Credit: Nikki To

The name Barangaroo signifies a great deal many things to many more people. And while the area today has become synonymous with either the interminable march of gentrification or a boon in dining options for thousands of Sydneysiders, fewer still will know of the history of its namesake.

A headstrong Eora woman of the Cameragal group and the second wife of Bennelong, Barangaroo was a maverick fisherwoman and a formidable figure in Australian history within her own right. It was this history that the chef Brendan Fong says he took away from his experience dining at the pop-up of René Redzepi’s peripatetic two Michelin star Danish restaurant, Noma, when it embedded itself in the Australian landscape in January of 2016.

“Learning that Barangaroo was a fisherwoman automatically inspired me to stick with the seafood and sharing concept”, says Fong when accounting for the influences that shaped the new menu offering he has devised for Henry Deane, the flagship dining operation located atop the iconic Hotel Palisade, which enjoys near uninterrupted views – “The view from Henry Deane is just breathtaking”, says Fong – over Sydney Harbour and the neighbouring Barangaroo precinct.

“I took into consideration what the guest would want to experience when coming up to Henry Deane to enjoy the beautiful fit out and spectacular view”, continues Fong. “The room is very bright, fresh and vibrant and I wanted to translate that through the food, while also being mindful of what the team could deliver in such a small space. The view from Henry Deane is one of a kind so the food is designed to be eaten with your hands so that less time is spent looking at the plate and more time soaking up that beautiful view and sun!”

Fong’s vibrant new menu is complemented by a cocktail list that has been created in collaboration with Matt Linklater, of venerable Melbourne cocktail institution Black Pearl, and Bar Manager Laura Persiani. Fong designed the menu first before the bar team concocted drinks to enhance the experience on both ends. When creating the new cocktail list, Persiani took her cues from a desire to create drinks as beautiful as the view – certainly no mean feat. For his part, Fong recommends pairing a Breakfast Swizz with his fish sandwich; a Yuzu Fizz, likewise, will work wonders with a dish of flank steak served in DIY lettuce cups alongside pickled onions, ssamjang and kimchi.

Credit: Nikki To

You may have first encountered Fong’s work during his time spent as the head chef at the revered Merivale venture Mr. Wong for four and a half years, with three and half of those spent at the helm of the kitchen. During his tenure, he says not only created and regularly changed the menu, but helped to train and develop the talents of the younger chefs under his watch. It was an experience that taught him that dining is not only about the product, but the people around you that help to execute your vision. In his capacity as chef consultant for Henry Deane, that vision has been inspired as much by the legacy of the surrounding site as by his own personal history.

One of the menu’s standout dishes is a Fijian kokoda, or ceviche, of kingfish with coconut and taro chips. It’s one of the chef’s all-time favourite dishes, concocted from a recipe borrowed from his Fijian mother and evocative of his family’s biennial return visits to Fiji from his childhood home in Brisbane.

“My mum wouldn’t cook it very often but whenever she did it was almost like a very special occasion and we would all be looking forward to it,” says Fong. “[In Fiji] I would just go crazy eating all the food I could from the markets that we couldn’t get in Australia. My parents were both very important and influential figures in the development of becoming a chef as they were and still are both such great cooks themselves so I always wanted to cook as well as them. In fact, my mother was against me becoming a chef as she knew how much of a laborious job it was.”

Fong’s parents instilled within him a desire to commit wholeheartedly to each thing he undertakes, whether that be washing dishes or creating a menu. The next task to which he has fully committed himself, however, involves a great deal more than elbow grease. Like many of his contemporaries, Fong has since decamped to London to open a Japanese style tavern in Soho.

“I always wanted to move to London to work when I was an apprentice”, he says, “but I was kind of scared to make the big move. Now that I am a lot older I’ve realised I have nothing to lose.”

Tile and cover image: Nikki To