- 5981 1202
673 Point Nepean Rd,
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February 28, 2012
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Photo: Eddie Jim
THERE'S nothing like a country drive for enforced reflection on the pace of life. With EastLink chewing a good 20 minutes off the trip to the Mornington Peninsula, and the planned Frankston bypass set to put even more upswing on the area's property prices, you could argue that the increasing speed of modern existence isn't such a bad thing - especially when you arrive at your destination somewhere on the Arc of Plenty and time seems to slow right down. Council ordinance, I expect. The only sensible response is the long lunch.
McCrae Pavilion is on Point Nepean Road, which isn't the most glamorous of peninsula addresses. A long ribbon of asphalt besnarled by traffic in both directions, it makes time really slow down between its starting point in Mornington and its eventual Portsea epiphany. Fast-food joints, surf shops and a bewildering number of op shops dominate, but businesses such as the Pavilion are beginning to lift the hegemony.
It's not exactly the next generation of peninsula restaurant but it's certainly a cut above some pretty desultory offerings. If you want views of rolling hills, vines and greyly glinting ocean, head to one of the winery restaurants up on the hinterland. Down at sea level things are more prosaic, but the beach is a suicidally reviving dash across the road and the McCrae lighthouse looming overhead lends its skinny historic presence to the panorama.
A paean to weather-beaten bleached wood, the Pavilion is a couple of 1950s beach houses joined by a modern extension with a terrace out the front just begging for a bit of resort-style lounging. The dining room takes similar cues, simulating the tropics with broad wicker chairs, thick wooden tables and bi-fold doors that embrace the outdoors on a warm day.
Seafood, some of it fished locally, is a logical cornerstone of chef Patrick Bowring's menu that packs a wide international breadth into its relatively compact form, culminating in the $80 seafood platter headlined by whole blue swimmer crab and Moreton Bay bugs.
Another entree is a warm summery salad of yabby tails poached in butter and seared scallops, with a few colourful batons of carrot and zucchini, tiny pickled radishes and a ''salsa verde'' that's less herby and more like a smooth avocado and lemon emulsion. The combination of good seafood cookery and seasonal attitude ticks the right boxes.
Land mammals are no afterthought. The beef carpaccio makes like a sizeable minority of the menu and brings an Asian slant to the table, the tissue-paper-thin slices of beef arriving topped with a slippery tangle of cold soba noodles, slicked with sesame oil and dotted with black sesame seeds and the odd wasabi pea. As a twist on a classic goes, it's perfectly fine.
The rest of the seven entrees and nine mains are thematically uneven - some you would term mod-Oz, some Middle Eastern, all of it united not so much by region as by the contemporary bistro nature.
Bread, not so incidentally, is also listed under entrees and comes at a price of $10. Even though it's spun to within an inch of its yeasty life as ''housemade ciabatta, oven-baked with oregano and garlic'', charging for bread is the antithesis of hospitality. It's one of the things they need to look at if they're to become a place that's really special. So, too, the paper napkins.
And while we're on the subject, the service. Our long lunch turns into a hostage simulation thanks to a trio of staff who should have the restaurant's 10-odd occupied tables sewn up but have perfected the art of looking busy without actually doing anything. There's plenty of plaintive waving from customers trying to do those pesky things customers enjoy doing - like order food, or wine from the list that goes the regional slant without really sucking the marrow from such a great region. A better selection by the glass, at least, would be welcome at a place where, by definition, one member of each party will be on driving duties.
Here, in the nick of time to soothe the kvetching, are the mains, most notably a beautifully cooked piece of ocean trout with a salty, golden skin keeping its crispness above the dashi broth waterline. Oyster and cloud-ear mushrooms, both appropriately strong and meaty varieties, lend their grunt, the latter adding a real crunch. A great dish.
Chicken often goes down the Middle Eastern path when the menu has no contractual obligations to any particular region - its blandness demands bold flavours, after all, and this proves no exception.
There's a nicely cooked, golden-skinned Maryland joint matched with Israeli cous cous (firm little beads of pasta by another name) in a bright tomato sugo, with tabouli and a splodge of smoked yoghurt. Apart from being served in a cutlery-swallowing bowl, it heads somewhere northwards of satisfactory.
Desserts inexplicably count for more in a beach setting and the couple we try hold up their end very well indeed. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries - the summertime gang of four - keep it simple with vanilla custard, cubes of watermelon jelly and soft blobs of meringue. It's my kind of dessert, combining business with pleasure. The coconut cream is a technically assured and silken panna cotta by another name, with shredded kaffir-lime leaves, a green-tea macaron and warm-spiced wedges of pineapple playing bookends.
Its summery credentials are inviolable - even though it also serves as a reminder that summer has all but hurtled to an end. Time stands still for no man, and no menu.
- 5981 1202
673 Point Nepean Rd,
View on map
- Typical entree, $20; main, $30; dessert, $14
- Daily, noon-3pm, 6pm-late
- Patrick Bowring
- Cards accepted:
- AMEX, Mastercard, Visa, eftpos