Guillaume Brahimi in his restaurant at the Bennelong site in the Opera House. Photo: Nic Walker
Guillaume Brahimi will leave the Sydney Opera House at the end of the year, after almost 12 years running a restaurant at the site.
The owner and head chef of two-hatted Guillaume at Bennelong, announced today that he will not submit a tender for the site due to conflicting visions between himself and the Opera House Trust.
The restaurant space was put out to tender for the first time in a decade in May, with applications closing today.
"Our goal was always to run one of the best restaurants in the country, befitting such an iconic venue. The Opera House Trust is now seeking a bistro style restaurant, cafe and bar. This clearly involves a very different vision," Brahimi said.
“I accept their vision but my vision 12 years ago was to have a fine dining restaurant and to try to be the best at what I do. Twelve years later, my vision is the same, if not stronger.”
The restaurant, which was awarded two hats in The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2013, will operate as normal until the end of the year, when the existing lease at the Sydney Opera House ends.
The man behind the Merivale restaurant empire, Justin Hemmes, was rumoured to be scoping the site but a spokeswoman for his company has confirmed he did not put in a tender.
Brahimi, who also operates bistros in Melbourne and Perth, said the decision to close wasn’t difficult, although it was an emotional time for him and his staff.
“It's the right decision. I will miss Bennelong … But missing is okay. There is no regret,” he said.
“It's been 12 great years of my life and I'm looking forward to the next project and in the short term, the next six months of being very busy at Bennelong. We're going to excel at what we do.”
Brahimi declined to say what his next move would be, saying only that he would announce future plans for his team and restaurant “in the coming months”.
Chief restaurant reviewer for The Sydney Morning Herald, Terry Durack, said Brahimi’s departure was “very sad news”.
“It's an end of an era for the Opera House. Guillaume, in his years there, has honoured everything that the Opera House has stood for and offered us a unique and special experience … It's a shame that you aren't going to be able to have that same experience anymore.”
He said Brahimi “has been one of the key contributors to great Sydney dining for the past 20 years”.
“The Sydney Opera House deserves a great restaurant inside it as well as buzzy bistros and fresh seafood specialists and coffee houses. It’s the place from which to show off Sydney,” Durack said.
“At Bennelong, [Brahimi] honoured the iconic Opera House site with elegant, rich, lush, bourgeois French cooking, informed by a modern Sydney sensibility. He made the place his own and that’s what you have to do, otherwise you are just a tenant.”
Sydney Opera House commercial director David Watson described Guillaume at Bennelong as "a fixture of the Opera House" and thanked Brahimi for "his very significant contribution".
"As we said when we announced the tender, it is not in any way an expression of dissatisfaction with existing operators. All of our dining venues are operated under contract, most of which have been in place for more than a decade and expire in the first half of 2014," Watson said.
"We are required to conduct a public tender for our expiring food and beverage contracts in line with NSW Government procurement policy."
He said the tender was "an opportunity to ensure our food and beverage offering aligns with our overarching ambition" to make the Opera House more accessible.
"It is about the mix: greater diversity, more price points, and dining experiences that are open more often to more of our 8.2 million visitors each year."
He said an annoucement on the tender would be made "as soon as responses have been properly considered”.