They’re putting crickets in the butter at this fancy casual addition to Barangaroo
In the same way that smart casual can be a flummoxing dress code, fancy casual is a difficult dining style to nail. You want it to be classy enough that you might take visiting colleagues out for lunch here on the company dime, but not so exclusive that the throngs of tourists who gravitate to Sydney’s waterfront hubs won’t consider making this one of their feature meals while they’re in town.
Bea is the answer to this brief. It’s not fine dining exactly, but it’s classy as hell and ticking a lot of boxes, especially on the drinks front. It’s not surprising given it’s the restaurant filling between two bars inside Solotel and Matt Moran’s ambitious Barangaroo House. In this building your sparkling on arrival is a pet nat from Cullen Wines in the Margaret River, which is the colour of tropical sunsets with a fresh, tannic finish. And from there we never receive a dud pour, from the balanced crunchiness in the white grenache from Mas Amiel to the elegant Pineapple Daiquiri. And before your start thinking temperance is a cheaper option, be careful with those $10 bottle of sparkling water or you can whoopsie spend a whole lot of cash on H20.
Cory Cambell (ex-Noma and Vue De Monde) has created a straight-shooting menu. When they say it’s tomato, rockmelon and native tea, it means those are the three things arriving on your plate: the mix of perfectly ripe red tomatoes and sharp, tart green tomatoes arrive in a sweet, astringent and heady native tea made from dried rosella, riberry and apple that bewitches your tongue as you try and puzzle out the flavours.
The same dance moves can be seen in a decorative tangle of smoky beetroot, where the offside fruit addition of watermelon makes this starter list toward sweet. There’s more fun to be had in getting all ‘Sick em, Rex’ on the dried tyrant ants that decorate the blistered, grilled asparagus, adding a citric tang.
Where the restrained style of Campbell’s cooking shines brightest is in the meatier mains. A perfect, juicy segmented spatchcock frocked in properly charred skin gets hit with the high cuisine equivalent of a sour warhead in a preserved lemon sauce packing the payload of a citrus orchard. Kangaroo also gets the couture treatment, with the wild caught meat cooked over a wood-fired grill and then rested so that it’s soft, supple and as juicy as any beef steak. It’s gamey depths are sweetened with blueberries; tarted up with native muntries; and grounded with charred red cabbage. What we love most about this is the casual way it places native Australian ingredients front and centre, no fanfare, no big deal, just delicious. The more restaurants that do so, the more robust the industry will become.
Before you skip the sirloin in favour of something more creative, you should know that this regular corporate lunch item is not like the others. It comes with a taragon emulsion. Everything to standard so far. But the butter on the side hides a secret ingredient: crickets. Campbell uses the bugs to amp up the umami factor. He also adds cinnamon and ginger powder to the butter for spice and aroma.
The pavlova gets points for style – berries and bouncy meringue are hidden under a beautifully piped snow white, confectionary shell that looks like a mid century lampshade – but it’s the lime custard that’s the diamond in the rough. It isn’t much to look at, but break through the golden toffee armour to access a sharp, bracing custard underneath – it will wash your palate clean like it’s been baptised in holy water.
Not everything at Bea is a slam dunk, but Campbell is packing a lot of intrigue onto the menu in an area you’d expect to lean on steaks and Burgundy. Plus there’s a deep seated professionalism to the whole set up at Barangaroo House that ensures smooth sailing from door to table and perhaps upstairs afterwards for one more drink overlooking the harbour. Especially if the boss is paying.
Level 2, 35
|Opening hours:||Daily noon-3pm, 5.30pm-midnight|