Time Out says
This north-side institution embraces the next generation without forgetting its roots
Pick any day from the last 20 years and Serge Dansereau will have been doing the same thing. He’d be on the floor of Bathers’ Pavilion, shaking hands, ushering diners, checking the pass. The chef is as much a part of the setting here as the catamarans scooting past the heads or the children digging in the Balmoral sand. Today, though, it’s different. Not because Dansereau isn’t around (he is, look), but because we’re in a new cycle, one prompted by a tussle for the Bathers’ lease that inspired a full refresh.
On the building side, winning the tender meant gutting the insides – adding a chef’s table and lounge, converting the café to an all-day bistro and opening the rooftop terrace to the public –while retaining all the louvres, parapets, arches and pilasters that give this 1920s icon its Mediterranean charm. It’s conceivable, now more than ever, that whole days could be whiled away in a beachside fantasy made real by so many blue-and-white stripes and so much walnut detailing. Hit the bistro for breakfast and the hum of the coffee machine plays backdrop to fluffy omelettes generously stuffed with ricotta and to crisp, golden French toast. For locals recovering from one too many Espresso Martinis, a greasy fried rice prefaced with a Bloody Mary – tall, not soupy – is the right kind of tonic.
Next Generation energy flows through the site, peaking at the terrace that trades in Champagne and Spritzes. The Bathers’ Spritz, for one, improves the classic, swapping Aperol for sweet Lillet and throwing lemon verbena into the mix for a fresh and lively apéro. This is a place where blissful ignorance is all too easy, one where sunny staff roam under umbrellas and shiny couples in Moscots and Ralph Lauren Yacht Club blazers plunge crisp fritto misto into aioli and throw back oysters with gusto. The feeling, we’re sure, is that it reminds them of their beach house.
The restaurant is more structured. It’s a three-course caper that takes pleasure in adding the little touches that make things special: bread roll options; choice of butter; two kinds of salt on the table; amuse-bouches shipping caviar; madeleines with coffee, even (they may not be baked to order, but they sure are pretty).
And the benefits of the recruitment drive tell. Cam Fairbairn (ACME) and Jess Mead (the Bridge Room) set a tone on the floor that’s relaxed without being too casual, and sommelier Iain Parkinson (also ex-Bridge Room) pours wine from a 350-deep list that throws enough fresh and wild things among the European and local classics to keep it interesting.
When the food’s good it’s very good, French technique merging with fresh ideas tied, largely, to the seaside setting. But there are misses. At one lunch, the spin on bouillabaisse arrives with each piece of seafood – mussels, kingfish, marron, scallop – carefully cooked, plated quickly, and the bisquey broth poured over hot; at another it’s sat for too long, and the broth is lukewarm. Why not lose the fuss and keep it classic? Murray cod (a river fish, mind), is beautifully poached, but drowning in mustard sauce.
The entrées, thankfully, are invariably excellent. A plate of Moreton Bay bug sees the flesh delicately set, with richness from a smoked beurre blanc, acid from green tomato and umami from a tousle of fried nori. A special of hand-cut noodles with spanner crab, dill and avruga comes coated in buttery crab sauce, while asparagus chopped fine and piled with leek cream and fried garlic shows a deft hand and quick mind with vegetables. For dessert, a precise plate of banana ice cream with soft chocolate and apple tuiles sits long on the palate.
If there was a complacency to the old Bathers’, the reshuffle, in part, resets the balance. If they could just let a little more air in, and leave good seafood to speak for itself, the future – today, tomorrow, every day – would look even brighter.
4 The Esplanade
|Opening hours:||Bistro Daily 7am-10pm; Restaurant Tue-Sat noon-3pm & 6-10pm and Sun noon-3pm; Terrace Wed-Sun noon-10pm|