I love the Opera Bar. Like its architectural namesake, it keens
with lots of high notes and hums rather nicely all up and down
the treble clef. A few of the meals I’ve had there have been as memorable as the plays, concerts and acts I’ve seen at the nearby Sydney Opera House. And even when I’m not in the area for an art fix, I still have tickets on eating at the Opera Bar – it’s the nicest, most unpretentious, buzziest place to dine when you’re within busking distance of tourist-centric Circular Quay.
Sure, it can be loud and a tad overcrowded and sometimes finding an available seat is like an extreme version of musical chairs. But it’s the one beacon in a characterless patch of mostly overpriced, bland eateries. Here, the emphasis is on what actually occupies the dinner plates, as opposed to letting the harbour view to do all the talking, with food as an afterthought: literal scenery chewing.
(That said, the view can be stunning and it’s one of few harbourside places where you can have a meal and not be slugged with a premium because there’s such scenic eye candy around you. I remember having a lovely breezy birthday drinks session there once and thinking it’d be the first place I’d take anyone visiting from out-of-town.)
Will is obsessed with Opera Bar’s Chicken Risotto (rating it as the best he’s ever eaten) and I can’t tell you how many of their Vegetarian Tasting Plates I’ve cleared through in the past. (In fact, the only time I ever felt slightly bummed at Opera Bar was when the vego tasting plate was sidelined from their menu because I’d turned up during their pre-theatre dinner rush.) And I can instantly recall the last meal I had there – the Orecchiette with Walnut Pesto and Witlof, which came with generous shards of parmesan. Simple, yet pitch-perfect, I had it twice.
So after seeing the Sydney now: new Australian photojournalism exhibition at the Museum of Sydney, we swung by the Opera Bar. Will’s thoughts were rather one-track – or one-dish, to be precise. I jokingly asked, “What if they don’t have the chicken risotto you love so much?!” I didn’t realise I had jinxed his menu fantasy. As it turned out, the chicken risotto had been erased from the list of food you could order.
So he opted for the best chicken risotto consolation prize he could find: Pappardelle with Braised Chicken, Tomato & Baby Spinach ($22). I had the Ricotta Ravioli with Pine Nuts, Cauliflower & Truffle Dressing ($20). We spent the entire meal with a foodie version of Tourette’s, where we kept involuntarily bursting out with the same exclamation: “this is sooo good!” Even though we obviously made our point the first 4000 times we said it, we couldn’t help repeating ourselves over and over. The food compelled us to convey such hi-rotation gush. Will obviously had gotten over his chicken risotto grief, and the ravioli (so often served as tasteless lumps at average eateries) were lemony pillows of flavoursome ricotta. The raw crunch and caramelised sweetness of the cauliflower paired with it perfectly.
So, of course, we had to have dessert. Wanting something with a light touch, rather than a dizzying sugar load, we had the
Summer Fruit salad with Creme Fraiche Sorbet ($12). Will loved it because it was melon-free (he has a vendetta against melon fruits): it was a good scattering of strawberries, blueberries, peaches, mangoes and pineapples, in a pool of liqueury syrup. The creme fraiche sorbet was tucked under a crispy tuile disc, and between the both of us, it was scooped up pretty quickly. It was refreshing and pretty awesome.
Pre-meal, I was like some sickly mute waif from a Dickens novel, after we finished eating, I was buzzing happily like a distorted guitar hook. I love it when a good meal can reverse your mood so entirely.
A while back, Dan Boud actually photographed the head chef at Opera Bar – Brian Martinez – for Time Out magazine. It was a cool shoot because it featured all the chef’s tatts, which show the patron saints of the kitchen.
To riff off that, I reckon Martinez is one of the patron saints of good food – of meals that are clever but unpretentious, simple yet full of harmony.
I am plotting to go back, because I need to have my 435th vego tasting plate. It’s another dish that has gone through a seasonal menu change – now the platter is studded with crispy ricotta ravioli with chilli gremolata; apple walnut & gorgonzola tartlets; breaded eggplant with basil pesto; honey & coriander glazed baby carrots; roman bean salad; parmesan & gruyere cheese twists; celeriac & mushroom terrine.
I just hope I can find a seat when I return.
Opera Bar, Lower Concourse Level, Sydney Opera House, Sydney NSW 2000, (02) 9247 1666, www.operabar.com.au