So it's not really fair, I guess. I mean really, I shouldn't compare restaurants. That's not what we're about. But I just can't help it. Two restaurants. Two cities. One chef: Guillaume.
The entrance to the restaurant is through the generic opera house cafe, bordered on one side by bain-marie servers and on the other by stacked up plastic chairs. Not exactly a grand entrance, but that's not their fault, I suppose. The room itself is basically an inner shell of one of those world-famous sails. There's lots of bare concrete, iron girders (painted dark orange?), theatrical spot-lights over tables and of course the soaring ceiling and view across the harbour. We think they were going for a bit of an industrial look given all the concrete, but mostly it just felt a little cold on a chilly winter evening. We were seated on the inland side, so missed out on the best of the view. There was also the slight fish-bowl effect when the evening's performance concluded and the crowds paraded past peering longingly at our pinot. I got over that and took to raising my glass in acknowledgement.
A highlight of the evening was the amuse bouche - a clever combination of gingerbread and fois gras, the spiciness of the ginger balancing the rich fois gras nicely. Also of note, though I hesitate to mention it lest it detract from the main event, was the bread - crusty and warm with a choice of caramelised onion and thyme or rosemary infused sour doughs. It's rare that bread is good enough to grab my attention, more so when distracted by perusing the wine list.
This brings me to my first little gripe. I understand that restaurants need to make a profit from their wines, and accordingly I'm willing to pay an appropriate mark up. Typically it varies between 25% and 200% depending on the establishment, but this was the first time I've seen a 300% mark up on a wine list. Maybe the cost of the extra fuel needed to fly it to Sydney? (Since there's very little decent wine in NSW!) Or just an excuse to rip off a few tourists? Either way, when there are few under-$100 options (bottles I'd normally pay about $30 - $40 dollars for), I feel justified in ranting just a little. We settled on a Bass Phillip 2006 21st Vintage Pinot Noir, for $175. A great bottle, but "Ouch".
Entrees were both very good, even outstanding anywhere else, but we had high expectations. Although the quail stuffed with fois gras was indeed divine, the scallops weren't quite as sublime as I would have expected, the Jerusalem artichoke puree taking too much of the stage and turning the dish a little bland.
For main we shared a veal rib-eye. The rib-eye at Bistro Guillaume in Melbourne had snagged it first place on our top five, and later secured it again, so we were expecting even greater heights from Guillaume's flagship restaurant. While the flavours of the dish were very rich and well textured with lovely little crunchy pomme Parisienne, the dish itself felt like we were eating meat-and-three-veg at home. The veal was a little tough, though perfectly cooked, and it took a good 15 minutes to be carved and plated. There was nothing wrong with it per se: It was good. It just wasn't good enough.
I admit I approached Guillaume at Bennelong with some degree of trepidation - one typically expects some degree of tourist-pleasing cheese when dining at a famous tourist attraction, but some part of me was hoping that I would be pleasantly surprised. I held on to a niggling suggestion in the back of my mind that the spectacular setting inside the Sydney Opera House would complement the food rather than dominate it. I don't want to say I was disappointed, but somehow I came away thinking "What a shame... So close, and yet...". Pleasingly though, I can see more clearly now why Guillaume's Melbourne venture is more relaxed, focusing on good food rather than glitz and glamour. The Sydney location's great, but you feel like only half your attention is supposed to be on the food.
- DUO OF QUAIL ballotine of quail and crispy quail leg with date purée, quail egg and truffle frisse salad ($40)
- SCALLOPS gently sealed and served with Jerusalem artichoke puree, spinach and veal jus ($40)
- WHITE RIVER VEAL RACK (for two) roasted on the bone with speck, spring onion, peas, sweetbread croutons, pomme parisienne and jus gras ($120)
-VANILLA BEAN CRÈME BRULEE with green apple jelly, green apple sorbet and doughnuts
2006 Bass Phillip 21st Vintage Estate Pinot Noir ($175)