These days, when a fine dining institution announces a temporary closure and a 'refresh', it usually means they're ditching the white tablecloths in exchange for more accessible, casual fare. Rockpool Est. 1989 just did it, reopening as Eleven Bridge (although, admittedly, the word 'casual' is used subjectively), Bennelong took things down a notch last year, and in February Sepia announced they'll be closing and moving onto a more casual venture when their lease runs out next year. But that isn't the case with Matt Moran's ARIA, which has now been unveiled after shutting for a mammoth ten-week refurbishment.
Announcing that his harbourside restaurant would be shutting up shop for ten weeks in August, Moran assured punters that he wouldn't be pulling away from fine dining. In fact, he'd be doing just the opposite. "When we opened ARIA just before the Sydney Olympics, we made sure we had a design that was contemporary, cutting edge and would last." said Moran. "We won't be moving away from fine dining at all, if anything, we'll be upping the ante."
What's in store for the freshened up Aria? Seasonal ingredients take centre stage in classic Moran style, and head chef Jason Staudt, who's trained with Moran since 2013, has co-crafted quite the new menu. Think opulent dishes like Champagne lobster French toast with caviar and finger lime, mud crab with kombucha and white Alba truffle, or Marmande tomato tartare, alongside a significant grilled meats section. Plus, sides include mashed royal blue potato. Aria's wine list will remain top tier, but a little reworked, as group sommelier Matt Dunne teams up with new head sommelier Alex Kirkwood (Quay) for a mostly Australian menu.
While the food and wine are staying close to classic Aria style, the interiors have changed. Moran and co-owner Bruce Solomon have brought interior architect George Livissianis — responsible for the black and white cake icing interiors of the newly-renovated Dolphin Hotel, as well as other institutions like Cho Cho San and Apollo — on board for the revamp. Making strong references to the old Aria, and keeping that Sydney Harbour view intact, he's fitted the 170-seat venue out with a new colour palette, soft leather walls, Henry Wilson lights, Saairinen and Grant Featherston Scape chairs, artwork by Australian artist Christian Thompson and sculptures by Tracey Deep.
"The design when we opened was contemporary and cutting edge, and George's new design has taken that ethos and brought it into 2016," says Moran. "The new kitchen is incredible, built to our specs to be able to deliver the best fine dining experience we can, and to really up the ante."
By Lauren Vadnjal with Shannon Connellan.