Opera House Loses Its Restaurant Plan As Melbourne Group Focus On Rebuilding Stokehouse

The best seat in the house for dining has lost its planned restaurant. Photo Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images

Sydney’s most famous restaurant site, Bennelong, is likely to remain empty for several months after the Sydney Opera House announced today that its deal with Melbourne’s Van Haandel Group is over.

The change of plans is so the Victorian restaurateurs can focus on rebuilding their landmark St Kilda restaurant, Stokehouse, which was destroyed by fire on January 17.

In a statement released this afternoon, Opera House CEO Louise Herron said the two sides had been trying to negotiate a new arrangement in the wake of the fire, which they’d hoped would only mean a delay on the Bennelong project, which has been empty since December 31 when Guillaume at Bennelong closed.

The announcement is an unfortunate embarrassment for Opera House management, as the site has been mired in controversy since chef Guillaume Brahimi announced he would not re-tender for Bennelong, where his fine diner had operated successfully for 12 years after Opera House management indicated they were seeking a more “accessible” restaurant.

Brahimi was the first restaurateur to break the ‘curse’ many believed dogged the restaurant space following a series of high-profile failures during its first three decades.

Last November, the Van Haandel Group won the 10-year tender to run Bennelong by Stokehouse, which was initially due to open in two months.

In the joint statement on Tuesday, Frank van Haandel from the Van Haandel Group said he was “devastated” that the Bennelong project would not go ahead.

“We put our heart and soul into the tender process for the Sydney Opera House site and achieving the status of preferred tenderer will always be one of our greatest accomplishments. We thank the Opera House for entrusting us with such an iconic site and for all their efforts to make Bennelong by Stokehouse work.”

Ms Herron said the two sides “part as friends”.

“We remain great admirers and wish them every success in the future.”

The Opera House will now head back to the drawing board to consider the future of the Bennelong space, which was the subject of a major review by consultants last year.

“The Opera House remains committed to making the best use of this unique space, which, like the Opera House itself, belongs to all Australians,” Ms Herron said.

“Our goal remains to bring this key venue to life day and night, seven days a week.”

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