish felt influenced by several Japanese techniques. Smoked eel layered with silverbeet, chicken in a tempura batter, a single shucked oyster, and microgreens of daikon and mizuna.

Yellowfin tuna, basil, soy, mustard seed 
Yellowfin, seared and wrapped in blanched basil leaves, with a soy and mustard seed vinaigrette and chervil, over dressed lettuce. The entire dish was incredibly delicate and fresh, the pristine sweetness of the fish was definitely the star. One of the best looking dishes of the meal.

Ondine noted that the sole pity on this dish lay in the trimming of the yellowtail itself. A few of the edges were thinner than others, leading to their becoming almost tough under the sear, and throwing off the textural balance.

Second Course

Sweetbreads and tongue, currants, hazelnuts, gingerbread
Panfried veal sweetbreads, over sous-vide veal tongue, with chicken jus, plumped currants and toasted hazelnuts. Topped with microgreens and a pain d'epice panade spooned over at the table.

The textural and flavour interactions in this dish were amazing. The springy sweetbreads with the buttery tongue. The richness of the jus and hazelnuts, with the freshness of the greens, the sharp pop of currants, and the perfumed spice of the remarkably unsweet sauce.

Ondine may have muttered something about Moorish influences here, but it could just have been fork clatter.

Pine Mushroom, oeuf mollet, gnocchi, tomato, salsa verde
There was a lot happening in this dish. Sweet and sour bursts from the tomatoes, the slight chewiness of the gnocchi, creamy egg, crisp microgreens and the meaty textures of the mushroom. Definitely my favourite dish of the day, the vegetarian option was both gorgeous to look at and tasted fantastic.

Third Course

Chicken, leek, spring onion, speck, truffle, pine mushroom
Roast Barossa organic chicken, over a fondue of leek, spring onion and speck, with pine mushroom and chicken jus.

This dish was immaculately presented, with a perfectly moist breast of chicken. The leek and spring onion fondue was rich and silky, though the accompanying jus was a trifle sticky and salty, perhaps a touch over-reduced. The pine mushroom, foraged locally in the Blue Mountains, was a revelation.

When the waiter offered a buttery Paris mash, Ondine did not turn it down.

Barramundi, carrot, ginger, coriander
A very nice piece of fish topped with a heaped mound of fried potato noodles and mild coriander butter sauce. Surrounding the fish were three baby carrots, each a different colour and beneath was the ginger carrot purée. An intensely flavoured gel that worked well as a combination, but was implemented in a heavy-handed way. The plate was practically swimming in it. 

I would have been happier with a few more carrots and half as much purée - it really did distract from the pleasant flavour of the fish.


Champagne grapefruit granita, crème chantilly
A bite size palate cleanser of bitter and astringent grapefruit and lemon verbena, followed by smooth chantilly creme. I thought this was a little abrupt, but definitely cleansed your palate and woke you up.

Figs, blood orange, balsamic and vanilla bean icecream
A really good, smooth vanilla icecream. The balsamic reduction worked well with it, but sadly the dish was all about the figs, and the figs did not work.

I'm a big fan of the fruit, but these were barely ripe, had been covered in sugar, and charred to try and bring out some flavour in them. So the resulting taste was just ash and burnt sugar. The smear on the plate was supposed to be the blood orange component, but it was quite uncitrus like, and more like glue. End result - a pretty, but dull and lifeless dessert.

I can see what the kitchen was trying for, but the selection of produce was a big let down.

Goats cheese - Holy Goat "La Luna", honey, pear and walnut
Holy Goat's "La Luna", with a honey gastrique, fennel seed crackers, wafers of Bartlett pear, shaved walnuts and microgreens.

This was an example of a cheese plate that was composed with thought. The assertive goatiness of the cheese was balanced by the spicy fennel seeds, the pear and walnuts adding a fresh crunch, with a touch of sweetness from the gastrique.

The only hiccup was the under-ripe pear, which provided welcome texture but very little flavour of its own. It would have been nice if the gastrique had been a little less runny as well, as it was difficult to apply to each mouthful.

"Bennelong" is a restaurant that I'll be talking about for years to come. The location is spectacular, if you can overlook the passing tourists photographing your meal.

Overall, though there are some elements of the experience that disappointed me. While friendly and knowledgeable, the staff at times seemed distracted. The restaurant in daylight is noticeably a little worn, with the austere concrete of the Opera House shell lifeless and the carpet well trodden. The desserts didn't hit the mark for me, and the carroty fish needed refinement.

Rated number 9 out of the best 100 restaurants in Australia, in Gourmet Traveller's 2012 review, it fell to 11th in 2013 and I think that is an accurate assessment. Worth a visit, but for the price concious, there are several others in the area that are just a bit better. I give it 82/100

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