Sydney – The Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridge and dinner at Bennelong
The most iconic sights of Sydney are of course the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House. Although we got a glimpse of them on Friday from the hill where we stay, we waited until Sunday to get the full impact. Before we left for the trip I bought tickets for a Christmas concert at the Opera House and booked dinner at the iconic Bennelong restaurant, located under one of the white sails (known as spheres here) construction of the opera.
We decided to walk to the opera through the McLeay Stairs (101 of them) that lead down to Woolloomooloo Wharf (more on that later) and then walked through the Botanical Gardens to Bennelong Point where the opera house stands. There are two sets of stairs leading from Potts Point that locals use as shortcut to get down from the top of the hill towards the sea-level areas of the city. Yes, to return you must climb back up the stairs and we have been doing it daily without any problems, although with a stop to catch our breath half way through. It may sound daunting but it’s doable.
The site of the opera house and the bridge is quite spectacular. It is one of the most recognizable structures in the world and Australia’s main tourists’ destination. It was designed by Jørn Utzon, a Danish architect who in 1957 won an international competition that attracted more than 200 submissions for the design of the opera house from around the world. The process of building this inspired structure came at a high cost and Utzon left Australia under the pressure and never returned to see the structure complete. The structure was completed in 1973 and his son came in his place to the opening ceremonies (he was in his 90s by then). The familiar roof features close to 5000 tiles made to specification and intended to catch and reflect the blue Australian sea and sky. The House contains a number of performance venues and also a number of restaurants, both indoors and outside.
The opera house is set on a platform and is surrounded by the Monumental Steps leading up from the Forecourt to the two main performance venues. This impressive stair structure is over 100 meters wide and as you step up the stairs to the venue, it is literally lifting you from the common to the sublime. It’s quite an experience.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge of course was another highlight of the day. Soaring over the natural harbour of Sydney, it is nicknamed by Sydney-siders as the Coat Hanger and I can see why, no disrespect intended. This iconic structure is the the largest steel-arch bridge in the world, took 8 years to build and was completed in 1932. You can pay some $300 for the once in a lifetime experience of climbing the bridge to the top (in a group), or you can walk along the pedestrian walkway on either side of the bridge (free). Haven’t quite decided which one I want to do, or perhaps do both.
After walking around and photographing the scene we settled at the Opera Bar outside, ordered a coffee and watched the scene, kind of pinching ourselves that we were there.
When time came to go to the concert we walked up the Monumental Steps to get the full effect and entered the iconic concert venue. The performance was held in the main Concert Hall, a spectacular venue seating more than 2000 people under soaring vaulted ceiling and white birch timber paneling. The Sydney Philharmonic Orchestra performed Christmas carols music backed by 2 soloists and five choirs of 500 singers combined. I have never seen or heard anything like that. We sat in one of the boxes above the main auditorium and had a beautiful perspective of the entire hall. We are returning there twice more this month, once for a magic show and then again for New Year’s Eve opera and midnight party. Apparently, it is the best place to be on NYE to watch the fireworks over the bridge.
After the concert we walked over to Bennelong for our dinner reservations. We booked at Cured and Cultured, the counter along the open kitchen, not the dining room, as this was a long day and we wanted to see what it was about. We were seated as soon as we arrived but the way they do it is you are allocated one and a half hour to complete you small courses dinner. The place is meant to service opera or concert goers and like it or not, it’s an hour an a half.
We settled at the counter and watched the young chefs put together dishes that were sent from the main kitchen downstairs. They were shucking oysters, plating beautiful small plates and making interesting drinks. The executive chef, Peter Gilmore is a celebrity chef in Australia and has held 3 hats in their restaurant rating system for over 10 years. I have seen him on Masterchef Australia many times and was determined to try his food. I was not disappointed.
We had a few of the dishes, all small courses served in succession one after the other and shared:
Sydney rock oysters with lemon and pepper granita
Crispy Moreton Bay Bug, tomato kasundi, lime yogurt, butter lettuce and coriander
Salad of smoked eggplant, crisp falafel, pistachio nuts, currants, labane
house made pita bread
Suckling pig sausage roll, black garlic
Cherry jam lamington
Eight textures chocolate
The flavours were pure and distinct and every ingredient was there for a reason. It was a high-end culinary experience. The oysters (I tasted one) were as fresh as the sea, the Moreton Bay Bug sweet and luscious and my favourite savoury dish of course was the eggplant which I feel I can reproduce to a certain degree once we return home to my own kitchen.
Then the desserts, OMG. I have seen Masterchef contestants struggle to replicate both of these desserts and to try them in person was something else for me. Honestly, these desserts were perfect in flavours, textures, serving size and presentation.
The lamington is an iconic Australian cake, made from squares of sponge cake covered with a layer of chocolate then rolled in shredded coconut. It was originally prepared for Lord Lamington, a former British Governor of Queensland, became an iconic desserts that today you can buy at any pastry shop in town with slight variations. Needless to say Chef’s Gilmore’s 3 chef hats dessert was made perfectly (although in a cutting edge modern interpretation) covered with coconut and surrounded with frozen coconut cream shavings.
Eight textures of chocolate
The Eight Textures of Chocolate dessert had the drama of pouring hot chocolate sauce at the table over the tempered chocolate disc on top of the cake and watching it melt into a volcanic pool in the middle. The eight textures include (1) a base of a chocolate cake, (2) covered by a chocolate mousse, (3) then milk chocolate praline disks, (4) caramel, Vanilla and chocolate ganache, (5) chocolate and hazelnut dacquoise, (6) chocolate caramel cream, (7) topped with dark chocolate disk and last texture is a (8) hot chocolate sauce that is poured onto the cake at the table. Are you making it for after dinner today? Call me, i am on my way.
An hour an a half came and went and although no one rushed us we were more or less ready to leave as we still intended to walk home through the Botanical Gardens and Woolloomooloo Wharf and climb the 101 steps en route to Potts Point.
We are planning on going back there at another opportunity, as well as to Quay, another one of his signature restaurants in Sydney.