Dinner and a show: Sydney restaurants resurrect musical tradition

Josh Dye
Sydney Symphony Orchestra musicians treating Bennelong guests to dinner and a show.
Sydney Symphony Orchestra musicians treating Bennelong guests to dinner and a show. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Sydney restaurants are resurrecting the time-honoured tradition of dinner and a show, providing diners hungry for entertainment with their musical fix. 

It's been decades since live entertainment dropped off the menu in mainstream Sydney restaurants, but it's making a comeback. Concerts and live music performances have mostly been off the table in NSW since March due to coronavirus restrictions, but some restaurants have discovered a way to make sure the show goes on. 

Bennelong restaurant at the Sydney Opera House this week opened its doors for the first time since the pandemic struck in March. The restaurant welcomed back diners on Thursday night to the tune of a Sydney Symphony Orchestra string trio playing Schubert and Beethoven. 

Entertainment and food go hand-in-hand, says Bennelong owner John Fink said.
Entertainment and food go hand-in-hand, says Bennelong owner John Fink said.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

"I can't tell you how excited I am to get back in the House," Bennelong owner John Fink said. 

"Mozart didn't necessarily play in huge concert halls, he would perform in someone's living room. Chopin was the same, he would do these sort of gigs." 

The night is split into three parts: guests arrive at 6pm for a 6.30pm concert, before a dinner break and a second performance after the meal. The series lasts until December 20. 

Dinner at Restaurant Hubert includes live jazz from Monday to Thursday.
Dinner at Restaurant Hubert includes live jazz from Monday to Thursday. Photo: Daniel Boud

Only stringed instruments are included - no singers, brass or "anything that blows" due to COVID-19 precautions. "If some dude plays a trumpet and he's got COVID, that's not a good idea," Mr Fink said. 

He fondly remembers the days of live theatre revues in Sydney restaurants in the 1980s. Mr Fink's father, Leon, helped develop Kinselas in Darlinghurst, which was a heady mix of music, theatre and food, becoming a hub of the city's nightlife. Mr Fink hopes the resurrected trend takes off again. 

"Wouldn't it be great if this became part of our new normal. Wouldn't it be great if going to a restaurant involved also a performance. It'd be brilliant." 

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He thinks the restaurant format is perfect for musical performances because unlike pubs where patrons talk over the music, restaurants are "a more intimate space where people shut up and listen".  

"In one of my past lives I was a performing musician. I'd play at pubs and no one was listening to us - we might as well have stayed home and played in the garage." 

Bondi Icebergs restaurateur Maurice Terzini is a big fan of the "dinner and a show" concept, having backed the format for decades. 

He has lined up acclaimed Australian singer Kate Ceberano to perform at Icebergs every Thursday night in November and January. He is thrilled to see the food and entertainment fusion taking off in venues around the city again. 

"We started doing piano and jazz nights in '96," he said. "It's great other people are jumping on board." 

Merivale's The Beresford in Surry Hills is also joining the act with seated musical performances for dinner guests on Thursday nights until mid-December. The upstairs space has been transformed into a seated cabaret theatre with acts including pop-rock duo Lime Cordiale. 

Restaurant Hubert on Bligh Street has recently relaunched jazz nights for dinner guests, while Claire's Kitchen on Oxford Street is doing cabaret shows. 

Mr Terzini said food, music and art are natural fits together. 

"We don't need to sit quietly in a restaurant to enjoy the food," he said. "We always respect the food and beverage product but the social aspect our restaurants play is important."