Taronga Zoo – a retreat wrapped in a sanctum

Culinary king, Sean Connolly

A Special Lunch Correspondent 

Culinary king… Sean Connolly

The overused phrase ‘best kept secret’ may possibly apply to Taronga Zoo, in Sydney Australia.

And a little known, undisclosed enigma in the heart of this hole in the wall, nestled among bushland, is the Zoo’s Taronga Centre.

Why the Zoo is kept a secret by the city’s tourism supremos, is a puzzle for a wiser philosopher to mull.

I was there recently to enjoy a magnificent repast prepared by that great friend of Lunch, chef Sean Connolly.

If you have to go to this surprise retreat across the Harbour from one of the most spectacular conurbations in these parts, then dining with some old friends while sipping Pommery champagne and being served by one of the nation’s most innovative chefs is the way to do it.

Ireland’s loss is Australia’s gain I tell Sean as I take in the panoramic views spanning across the harbour with incredible views of both the city, Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

Sean is the Consultant Chef for Restaurant Associates who run the Taronga Centre, a function venue with world-class facilities.

He collaborates with R.A Executive Chef Sebastian Letaud (they used to work together at Astral) and has created a fabulous new function menu with matching wines.

Having just catered for Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles on their most recent trip to New Zealand (where he also has award-winning The Grill by Sean Connolly), Sean has proven himself as one of Australia’s most accomplished chefs who brings impressive culinary experience and knowledge to the Restaurant Associates kitchens with a menu that uses the finest produce and products available, his main priority when creating any dish.

With the renovations of the Taronga Centre completed last month, Sean’s new menu completes the updated space offering a fresh approach to a traditional function’s menu. From canapés through to desserts, his choice of ingredients is perfectly matched, tantalizing the tastebuds with every bite.

Delicious… Strawberries and cream

“I want guests to remember the food at Taronga as much as they do the iconic view” Sean says.

As the exclusive caterers onsite at Taronga Zoo, Restaurant Associates are excited to have Sean on board. He brings a modern twist to the traditional functions menu.

With extensive experience in both local and global markets as one of the world’s leading caterers, Restaurant Associates is driven to provide inspired, first class solutions.

The menu is … deep breath: scampi sashimi, chilli, coriander, virgin olive oil with Penfolds Cellar Reserve Gewurtztraminer 2010.

I’ve vowed to never eat raw scampi but in six minutes the plate is, well, totally empty and I’m looking around for more.

This is followed up by heirloom tomato salad, goats curd, liquorice, baby basil and washed down with Coldstream Hills Sauvignon Blanc 2012.

Then it’s time for the main event, slow roasted beef, fondant potato, miso Hollandaise with jamon crumbs matched with a peerless Matua Matheson Vineyard Hawkes Bay Malbec 2009.

Sean’s take on steak and chips gets a nod from the Big Guy upstairs as the sky opens and a spectacular lighting show erupts over the city.

Dessert is strawberries and cream with glass after glass of incomparable Baileys of Glenrowan Frontignac 2012.

Sean’s idea of strawberries and cream is roughly what Achilles promised the Gods, but failed to deliver.

Sadly, all too soon it’s time to find a public conveyance and return to life outside of the inner sanctum, wrapped in a sanctuary that is the Taronga Zoo Function Centre.

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