12/20

Cranky Fins Holidae Inn

1 Beach Road, Palm Beach, NSW

All Details
Casual cool: Cranky Fins at Palm Beach.
Casual cool: Cranky Fins, Palm Beach. Photo: James Brickwood

Terry Durack

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.

Hand crafted: Cranky Fins in Palm Beach.
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.

THE LOW-DOWN
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 for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.

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1 Beach Road, Palm Beach, NSW

  • Cuisine - Seafood
  • Prices - Around $80 for two, plus drinks
  • Features - Licensed
  • Chef(s) - Tom Watson
  • Owners - Andy Ruwald
  • Opening Hours - Daily 11am-10pm
  • Author - Terry Durack
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8 comments so far

  • "You have to wonder if the kitchen's commendable determination to source sustainable fish hasn't triumphed over delivering flavour."

    Are you really suggesting they should be using non sustainable fish here?

    Commenter
    Citizen N
    Location
    Date and time
    January 21, 2014, 9:25AM
  • We visited Cranky Fins after exhausting all other 'beachy' options on a hot Summer's day over the Christmas Break. They could have done my not-so-positive view of Palm Beach wonders by being efficient and attentive as we walked in - not the case. The lack of service (or care) was a slap in the face. I would have loved to sample the food, drink....anything!! But after 20 mins of trying to get someone (anyone!) to help seat us, we gave up. The snooty reply after I complained, "you could have just sat at the bar.." Er....no we couldn't, my partner and I would have been separated by about 8 other patrons!!

    Commenter
    LWin
    Location
    Date and time
    January 21, 2014, 4:33PM
  • "pavlova in a jar"

    Good grief! Doesn't that sound appetizing?

    What next, leg of lamb in a test tube?

    Commenter
    Save the Pav!
    Location
    Date and time
    January 21, 2014, 5:36PM
  • My mum and I visited this place on sunday night, and it was so good we went again the next! The fish tacos and haloumi tacos were to die for, as were all the other dishes (salmon and quinoa salad, fish and chips, crab cakes and calamari and chorizo salad) and drinks. The staff were helpful and friendly as well. I personally would put it on the must visit list for anyone up at palm beach and highly recommend it!

    Commenter
    G
    Location
    Date and time
    January 21, 2014, 7:22PM
  • Beautiful tasty food but a clunky frustrating dining experience due to the discoordination of the bar service with the food service and absence of a waiter to oversee diners (even basic cafe's have waiters!). Our drinks (only 2 simple cocktails) were not served by the time we had finished dinner. There are no waiters to ask, so I had to go back and queue up again at the bar to remind them of my drinks order. This restaurant would suit funky "20 somethings" who may not have expectations of service but not a place for the experienced diner who enjoy the service aspect of dining out. I gave some well meaning and polite feedback to the bar manager but she didn't seem to care. I'd go again for the tasty food but I wouldn't recommend it for a special night out.

    Commenter
    Pete
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    January 21, 2014, 11:44PM
  • "The best thing about Palm Beach's new hotspot is its name"...

    "much coming in cute tin buckets and lidless screwtop jars"...

    "You have to wonder if the kitchen's commendable determination to source sustainable fish hasn't triumphed over delivering flavour."

    In summary, the name is hip; the packaging is hip.. but the FOOD...

    Commenter
    Growler
    Location
    The Couch
    Date and time
    January 22, 2014, 4:22AM
    • Disagree Growler about the food. I was critical only of the service, the food was very tasty and we had about 6 dishes.

      Commenter
      Pete
      Location
      sydney
      Date and time
      January 22, 2014, 10:21PM
    • Jars are so Melbourne 2013.

      Commenter
      Actually
      Location
      Date and time
      January 23, 2014, 8:12PM

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