Ferris Wheel Dining. It sounds like just another 'Sydney experience' gimmick that one only considers when tourists are in town (or you are the tourist) but, now in its seventh year of spinning diners around Luna Park, it appears the team at Altum restaurant in Milson's Point have the slick operation down-pat.
A set menu three-course meal with matching wines combined with seamless military-like service almost make you forget you're hovering 35 metres above the earth, that is until you look up and spy those panoramic money-almost-can't-buy harbour views. But is it all about the views, or does the menu make the experience worthy of its $420 price tag? In the interest of good dining, we went for a spin around the wheel to investigate.
The evening kicks off an hour before taking flight in a VIP area of Altum restaurant with front row seats to the always-impressive Sydney Harbour Bridge. Canapes prepared by head chef Dionisio Randazzo (The Star Group, Gordon Ramsey Restaurants) and a glass of 2016 Deviation Road Loftia Vintage Brut are swiftly served and we're able to soak in the surroundings until our carriage awaits.
Diners are escorted out to the wheel by party, making the experience feel personable and exclusive rather than touristy. Adding to the exclusivity is the ample spacing we enjoyed between our fellow diners due to numerous empty carriages, however with 24 available to be booked in any one sitting we're told this is not the norm.
Once on board the courses are served alternate drop. This year's menu is a meat-and-seafood heavy Mediterranean theme so special dishes are able to prepared for those with dietary requirements. First course is hiramasa kingfish crudo (with pinnacle beef tenderloin carpacci the alternate offering) along with two wine pairing options by sommelier and General Manager of Operations at Luna Park, Mark Dibblin.
Once set, the ground waitstaff shut the gate and you're up, up and away - sent for a few spins around the wheel to get your first glimpse at the view. And oh what a view it is. Hunger gives way to the countless photo opportunities before the sun sets and you almost forget you have a plate in front of you. Thankfully, you're given just enough time to capture those once-in-a-lifetime shots (and finish your first course), with the wheel rotating so every carriage gets the best seat in the house for a decent amount of time.
A trip back down to earth and empty plates are swiftly cleared and replaced with mains - kurobuta pork belly porchetta with carrot puree, roasted fennel and grilled shallots (with fregola ai frutti di mare grilled scampi with yamba prawns, cherry tomatoes and saffron bisque the alternate offering this year) along with two more wine pairings. Although Altum restaurant neighbours the ferris wheel, the timing and precision involved in executing such an operation is almost as impressive as the scenery although we can't help but wonder if it would be the same level of service with more diners on board.
Obviously there are limitations when dining in the sky and the addition of cloches to keep dishes warm would have prevented it becoming a race to finish before the wind and altitude spoilt what was remaining, helping reduce wastage. As it stood, a good portion of pork belly remained due it becoming too tough to eat. Not to mention the side plate of not-even-touched chargrilled broccoli which lost its appeal far too quickly in the air.
As the sun sets and briskness sets in, the supplied blankets are a much welcome addition. A few more spins around and it's onto the dessert course: chocolate and hazelnut layer cake with morello cherry mousse, hazelnut praline with amarena cherries; and buffalo ricotta cheesecake, raspberry gel with pistachio, shortbread biscuit and fresh berries. Another choice of two excellent wine pairings, a sparkling rose or rich dessert wine, are enjoyed in hand as the twinkling lights of Sydney show off around us. At this moment, life seems pretty good. And so too, the final course.
But what goes up must come down and after two hours in the sky it's back to Altum's dining area for a warm welcome of coffee, tea and macarons. With diners' finishing times staggered and our carriage the last to hit the ground, we find ourselves alone once more revelling in the privacy despite being in the middle of one of Sydney's popular tourist areas.
So are you going to find better dining with spectacular harbour views? With Aria and Quay just down the road of course you are, but for something novel for a special occasion with top-notch food and wine choices to boot, along with a chance to see Sydney's crowning jewels from a whole new angle, this is definitely one for the list.
Ferris Wheel Dining, Altum Luna Park, Sundays 6pm from 20 October to 29 December, 2019. Priced from $420 for two people. For bookings, visit Altum Restaurant.