When chef Mike McEnearney came on board to do the food at Sydney’s Westpac OpenAir last year, the northern beaches lockdown was in full swing and the hospitality industry was operating under a cloud of restrictions. Needless to say, he had to keep things a little restrained.
“Last year we had to be careful not to capitalize too much on something that could be blown up at any time by government regulations,” he says. “So we went very simply.”
This year, things have changed. Westpac Openair is not only a cinema with one of Sydney’s best views – from Fleet Steps in the Royal Botanic Garden, overlooking the harbor – but also an outdoor festival with three separate kitchens run by McEnearney. “We’ve used all the guns…and the capacity has increased dramatically,” he says.
Screenings don’t start until around 8:30pm, but ticket holders are encouraged to arrive early, get out, watch the sun go down, and enjoy a drink and meal at one of three spaces – The Point, Heineken Green or The Croser Lounge.
A $34 general admission ticket will get you a movie ticket, a free cocktail if you order something to eat before 7 p.m., and access to The Point, a spacious area near the harbor that takes up the entire north end of the place. It includes Hendrick’s Bar and Mexican by Mike – A Taqueria From Kitchen by Mike. Mexican by Mike is McEnearney’s first time immersing himself in Mexican cuisine and having fun with it. Four types of tacos are on the menu, including pork neck marinated in orange juice and chili.
“It’s cooked very slowly, then you heat it to get really crispy, then you serve it with a pineapple salad with chili sauce,” he says. There are plenty of plant-based options, too: zucchini blossoms with oregano and cumin salsa, and corn chips with roasted pumpkin mole and freshly roasted corn with lime and lemon salt. chilli pepper.
The top tier is a $45 ticket, which gets you a movie plus access to the Heineken Green, an outdoor version of the classic Kitchen by Mike canteen with reserved seating and table service via Mr Yum’s mobile order. “You order a protein, like roast chicken, flank steak, or a vegan main course, and then get two salads to go with it,” McEnearney says. “It comes on the classic plates that we’ve always used.” All the famous salads are there: roasted pumpkin with pomegranate molasses and heirloom tomato, and watermelon salad with salt pepper and basil.
Another level up is The Croser Lounge, a more formal waterfront restaurant serving a fine menu based on classic Kitchen by Mike dishes. It’s $65 for the ticket, plus $69 for food, including a free glass of Croser sparkling wine for those who arrive before 7 p.m. McEnearney raves about the grilled lamb rump with dandelion, rosemary and fermented honey vinaigrette, as well as the Moroccan brown rice pie with roasted pepper, olives and saffron-coconut yogurt. When dining by the harbour, Sydney rock oysters are a must and you can, and should, add half a dozen to your set menu.
Although he runs three kitchens, McEnearney isn’t concerned about the workload. “There were months and months of work behind the scenes to get it right,” he says. And the decision to commit for another year? An evidence. “It’s got to be one of Sydney’s biggest events on the calendar. We just want to let loose, watch some good movies and have a little party, and just enjoy it. It’s really exciting and feels good. to move forward after a long year.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Westpac OpenAir.