The menu simply states “pavlova”, but it has all the makings of a signature Peter Gilmore dessert, like the Snow Egg before it.
Bennelong’s pavlova is a spectacular sugary replica of the Opera House, with shards of meringue forming the landmark’s iconic sails. A delightful homage to one of Australia’s best-known buildings, the pavlova is part of a menu that is distinctly Australian.
“Ninety-eight per cent of everything I’m serving is Australian grown or produced,” says Gilmore. “To me it’s about celebrating our farmers and producers. The emphasis behind modern-Australian cuisine is that we poach from a lot of different cultures from all over the world. We express our multiculturalism in our food, and what brings it all together is the produce. The fact that it’s Australian grown – we should be really proud of that.”
At Bennelong, Gilmore has taken a more rustic approach that puts the finest produce found in the country under the spotlight. “It’s just four or five ingredients cooked really well, rather than a lot of tricky techniques.”
Tricky technique is, of course, what has made Gilmore’s Quay restaurant famous. “At Bennelong what I want to do is focus on produce and on essential flavours, and more direct cooking techniques.”
To illustrate the new expression of his cooking, Gilmore turns to a dish on the Bennelong menu – roasted John Dory, served on the bone with orach (saltbush), turnips, kalian and umami butter.
“I would never think about serving a whole fish on the Quay menu,” he says. “The beauty in being able to do a whole fish like John Dory is that it keeps incredibly tender when cooked on the bone.”
The dedicated simplicity continues at the Cured and Cultured bar, a space where walk-in diners look over Bennelong chefs as they carefully compose plates of food, often with tweezers. The menu features a selection of raw, cured and fermented ingredients, including Sydney rock oysters and red claw yabbies served with lemon jam, cultured cream and buckwheat pikelets.
“We’ve got some really beautiful Australian-made prosciutto from Byron Bay black pigs, cured by a very small company here in Sydney that has been curing meat for about three generations,” says Gilmore. “It’s the very best Australian prosciutto.”
Vegetables play an important part of the Bennelong offering, from exotic types of broad beans from South America, teamed with Flinders Island lamb, to the standout dish of roasted carrot, almonds, sherry caramel, feta, and amaranth on the Cured and Cultured menu.
Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects provided the design that accompanied the Fink Group’s winning tender in November 2014. “That space is totally awe-inspiring,” says TZG architect Tim Greer. “What is special about that space is that it is the only place in the Opera House you can see the inside of the shells in a complete way.”
The tri-level design uses honey-coloured brass and marblo – a soft, off-white resin that “Utzon would have loved” – to compliment the materials already used in the Opera House.
One of the restaurant’s most striking features is its commanding view of the Sydney CBD. “You can actually sit down and observe the city,” says Greer. “There’s not many places you can do that.”
Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney
(02) 9240 8000
Fri to Sun 12pm–2pm
Mon to Sun 6.30pm-10pm