169 Dolphin Street Coogee, New South Wales 203402 9240 3000
|Opening hours||Daily 11am-late|
|Features||Family friendly, Licensed|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Chef||Jordan Toft, Zac Sykes|
There are rules posted on the wall at Coogee Pavilion. "Play nice and have fun." "Say please and thank you." "Take turns and play fair." So just behave yourself, or there'll be no ice-cream before bedtime.
It's almost worth being treated like a five-year-old - and it's definitely worth BEING a five-year-old - at Justin Hemmes' brilliant rethink of this vast beachside pub. While most Merivale establishments are shamelessly aimed at those of drinking and mating age, Coogee Pavilion is about as family-friendly as you can get.
It's barely 7.30pm and a ping-pong ball shoots past my foot, smashed out of the ballpark from one of the three table-tennis tables in the sprawling playroom at the back. Next, a multi-layered birthday cake with three wobbly animal candles is carried past - oh wow, one of my fellow diners is turning three. Meanwhile, mum, dad and two little girls hunch, not over iPhones, but over an old-school board game on a big share table while waiting for their pizza. Even for adults, the entertainment options are many and diverse. There's a big, stool-lined bar; coffee cart from Will & Co; fresh juice and organic chocolate stand from Love Juice; library, and fresh flower stall. A cubby-house theatrette and barber shop are coming soon, and a rooftop bar and upstairs restaurant are coming later.
The wood-fired oven of Vinnie's Pizzeria sits pride-of-place in the centre of the 170-seater, beach-house dining room. Stools line the dedicated raw bar, oyster bar and crustacean counter; and a long, steamy, open kitchen runs down one wall. There's a predictable emphasis on seafood, running from fish and chips ($26) to daily changing fish specials and a $250, with-the-works seafood platter that could feed a table. As well, there's a Dan Hong-inspired burger, spiced lamb ribs, and 400g butcher's steaks. In charge of this zeitgeist-routing new space are executive chef Jordan Toft, of LA's cultish Eveleigh, and head chef Zac Sykes.
Simple things are done well. Four fresh grilled sardines ($14) are smartly dressed with a sauce of garlicky lemon juice, olive oil and parsley. Ruby-red tiles of tuna tataki ($18) pair naturally with ponzu, fried seaweed and pickled cucumber.
The cutest little lobster roll is stuffed with southern rock lobster in lemon mayo with a couple of potato crisps for crunch; pricey for its size ($18).
Overseen by former Rosso Pomodoro pizzaiolo Vincenzo Biondini, the pizze are good on crust (scorched and puffy), base (thin) and topping (simple). A smoky Vesuvio ($22) is a pared-down balance of fior di latte mozzarella, San Marzano tomato, olives, capers and Ortiz anchovies.
Grown-ups can start with a cocktail, Little Creatures Pale Ale on tap, or perhaps a fresh, lively 2011 Eldridge North Patch Mornington Peninsula chardonnay ($62) from the short, sharp, savvy wine list.
Food comes helter-skelter as it's cooked, and sometimes as it's overcooked. Fried cuttlefish ($19) is a bit pasty and bland, and a good-looking roasted rock flathead tail for two ($55) is woefully dry. Chunky sebago fried potatoes sauced with chilli aioli ($9) are darn-tootin', and while I'm guessing a gelateria will be installed by summer, an enamel tin mug of rhubarb swirl ice-cream, sponge and meringue ($12) is sundae-sweet enough in the meantime.
There are places you can eat with your kids where they'll have a good time and you won't; and there are places where you'll have a good time and they won't. Now, there's a place where you can all have fun, together. Coogee, coogee, coo.
Best bit: There really is something for everyone.
Worst bit: Losing at table tennis.
Go-to dish: Pizza Vesuvio, $22.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.