The Bennelong Bar

Jackie McMillan
26th Nov 2023

'Tis almost that time of the year when your mind turns to end-of-year catchups and wrapping up loose ends to start 2024 with a clean slate. Shocked it had been six years between drinks, I started my season at one of the best spots in town to enjoy a beverage: the Sydney Opera House. The Bennelong Bar sits at the juncture of two precast concrete shells pointing in opposite directions. The view is grand whatever way you’re facing. With the sky providing a muted grey backdrop, my eye’s focus shifted to the magnificent cathedral-like bones of the building designed by Jørn Utzon AC.

The sail structure is reflected in Snow White ($30) that arrives flies the skeleton of a pressed leaf. Silky smooth and easy to drink, this cocktail balances a tricky collection of big notes, including Herradura Ultra añejo tequila, Wahaka Espadin mezcal, lemon myrtle and mandarin—made onsite from fresh fruit and clarified using milk—to form a totally transparent drink. The Seven Dwarfs ($30) makes use of dry gin from the boutique distiller of the month, Joadja Distillery, which is operated by the Jimenez family. It’s basically a martini perfumed with mango and dirtied up with Southern Highlands olives.

One for All ($27) is probably the prettiest whisky cocktail I’ve tried, teaming Johnnie Walker Black Label Scotch with lightly smoked smoked pink grapefruit, saline, and house-made fig and grapefruit bitters lengthened with soda. At the fuller-flavoured end of the list, Burn it Down ($32) takes butter-washed Ron Zacapa 23, Bulleit rye whiskey and Joadja Pedro Ximénez and teams them with burnt orange, Angostura bitters and smoke swirled and released at the table. All four were high quality drinks delivered by an engaged floor team who knew a lot about how they were made.

To remain upright and responsible, you can accompany your beverages with a slightly oily pair of prawn pockets - prawn toast ($16/2) - dragged through fermented chilli aioli, as you watch the lights come up on Sydney Harbour. Merimbula rock oysters ($54/6) came at a price that made me wince, but they were the best oysters that I have had from this popular South Coast holiday destination. (I prefer oysters from the sleepier Tathra, myself). The accompanying lemon pepper granita cut through the creaminess nicely.