Cranky Fins Holidae Inn

Terry Durack
Casual cool: Cranky Fins, Palm Beach.
Casual cool: Cranky Fins, Palm Beach. Photo: James Brickwood

1 Beach Road Palm Beach, NSW 2108

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Opening hours Daily 11am-10pm
Features Licensed
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Tom Watson
Phone 02 9974 1159

The best thing about Palm Beach's new hotspot is its name, which makes you feel you're on holiday even if your last break has already become a distant memory. The second best thing is that just being there feels like wagging school. Up the steps, past the frangipani, under the colourful signs for "Live Bait & Cold Provisions", "Peace Harmonious Lovechild" and "Fishen for love in a galaxy above" and onto a long, lazy verandah lined with sunset-catching stools and you feel like a sandy-footed, raw-kneed and zinc-nosed kid who has just hot-footed it to the local beach shack-turned-general store for an icy pole.

Owner Andy Ruwald and head chef Tom Walton of Bondi's popular beachside Bucket List have moved 20 beaches north to what was formerly Tom Rutherford's Beach Road restaurant. The views might be more golf course and passing traffic than rolling waves, but the ambience is well and truly boho boatshed, thanks to some joyful art, craft and handiwork from surfer/filmmaker/musician, Ozzie Wright, Mambo designer and ceramicist, Gerry Wedd and Adelaide-based artist/designer James Brown.

Inside, all is cool painted weatherboard, slip-inside booths, lounges, louvred windows, hand-painted columns, skinny school-bench share tables and muralled walls - a place to kick off your shoes, had you been wearing them in the first place.

Go-to dish: Crispy school prawns with aioli and lemon $16.
Go-to dish: Crispy school prawns with aioli and lemon $16. Photo: James Brickwood

The menu is equally casual, culled from the beach resorts of the world, particularly Mexico, with much coming in cute tin buckets and lidless screwtop jars.

Best on the day is an enamel plate-load of sweet, crisp, crunchy school prawns with aioli and lemon ($16) that's totally summer on a plate. There's also scallop ceviche ($18) in a glass jar surrounded by corn chips for dipping; the small Patagonian scallops tossed in an astringent dressing with grapefruit, radish and chilli. Crazy Fins' signature spicy fish tacos ($15 for two) are ready to wrap and heavy on the chipotle mayo, while fish and chips ($26) come in a bucket, with tartare and lemon.

Everything looks summer-holiday great, but I find the corn chips brittle and unsalted, the tacos soft and thick and the (sustainable, if imported) Norwegian cod bland, and not pulling its weight in the fish and chips or tacos. You have to wonder if the kitchen's commendable determination to source sustainable fish hasn't triumphed over delivering flavour.

Beachtastic: Cranky Fins.
Beachtastic: Cranky Fins. Photo: James Brickwood

As well, there are salads, hot chips and a pavlova in a jar ($8) that delivers, somewhat stiffly, berries, passionfruit mascarpone and crushed meringue.

If the measure of a drinks list is to be appropriate to the food and venue, then this one hits the spot; short, bright, breezy, reasonably priced and filled with the sort of wines you feel like drinking with a bucket of tiger prawns. That means bubbles, rieslings and magnums of rose, with nine wines by the glass.

But gee, I'm beginning to miss waiters, those people who used to take your order and then deliver your food. You expect in a place like this to order at the bar and take a number; fine. But when the order-taker is also responsible for fulfilling the drinks orders, and the person ahead of you wants three soft drinks, two Cranky Mules, one margarita and two beers, it is difficult. Having one person dedicated to taking orders would be a good start.

Still, there's a cheeky charm and good humour about the place that means the things that might make you cranky on a working day in the city, just aren't allowed to spoil that holiday mood. And if Cranky Fins doesn't take itself too seriously, then it would be silly if we did.

Best Bit
The beachtastic fitout
Worst Bit
The ordering system
Go-to Dish
Crispy school prawns with aioli and lemon $16

Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic forĀ The Sydney Morning HeraldĀ and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.