When chef Mike McEnearney came on board to do the food at Sydney’s Westpac OpenAir last year, the northern beaches lockdown was in full swing and the hospitality industry was operating under a cloud of restrictions. Needless to say, he had to keep things a little restrained.
“Last year, we had to be careful not to over-capitalise on something that could get blown up at any second by government regulations,” he says. “So we went in really simple.”
This year, things have changed. Westpac Openair is not just a cinema with one of the best views in Sydney – from Fleet Steps in the Royal Botanic Garden, looking out at the harbour – but also an al fresco festival with three separate kitchens run by McEnearney. “We’ve gone in all guns blazing … and the capacity has grown heavily,” he says.
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Screenings don’t start until about 8.30pm but ticketholders are encouraged to arrive early, hang out, watch the sun go down and enjoy some drinks and a meal at one of three spaces – The Point, Heineken Green or The Croser Lounge.
A $34 general admission ticket will get you a movie ticket, a free cocktail if you order something to eat before 7pm and access to The Point, a spacious area by the harbour that takes up the entire northern end of the venue. It includes the Hendrick’s Bar, and Mexican by Mike – A Taqueria From Kitchen by Mike. Mexican by Mike is the first time McEnearney has properly delved into Mexican cuisine and he’s had fun with it. There are four types of tacos on the menu, including pork neck marinated in orange juice and chilli.
“It’s cooked really slowly, then we pipe the heat up so it gets really crispy, then serve that with a pineapple salad with chilli sauce,” he says. There are lots of plant-based options, too: zucchini flowers with an oregano and cumin salsa, plus corn chips with roast pumpkin mole and freshly grilled corn with lime and chilli salt.
The next level up is a $45 ticket, which gets you a movie plus access to the Heineken Green, an outdoor version of the classic Kitchen by Mike canteen with reserved seating and table service through Mr Yum mobile ordering. “You order a protein, like roast chicken, flank steak or a vegan main, then get two salads to go with it,” McEnearney says. “It comes on the classic plates that we’ve always used.” All the famous salads are there: roast pumpkin with pomegranate molasses and heirloom tomato, and watermelon salad with chilli salt and basil.
Another level up is The Croser Lounge, a more formal waterside restaurant serving a refined set menu based on classic Kitchen by Mike dishes. It’s $65 for the ticket, plus $69 for food, including a free glass of Croser sparkling for those who arrive before 7pm. McEnearney is excited about the grilled lamb rump with dandelion, rosemary and fermented honey dressing, as well as the Moroccan brown-rice pie with roast pepper, olives, and saffron and coconut yoghurt. When you’re dining by the harbour, Sydney rock oysters are a must and you can, and should, add a half-dozen to your set menu.
Though he’s running three kitchens, McEnearney isn’t concerned about the workload. “There’s been months and months of work behind the scenes to get it right,” he says. And the decision to come on board for another year? A no-brainer. “This has to be one of the most premier Sydney events in the calendar. We just want to let our hair down, watch some great films and have a bit of a party, and just enjoy it. It’s really exciting and it’s good to move forward after a long year.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Westpac OpenAir.