Crimson carpets cover the floor and walls. Mahogany leather couches, ferns and street-style lamps line the restaurant. Where are you? A Paris bistro? Hogwarts? No. This is Bennelong circa 1985.
This photo of Bennelong 30 years ago is part of a curated online collection put together by the Sydney Opera House in collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute. The collection documents the Opera House's life since its opening in October 1973 and features over a thousand vintage and modern artefacts, such as architectural drawings, interviews, photography and a 360-degree Opera House experience (an immersive short film taking you through the building from dawn to dusk).
One of the 50 exhibits that make up the collection is Food as Culture, which follows the Opera House's edible history. As well as vintage photography of Bennelong restaurant, the exhibit includes video footage of presentations by chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi and Nigella Lawson, plus original menus.
A catering menu from a 1976 brochure entitled "Convention Centre of the Century" proffers options ranging from $1.50 - $4.75 per person, with dishes such as oyster and chicken vol au vents, "party titbits" (cubed cheese and olives) and prunes and bacon. Or, if you wanted to splash out at $7.50 a head there was a buffet option including Tasmanian scallops au whisky.
The collection was curated by creative director and writer Sam Doust. "The Opera House has become an extraordinary focal point of Australia's cultural history," Doust explains. "No other institution produces so much creative power."
Doust sourced the artefacts from multiple locations, including the Opera House's own Wolanski Collections, the State Library and private collections, as well as photographs and animations that Doust himself created.
Doust explains how Bennelong restaurant is intertwined with the building's architectural history, as it's the only place where you can see the underside of the famous shells. Food has also gained a particular significance to the location, evolving into part of the culture, "the character of Bennelong Point is as much about food as it is about performance."
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