Food News

First look: Bennelong to reopen with a new string in its bow

It’s been closed for seven months, but the Sydney establishment is ready to serve diners again. And for the first time, it’s hosting live chamber music performances.

Musicians Lillian Bennett and Benjamin Tjoa with Bennelong executive chef Peter Gilmore (standing) and head chef Rob Cockerill.

Anna Kucera

After a seven months-long closure, Sydney fine-dining restaurant Bennelong is set to reopen on 29 October.

The advent of physical distancing means the dining room may look different. But with the harbourside establishment hosting a line-up of classical and chamber musicians to perform during lunch and dinner service, Bennelong will sound very different too.

In partnership with the Sydney Opera House (also due to reopen since its March closure), the Bennelong Ensembles program combines two industries that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic: restaurants and live music.

Musicians will perform from a stage constructed on the west side of the restaurant. The program, released today, includes a string trio comprising members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (Lerida Delbridge, assistant concertmaster. Justin Williams, assistant principal viola and cellist Timothy Nankervis) playing the works of Schubert and Beethoven; a trio of violin, viola da gamba (a string instrument popularised in the Renaissance and Baroque eras) and harpsichord performing a program of Telemann, Bach and Marais; and a guitar and harp duo (Andrew Blanch and Emily Granger) plucking through the works of Ravel, Robles and Australian composer Ross Edwards.

The restaurant space has been reconfigured to suit the new dinner-and-a-show format. Diners can choose to sit at the wheelchair-accessible “house” seats on the ground floor of the restaurant, in “box” and “balcony” seats in Bennelong’s middle tier, or in the “circle” seats with partial views of the stage. Bar-seating at the “gallery” on the top tier is available, but without views of the musicians. The à la carte menu has been switched out for two- or three-course set menus, and a bar snack menu. (Menu options vary depending on where diners are seated.)

“The Bennelong Ensembles concept is very different from a normal lunch or dinner service at Bennelong,” says head chef Rob Cockerill. “However, our commitment to using amazing produce from our talented suppliers to showcase the richness and beauty of Australian food and wine remains of paramount importance.”

To wit, the set menu includes a pretty-in-pink beetroot and radish salad for entrée. Its composition: cultured cream dotted with a rose hip and beetroot purée, discs of white turnip and radishes of the pickled candy, baby bell and watermelon variety, and a crown of green almonds, white lunaria flower, feta and asparagus-pea flowers.

Beetroot and radish salad, feta, rose hip, green almonds.

(Photo: Anna Kucera)

Consider it the prelude to the lamb main. The roast short loin (sourced from the Pyrenees region in central west Victoria) is served pink, garnished with fried caper flowers, roasted pepita seeds, star squash, olives and a spring bouquet of nasturtium, green purslane and garlic flowers, and finished with a béarnaise-style herb emulsion.

Roasted lamb short loin, olives, caper flowers, garden greens, spring herb emulsion.

(Photo: Anna Kucera)

That eight-texture chocolate cake is the sweet coda. The dessert was on the menu for almost a decade at Quay, Bennelong’s counterpart across the harbour, and is now only available at Bennelong. Its star power hasn’t faded however – a fudgy cake base, layers of chocolate mousse and meringue, ganache and praline, a chocolate disc top. The chocolate sauce, poured table side, is a master stroke of cadenzic proportions.

Eight-texture chocolate cake from across the water.

(Photo: Anna Kucera)

“We’re absolutely delighted to get back into the beautiful Bennelong kitchen,” says Cockerill. “It’s been a long seven months and we are really excited to be back together as a team, doing what we love.”

Bookings for Bennelong Ensembles are open now, with bookings starting from $125 per person. Bookings are available for October 29 to December 20.

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