50 Old Barrenjoey Rd Avalon Beach, NSW 2107
|Opening hours||Wed-Fri 4pm-late; Sat-Sun from noon|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 8926 2340|
If you don't live in a beachside suburb, you can forget that there are people who wear shorts all day, and into the night. Almost everyone at Avalon's new Bar Elvina is in shorts.
That's so cool (not to mention cool). Even the two owners are running around in shorts, adding to the holiday beach house atmosphere.
Mind you, it hasn't exactly been a holiday for former ACME co-owner Andy Emerson, and chef Jesse McTavish (Melbourne's Top Paddock and North Bondi Fish), since they teamed up to open this smart, first-floor bar-restaurant in November 2020.
The white-washed and cushioned dining room, open-windowed bar and thatched-roof terrace overlooking Old Barrenjoey Road were rammed from day one, and the future looked bright.
But then a certain northern beaches cluster formed, and they closed for as long as they had been open. Now they're back, and so, it seems, is most of Avalon.
It's easy to see why. There's an easy, breezy quality to dining here, with some real go-to dishes on McTavish's not-too-serious menu.
Indigenous and foraged coastal succulents weave their way from menu to cocktail list, where a well-made Quandong ($18) shakes Widges dry gin with amaro, lemon, spices and egg white into something summery but not-too-fruity.
The wine list has a coastal brief, with seemingly every wine – including a Basquaise Gorrondona Txakoli ($16/$78) – happy to team with seafood.
McTavish makes sure the food, too, has a good sense of place, serving freshly opened Sydney rock oysters with a curl of smoking paperbark ($5.50), and strewing a clean-tasting tataki of yellowtail kingfish and lemon soy ($19) with Avalon seaweed and Careel Bay sea blite.
Huge, meaty Spring Bay mussels ($18) have been treated escabeche-style, soused in a spiced marinade with carrot and onion ringed with green mint oil.
The Snack Most Likely To Go With A Drink is a bowl of small, crisp-fried Hawkesbury River school prawns ($16) showered in house-made togarashi, ready to dip into a puddle of Kewpie mayo dusted in astringent sumac.
"It takes me back to going fishing with my dad and eating school prawns at Evans Head, when they were just $7 a kilo," says McTavish, who delivers much of the food himself.
That sense of place goes overboard with a dish of broccoli ($19), that sees stalks brined in seawater (not entirely sure why) and florets flash-fried. Served with a bread sauce, chilli and almonds, it just doesn't pull itself together. And good luck with the small hemmed table napkins.
I'm not saying I'm Mr Messy, but these are way too chic for anyone who likes eating anything in their hands.
A short list of four main-course share plates offers whole John Dory with lemon butter ($58), but it's the half lamb shoulder ($52) for the win, for its holy grail of crisp, fatty skin and fall-apart meat.
Slow-cooked for 12 hours then finished on the grill, it's sent out perched on an island of black and white barley, fresh peas and crunchy karkalla, ringed with labne and mint oil.
All these things go with lamb – barley in a scotch broth, mint and peas in a Sunday roast, labne in Middle Eastern dishes – so combining them in one dish is clearly designed to tick everybody's boxes at once.
Also good to share is a summery mango bombe ($18), with clouds of soft Italian meringue to fight through before reaching the cooling mango and coconut parfait inside.
Elvina is a good fit for Avalon, and there's more fun in the sun on the way with a planned rear terrace garden and pizza oven.
Andy Emerson and Lily Horneman work the floor in a capable, easy-going manner, and like the service, the food is good enough to please, without getting too serious. It's almost as if it's in shorts, too.
Vegetarian: Strong on snacks and small plates, plus set menu for groups.
Drinks: Native ingredient-led cocktails, two beers on tap, eight in tins, plus a contemporary wine list that strays happily off the beaten track.