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)|
|Phone||02 8587 5400|
They've fixed it. Not that there was anything really wrong with Bea, but somehow the experience didn't quite gel with Sydney diners once the honeymoon period had worn off.
When Matt Moran and Bruce Solomon opened Bea in late 2017, they set their sights high. They had a big-name chef from Vue de Monde and Noma, a massive wine list, and a grand design statement courtesy of their dramatic, free-standing, three-storey Barangaroo House.
The ground floor House Bar was immediately embraced, as was Smoke on the top floor with its cocktails and open balcony, but the response to the second floor fine-diner was more muted.
Moran and Solomon took their time, assessed their strengths – the clubby, Manhattan space, the mighty wood-fired grill, the awesome views – and quietly went about fixing things.
Earlier this year, they brought in executive chef Tom Haynes from Aria and Chiswick (who trained with Gordon Ramsay in London) and former Aria head chef, Jason Staudt.
Both kitchen and dining room have changed to a more streamlined, straightforward offering that is professional yet informal. Moran calls the food "simple, delicious and exactly what you want to eat by the water", and he's not far off.
Merimbula oysters, trout tartare, burrata, calamari, a few fish, a few steaks; this is food that has not been too mucked about with. Three big tiger prawns, for instance, come straight off the grill with head and tails intact ($38); smoky and almost caramelised, in a wash of sweet, lemony dill dressing.
Garfish is just butterflied, grilled whole ($32) and served with a fine dice of potato salad; as close to a beach barbecue as you'll get at Barangaroo.
There's a bit more going on with the warm pressed pork and crisp rice crackers ($24), in that pigs' heads are brined and poached, the meat pulled apart and tossed with pickled, diced granny smiths, parsley, shallot and tarragon. It's light, loose and pleasing.
One of the big assets Bea has is its Aria-level staff, particularly Jess Morris and Steven Kirkpatrick on the floor, and head sommelier Georgina Larsson, who brings an easy grace and energy to the delicate task of matchmaking diner to wine.
The concept of the trencher – stale bread used in the Middle Ages as a plate to soak up the juices – is put to good use under the spatchcock ($40). The bird and its green stuffing of kale, rice and sweet onion is cooked over coals and then roasted; the deboned meat sent out resting on its own stuffing over a slab of sourdough toast. Simple and delicious.
Milk bar memories abound on the dessert menu, with a cute, clever, button-pressing dessert of oozy chocolate mousse with malt and chocolate ice-cream with a side-serve of Milo sprinkles ($16). It's a bit like a chocolate milkshake, only crunchy.
And it's worth updating your Caramello koala memories with Bea's dark chocolate koala ($4) filled with a rich, dark, wattleseed caramel.
For my money, the new Bea is a more enjoyable place to be, because the cooking is now done "for" the diner, rather than done "by" the chef. Big difference. Ain't it always the way – when you just relax and do what you do, you wind up achieving what you wanted in the first place.
Vegetarian: One starter, one main and three sides; more options on request
Drinks: Seasonally driven cocktails, 10 different beers and a vast, well-endowed wine list that has excellent wines by the glass
Go-to dish: Spatchcock chicken, green rice stuffing, $40
Pro tip: Catch the ferry to Barangaroo Wharf