35 Barangaroo Avenue Barangaroo, NSW 2000
|Opening hours||Daily lunch noon-3pm; dinner 5.30pm-midnight|
|Features||Licensed, Accepts bookings, Outdoor seating, Vegetarian friendly, Bar|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||eftpos, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 8587 5400|
An entire duck lands on the table, roasted until the sweetly glazed skin crackles like an antique lacquered cabinet caught in a house fire. What a spectacular start to a new year of dining in Australia, in Sydney Harbour's latest dining destination.
So, Bea. It's the name of Matt Moran and Bruce Solomon's newly opened restaurant in their ambitious three-level Barangaroo House, but we don't know what it stands for – Bea for Barangaroo, perhaps? A, Bea, C? Busy Bea? Bea-hive?
At first glance, it stands for Big. Architecturally, the building is kick-ass, like three giant fruit bowls piled on top of each other.
Investment-wise, it's Big, too: three years in the making, a total seating capacity of 900 over three levels, the wine cellar of an arms dealer, and an expensive executive chef, Cory Campbell, who spent six years at Melbourne's high-flying Vue de Monde and four years at Copenhagen's Noma. He's a busy boy, overseeing spit-roasted lamb in pita for the House bar below and brisket doughnuts for the classy Smoke bar above, as well as being on the pass at Bea.
Access is awkward and the meet-and-greet needs work, but the room is lovely – broad and open, lined with dark wood, generous booths, and a stunning battened ceiling.
Campbell has built the opening menu around the kitchen's wood-fired (and electric) grill and sprinkled native ingredients throughout.
A cob of buttery, sweet, golden corn from Newcastle ($11) is cooked in its husk, to be eaten in the hands.
A meaty, split-and-grilled, WA marron topped with a light mustard foam ($46) makes you feel proud of our freshwater crays; and hand-chopped steak tartare ($28) of Galloway fillet and blade gets fruity with blackberries and spicy with Tasmanian native pepper.
There's a strange incoherence to the small – and they can be very small – dishes. A cured meat plate ($16) takes the concept out of its comfort zone with chewy lamb jerky, warm beef tongue and a pool of creamy chicken fat emulsion – I'm left confused.
Another dish, of smoked green asparagus scattered with shavings of white asparagus crawling with (dead) tyrant ants reeks of tokenism and is simply not delicious.
The lesson, then, is to Go Big or Go Home, because the larger share dishes land the punch every time. Like the aforementioned whole roasted Aylesbury/Peking duck from the Southern Highlands ($130 for four), dry-aged for 12 to 16 days and deeply glazed with honey and spice. This is great cooking, the bird raised to an almost mystical, sacrificial level; its depth of flavour a gift to the diner-gods.
Another is an occasional special of grilled kingfish head, tail and fins; a deeply pleasing bare-bones dish that turns off-cuts into stars.
Desserts are architectural deconstructs of chocolate and caramel ($19) or pretty little igloos of crisp and soft meringue and blueberry cream ($18).
As informal as a bistro but as pricey as a fine-diner, Bea is doing smart, original, fire-driven food in a stunning setting that reintroduces Sydney to its working harbour.
If some of the food is too smart for its own good because a skilled, ambitious chef wants to make his mark, then fine. You have to stand for something.
Drinks: Whatever you desire, from a generous house spritz to an entire page of Mount Mary chardonnay, with wine service that's intelligent and articulate.
Vegetarian: Eight different meat-free dishes, plus a vegetarian "feed me" menu for $95.
Cost: About $185 for two, plus drinks.
Pro Tip: Bring your sunnies. The sun can be glary.
Go-to Dish: Whole roast Southern Highlands duck (for 4 to share) $130.