Penelope's: A Modern Australian Haven in Circular Quay's Quay Quarter

Penelope's, Circular Quay

Penelope's is a new modern Australian restaurant at Quay Quarter in Circular Quay. Follow the neon sign into the restaurant with a large, wraparound balcony. The menu features native Australian ingredients and flavours from Vietnam and the Middle East to punctuate classic dishes like a deconstructed prawn cocktail or Lakemba spiced lamb shoulder.

Penelope's, Circular Quay

Over the last few years there has been a trend to name restaurants after women and Penelope's is the latest in Sydney to sport a female moniker. The chef behind Penelope's is Cuong Nguyen from Hello Auntie and Hey Chu. Penelope's is located in the Quay Quarter building right next to Pearl and a red neon script sign marks the spot.

Penelope's, Circular Quay

I got a message from Laura on the afternoon we were supposed to dine at Penelope's. "We can't sit on the balcony any more," said Laura. She had specifically booked us in for the balcony because we love al fresco tables but it looks like our table preference was changed on the day.

Penelope's, Circular Quay
Bogan old fashioned $25

I'm catching up with Laura who I haven't seen all year and Kat who we both haven't seen for a couple of years. For drinks I stick with water, Kat has wine and Laura tries their Bogan Old Fashioned with Beenleigh 5 year rum, macadamia, wattleseed, Vegemite caramel and Ardbeg 10 year whisky with an unexpected fruity and peachy flavour to it.

Penelope's, Circular Quay
Prawn Cocktail $26

The first dish to come out is an entrée and I see Laura's crestfallen expression when she sees that it is a deconstructed prawn cocktail (she prefers things constructed). But once you pair the prawn with charred witlof boat, bush tomato Marie Rose sauce and syrupy nuoc cham then it can only be considered a win deconstructed or not. I never knew that a prawn cocktail needed nuoc cham or bush tomato in the seafood sauce but it absolutely does.

Penelope's, Circular Quay
Raw Scallop $10 each

We were careful not to go too overboard with the bites or snacks, mainly because they're often what we like eating the most but they're also priced per piece so can really add up. But none of us could resist the squares of crispy potato topped with raw scallops, desert lime and roe served on aioli dabs. It's hot, it's crispy and it's definitely worth the 2 or 3 bites of silky raw scallop, crispy potato and pops of roe.

Penelope's, Circular Quay
Tartar beef $10 each

Kat and I try the tartar beef, served with a salsa tonnata on a wasabi leaf. The tonnata sauce is a smart flavour addition to beef tartare that really suits it while the wasabi leaf gives it a light mustardy lift.

Penelope's, Circular Quay
Raw tuna $37

One of our favourite dishes (and really there was nothing I wouldn't order again except perhaps the bread) is the raw tuna paired with Osetra caviar and a divine black pepper dressing. It is served with bánh tráng or deep fried rice paper, semi translucent and crisp and great for spooning the tuna onto.

There's a big gap between entrees and mains, almost an hour and we watch the restaurant progressively empty out behind us. We are not sure what happened but we have to call our waitress over to remind her. Once we do the food comes out quickly.

Penelope's, Circular Quay
Bakar chicken $42

The Bakar chicken is the dish that brought us here. Ayam Bakar is an Indonesian chicken dish (Bakar means BBQ or grilled in Bahasa Indonesian). Penelope's version brines the chicken for a week and then cooks it over charcoal. In a cross cultural shift, the chicken sits on a layer of garlic toum and is then smothered with an intense sambal with lemongrass, kaffir lime and turmeric. The chicken really benefits from that extended brining and is resultingly tender and juicy while the sambal gives it such an intense flavour along with the creamy toum. And while we did order a couple of pieces of the flatbread to soak up all of those juices but they aren't quite right for the purpose.

Penelope's, Circular Quay
Roast Dutch carrots $12

The roast Dutch carrots with a tender and brushed with a black sugar glaze and served on tangy crème fraiche are the perfect companion for the chicken.

Penelope's, Circular Quay
Chips – konbu salt, aioli $12

I've become that person that asks for the chips to come out scorching hot. I've lived through too many bowls of dissatisfying lukewarm fries and i've had enough. And trust me you want these chips and you want them hot. They come with aioli but you know what? You don't need it. The kombu salt does all of the work seasoning these chips. I think I ate half of this plate.

Penelope's, Circular Quay
Ice cream pb & j $20

The pavlova is sold out (which would have been our pick) and our waitress describes the sundae as very sweet so none of us feel like that. Instead we order the peanut butter parfait with Davidson plum jam with filo pastry. It's not a particularly sweet dessert thanks to the tart and zingy Davidson plum jam. The filo is crisp and the peanut butter flavour is mild.

So tell me Dear Reader, do you tend to order a lot of snacks or are you a 1, 2 or 3 course person? And what is the longest you've had to wait for food?

This meal was independently paid for.


Level 1/50 Bridge St, Sydney NSW 2000

Monday to Saturday 12–3 pm, 5–10 pm

Sunday 12-3:30pm

Phone: (02) 8043 4599

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