After hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultants reports and more than a year of lost rental, the Sydney Opera House’s push to make its iconic Bennelong restaurant more casual and accessible is over, with news this morning that one of Australia’s best chefs, Peter Gilmore, of the three-hat Quay restaurant, will take control of the site.
The 10-year deal with the Fink Group, owners of Quay, was lauded by new Opera House Trust chairman, John Symond, as “a superb result”.
But it follows a turbulent period which saw the fine diner of the previous 12-year incumbent, Guillaume Brahimi, go at the end of 2013 when he decided against re-tendering because in the wake of a review by consultants, Opera House management had pushed to make the site more egalitarian.
The Melbourne-based Van Haandel family were appointed as operators, but after their signature St Kilda restaurant, The Stokehouse, burnt down in January, they withdrew from the deal and the tender process began again in June.
Today’s decision is something of an embarrassment to Opera House management, who have backed away from their initial plans.
In March, CEO Louis Heron said “Our goal remains to bring this key venue to life day and night, seven days a week”.
The new Bennelong under the Fink group will be open daily for dinner, but just lunch Friday through Sunday and brunch on Sunday.
Today, Symond said “We wanted an operator who could deliver a dining experience to match the inspiring setting and that is what we have found”.
Bennelong has been operating as a function space – an excess of functions being held there was one of the criticisms leveled against Brahimi – since it closed 11 months ago.
The new restaurant will include a “signature Peter Gilmore dining experience” on the main lower level, an upper level bar and casual space targeting pre- and post-show meals, a chef’s table in the kitchen and a mid-level seafood bar.
Peter Gilmore continues as Quay’s executive chef but will concentrate on the new site opposite his Circular Quay setting, with Quay’s senior sous-chef, Robert Cockerill, becoming Bennelong’s head chef. It’s Gilmore’s first new venture since joining Quay in 2001.
The Fink Group will begin multi-million refurbishment of the space in mid-January, with the restaurant expected to open by June 2015, 15 months later than previously intended. The delay is estimated to have cost the Opera House more than $500,000 in lost rental.
Meanwhile, downstairs, Matt Moran’s Opera Bar is currently closed for a 5-week refurbishment after his group won another 10-year tender to operate the site and will reopen on December 10.
Moran is also running a New Year’s Eve function in the Bennelong restaurant this year.
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