Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney, New South Wales
If you’re reviewing sausage rolls in Sydney, there is one place you need to go to sample the ultimate example of the sausage roll elevated to an art form. That place is The Bennelong, Sydney’s most iconic restaurant space, enjoying spectacular harbour views from within the miniature set of pearly white shells at the southern end of the Sydney Opera House. This is not just a place you rock up to on a Saturday at lunch time and grab a roll and a snot block in a brown paper bag. This requires planning, finesse, and a willingness to pay for the experience.
On an evening when Mrs Snot Block & Roll had decreed that we should attend the Australian Ballet, we had an excuse to make a booking at this prestigious restaurant for a before-show meal. When chef Peter Gilmore, famously of the outstanding Quay restaurant (listed as one of Restaurant magazine’s 50 best restaurants in the world since 2009), took over running The Bennelong in 2015, he decided to split the food experience into a formal dining area and a more casual seating area by one of the bars. This casual area is known as “Cured & Cultured”, and has an emphasis on fresh “produce-focused” dishes, served raw or cold, though there are a few hot cooked dishes on the menu. All of the plates are designed for tapas-like sharing. And one of these sharing plates is the “suckling pig sausage roll with black garlic sauce”, which comes in at a hefty $24.
With the ballet beginning at 7:30pm, we made a booking for 5:30, when the restaurant opens its doors. Arriving on time, we are ushered to a pair of adjacent seats on body-contoured leather-upholstered barstools, giving us room on the brass bar top facing into the island kitchen where four chefs work to prepare dishes for those dining in this part of the restaurant. We have a view through the panoramic glass windows of the restaurant towards the Royal Botanic Gardens and the skyline of Sydney, and a fascinating view right in front of us watching these well-trained food preparers exercise their craft.
We order some lime and salt roasted almonds; a salad made of smoked eggplant, crisp falafel, pistachio nuts, currants, and labne served with house made pita bread; the pumpkin and taleggio arancini; and the suckling pig sausage roll. The food arrives at nicely paced intervals, allowing us to sample one dish before the next arrives, and finish the earlier ones before our bar spot becomes overly full of plates. The arancini and sausage roll arrive last. We’ve been watching the chefs make the various dishes, and the sausage rolls have been prepared beforehand as part of the mise en place routine before the restaurant opens. A chef takes a couple at a time out of refrigeration and puts them in an oven to heat up. They are long and thin and sprinkled liberally with sesame seeds on top, with the pastry scrunched at each end giving the whole a cigar profile.
When the sausage roll emerges from the oven, the pastry is a rich, deep golden brown colour. This would be good to just give to me to hew into, biting it hand-held as it is. But here the presentation is as important as the preparation. A chef cuts each roll into six precision cut slices and then arranges them in a neat hexagon on an earth-coloured terracotta plate. Then each slice is delicately topped with a piped button of black garlic sauce, which is thick and holds its shape, looking very much like a dark chocolate chip.
Deprived of the traditional hand-held method of eating, I attack the slices with a knife and fork. The pastry is quite thin, and cooked rather severely. It’s a little too thin, and although crisp and somewhat flaky, it doesn’t provide quite as much crisp texture as I would like to offset the filling. Said filling is delicious – it’s more like a compressed bundle of pulled pork than the traditional sausage mince, so it retains some of the texture of the original meat, and a lot of the juiciness. It’s really very good, and would make a wonderful pulled pork sandwich, juicy and tender. The black garlic sauce is not as potent as I was expecting, and there could have been a bit more of it, because the meat itself has little in the way of added herbs, spices, or other flavours – certainly nothing I can identify or describe, and no obvious evidence of chopped vegetables or herbs. It’s really a pure interpretation, allowing the flavour of the suckling pig to dominate.
Each piece is delicious, but I don’t really get the feeling that I’m eating a sausage roll. It’s obviously inspired by one, and is a fascinating and tasty interpretation but doesn’t quite have the same feel. It’s seriously good food, but not particularly what I was expecting or hoping for. Treating it solely as a sausage roll, it’s really the pastry that let it down – it was too thin and didn’t provide enough crunchy texture to contrast with the soft, juicy filling. But the flavour was great, even if the dabs of garlic sauce were somewhat underwhelming. Look, it’s really good. But it’s not $24 worth of sausage roll.
Suckling pig sausage roll with black garlic sauce: 8/10.