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Merivale applies the fairy dust to another beachside pub, half way up the Northern Beaches
Collaroy is just far away enough from the city that it feel like a getaway. The air is salty, the sand is orange, you may spot a migrating whale and even on a winter’s day the endless blue ocean vista makes it feel like a little slice of an endless summer. But it’s not far away enough to be passed up by Merivale. It’s not surprising, seeing as Justin Hemmes’ hospitality juggernaut already reaches to the Northern Beaches’ furthest point by the way of the Newport, and their beginning, over at Manly Wharf with the soon-to-open Queen Chow (formerly Papi Chulo’s).
Locals may remember the site from way back when it was the Surf Rock Hotel, a dubious nightspot for the beaches’ younger crew, before it was then revamped as the Collaroy Hotel. Merivale has done what it does best – the interior has been given a refined beachside palette of eggshell blue, navy and light olive; it’s very family friendly (just like at the Newport, you’ll find a kids’ room with a giant Scrabble board and Connect-4); plus there are plenty of plants and blond-wood highlights. While it takes many cues from the Newport and the Coogee Pavilion, it still manages to feel fresh. This is mostly thanks to the beautiful views out to the ocean, the high ceilings and natural light streaming in.
Downstairs, you’ll find a casual café set-up – stop in here for brekky until noon, smoothies, coffee, pastries and focaccias. Out the back there’s a bar, plus a large projector screen. Upstairs you’ll find the slightly more formal – but still beachy-casual – eatery. Head right if you want table service, or left if you’re happy to order at the bar (and take in some seriously great views).
They know their audience here, and that’s why you’ll find Riot Wine Co’s rosé on tap – it’s a slightly fruity and light number that will go down equally well on a 22° winter’s day or a 33° summer arvo. You’ll also find other summer-ready sips, including light whites from NZ and France, plus Spritzers.
When you’re staring straight at the beach it feels only natural to do seafood. Start with bouncy nubs of charred mini octopi. Zesty cubes of capsicum are softened by citrus and spiced up with chilli, and there’s a thick swipe of chickpea purée underneath to add a dense nuttiness. Or go the tostada – a plate-sized, crunchy corn disc comes with a thicket of coriander, perilla leaves, julienned radish, basil, avocado cream and hunks of well seasoned swordfish. A ceviche is now as popular on a Sydney menu as salt-and-pepper squid is, and while it’s not new or special, when it’s done right there’s still good reason to order it. Then the fish burger – this has to be one of best we’ve had in Sydney. A layer of potato chips adds extra crunch, along with the already-crisp battered pink ling fish fillet, plus creamy mayo and thin slices of fresh jalapeños. If you’re not feeling fishy, you’ll also find woodfired pizzas and some tasty lamb meatballs.
If you live further north and you’re a fan of the Newport, the Collaroy doesn’t really offer you much incentive to change your habits. And if you’re from the East, you can enjoy a similar offering at one of Merivale’s many other venues. Their beachside pub revamps are starting to resemble a franchise, but that’s not to take away from the Collaroy’s actual charms – which are considerable. It’s a beautiful, sunny spot that’s bound to become a lunching-set destination and a family favourite.