2 Elizabeth Bay Road Elizabeth Bay, New South Wales 201102 9357 5333
|Opening hours||Mon-Thurs 3pm-midnight; Fri-Sun noon-midnight|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
THERE SEEMS TO BE A BIT OF A reinvention of St Valentine's Day going on. The Norfolk on Cleveland totally disses the idea of ''an over-the-top, expensive set menu at some stuffy joint in the city'', inviting the loved-up to replace it with a double-strawed Heartbreaker cocktail and a heart-shaped cheese and corn quesadilla. Meanwhile in New York, The Little Owl restaurant is offering a fully customised $US2500 ($2420) dinner for two including flowers, a photographer and live music, prompting New York Magazine to caption it ''All this to get laid?''
They're a romantic bunch down at Elizabeth Bay's favourite meeting and mating place, too. Hence Thursday's special early dinner at the Gazebo Wine Garden, lovingly entitled ''Scoot 'n' Root''. For $55 a head, you get a glass of rosé, a long-stemmed rose, something called a ''share platter of aphrodisiacs'', and a choice of three main courses. Mind you, it's always St Val's at this cornerstone of the rapidly expanding Keystone Group wine bar/pub/restaurant empire. Take their signature vodka, champagne and rose syrup cocktail, the Giggly Rose ($16), served complete with rose petals. Not to mention the over-the-top, al fresco, flower-bedecked, candle-lit, art-filled Parisian garden interior/exterior – it's hard to tell where one ends and the other starts, and that's before a Giggly Rose.
The Gazebo has always been more about dating than dining, but that all changed in 2012 when Keystone appointed chef Matt Kemp (Banc, Balzac) to ramp up the kitchen ops after the untimely closure of his Montpellier Public House. Together with former Berowra Waters Inn chef, Daniel Backhouse, he has installed a lively menu of British comfort dude food, from pork crackling with apple sauce to potted river trout with soda bread, and fish and chips.
Kemp's reinvention of the classic prawn cocktail ($22) is a hoot, the chopped salad of iceberg, avocado, tomato, cucumber and prawn layered with the classic sauce marie rose in an enormous preserving jar with three king-sized king prawns hanging on the rim. It's ridiculously big, so do try to find someone – anyone – with which to share it.
In the same sense, a sausage roll ($17) is all rich, buttery pastry and equally rich duck, pork and duck liver filling, cut into six portions and served with fruity chutney; perfect bar food. It's enough to make you feel guilty that a madly over-qualified chef who trained at The Square in London is doing sausage rolls – but then, that's why they're such good sausage rolls.
It's also why there's a bowl of such nicely cooked mussels with creme fraiche and leeks ($20), and such a fine brick of confit pork belly ($27), beautifully crisped and teamed with grilled nectarines and a tangy green sauce.
Sharing dishes here is not so much a romantic gesture as a necessary one. Even a lovely heirloom tomato salad dotted with torn mozzarella ($12) comes with two big slices of grilled rye bread, while a side serve of fried cauliflower cheese ($10) is massive.
It's a magical spot early in the evening, as the daylight fades slowly over the half-dozen police cars parked in the street. Too soon, the place turns darkly feral and the vintage love-song playlist gets turned to too-loud-to-talk. Time for some to scoot, and others to settle in with a jug of sangria ($25) or something from the beautifully picked wine list, irreverently filed under, ''pink bits'', ''odd but amazing'', or ''show us your pinot''.
A 2011 Domaine Pierre de la Grange muscadet ($65) from the Loire Valley has a light, fresh tangy lime finish that makes it seafood-friendly. Indeed, the fish and chips ($23) is a big order, with two crisp, gold-plated chunks of meaty dory, a tub of tartare sauce and a wood-pile of broad, flat chips, served in that slightly soft pommy style.
A special of pavlova is huge ($14) but the sweet meringue and sweet cream need more acidity from berries or passionfruit rather than piles of mango and banana. Somebody just doesn't get what pav is all about.
The Gazebo is probably booked out already for St Val's anyway, but the good news is that it's a fun place to eat and drink any time, with its perky, can-do staff, Kemp'd-up pub grub and summer holiday vibe. As for the prawn cocktail and sausage rolls, I think I'm in love.
Best bit It's a hoot.
Worst bit It can get a bit shrieky and dark.
Go-to dish Prawn cocktail, $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.