New restauranteurs of 'Bennelong by Stokehouse' Sharon and Frank van Haandel outside the restaurant at the Sydney Opera House
Sunk deal: Sharon and Frank Van Haandel outside the restaurant at the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Tamara Dean

Heath Gilmore, Hilary McNevin

The collapse of the deal between the Sydney Opera House and a Melbourne restaurateur is being used as an opportunity to reconsider all options for the famous site. This period of reflection poses one big problem: how long can the Opera House Trust endure an estimated $20,000 a week in lost income?

The gossip-driven industry was surprisingly quiet about which of the major players might be willing to put their names forward for the now vacant site.

The underbidder for the lease, The Fink Group, said it had not been approached by the trust since the rumours started that the deal with Frank Van Haandel and his wife, Sharon, the restaurateurs who were to bring their Stokehouse brand from St Kilda and Stokehouse Q in Brisbane to the landmark building, was in trouble.

Believed a more affordable and inclusive dining experience is needed at Bennelong: Opera House chief executive Louise Herron. Photo: Marco Del Grande

Director John Fink said his bid was ''around $700,000 per year with a turnover percentage''. He said on Tuesday he believed the winning bid was higher. But he indicated an unwillingness to lodge a new bid, saying potential partners had moved on to other ventures.

Fairfax Media food writer Terry Durack said a statement by Opera House chief executive Louise Herron that all options would now be examined was an opportunity for the trust to improve on its vision for the site.

Ms Herron has repeatedly said a more affordable and inclusive dining experience is needed at Bennelong, open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, and for breakfast at weekends. The previous lessee, Guillaume at Bennelong, closed on Sundays and Mondays, did not serve breakfast, offered lunch only twice a week and was often booked for private functions.

''The trust needed to engage a Sydney-based chef or owner to operate the iconic site,'' he said. ''We need a restaurant that fulfills the promise of the name Bennelong, that celebrates Australian food by using only what we grow, fish or make in Australia, nothing imported at all.''

Despite the setbacks, Frank van Haandel rebukes the suggestion the group is in trouble. He said the reason for pulling out of the Bennelong deal was about commitment.

"We went in to Bennelong prepared to give 110 per cent, we had a fire and now we can't give 110 per cent," he said.

Van Haandel said he was encouraged by the popularity of the Stokehouse pop-up, which opened quickly on February 9 for the St Kilda Festival. Up to 900 customers a day are moving through the restaurant.

He confirms that he and the Opera House Trust, lead by chief executive Louise Heron, have "parted as friends."


Correction: The original version of this story stated the van Haandel's reopened and renamed its Hamer Hall restaurant Trocadero after the fire at the Stokehouse on January 17. This is incorrect. Trocadero reopened in November 2013 as Fatto.