Dunes Palm Beach review

Southern calamari with saltbush and sriracha mayo.
Southern calamari with saltbush and sriracha mayo.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

1193 Barrenjoey Rd Palm Beach, NSW 2108

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Opening hours Seven days, 8am-4pm
Features Accepts bookings
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 02 9974 3332

"You know where you are," says my guest, sitting back and looking out on the lawns that carpet the dunes at the tippy tip of Palm Beach.

It's his mantra when it comes to real estate – you have to know where you are. Buy in Paris, and you need a view of the Eiffel Tower. Buy in Melbourne, near gardens or a park. Retire to Palm Beach and you have to have wild ocean or quiet estuary in your face.

The dunes themselves actually hide both from this dreamily located, open-air pavilion of a restaurant called Dunes Palm Beach, but with the smell of the sea, the cries of native birds and a light breeze smooching your cheek, you certainly know where you are.

Battered snapper, chips, tartare.
Battered snapper, chips, tartare.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

New owners Brett Conway (Three Blue Ducks, The Roots North Sydney) and chef Jesse McTavish (Top Paddock Melbourne, North Bondi Fish) have spruced up the popular wedding-venue site, getting Sydney interior designer Olivia Bossy on the case.

The result is a white-washed, laid-back, beach-friendly take on informal, all-day dining, with concertina windows opening onto a decked terrace with more tables under white market umbrellas.

It looks casual but there's clever detail in the weather-proofing and the flexible mix of share tables and loungey couches.

The dreamily located, open-air pavilion has the Palm Beach thing down pat.
The dreamily located, open-air pavilion has the Palm Beach thing down pat. Photo: Edwina Pickles

The menu, like all good menus, also tells you where you are. Beer-battered snapper and chips; swordfish sashimi; spanner crab linguine, whole grilled snapper, angus beef burger – it's all so northern beaches; especially with a bottle of the lush, spicy, organic 2017 Dune (no relation) Tiari rosé from McLaren Vale ($65).

Byron-born McTavish is good with seafood, so kicking off with oysters is a no-brainer. Mimosa Rocks from Wapengo ($48 dozen) are briny mouthfuls served sensibly over pebbles and kelp rather than melting ice.

To the side, spicy yuzu kosho (fermented green chilli paste) adds a bitey, fruity exclamation mark.

Whole snapper with green papaya salad.
Whole snapper with green papaya salad.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

Thickly sliced swordfish sashimi ($28) strewn with local seaweed, wasabi, soy and ginger is pleasant enough, but would you believe, fried calamari is the sleeper, showered with an outback dust storm of dusky, fried saltbush seeds and leaves.

Instead of the usual anonymous rubbery rings, the thickly cut southern calamari ($18) is so lightly fried it's still marked with the beautiful pink dots of its colour-changing cells, called chromatophores.

McTavish is off today for a special event but chef Sanjiv Rao has a nice, light touch. Blue swimmer crab linguine ($32) swims in its own tomatoey, crabby sauce, with a little kick of fermented chilli, and a 1kg snapper to share ($65) is the real deal. Grilled over binchotan charcoal until lightly blistered, it's a celebratory, summery dish.

Dunes Palm Beach offers white-washed, laid-back, beach-friendly all-day dining.
Dunes Palm Beach offers white-washed, laid-back, beach-friendly all-day dining.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

I'd argue against the accompanying bland tropical som tum of green papaya, ripe mango and too many bean sprouts, and go for good shoestring fries ($12) and a lovely green butter lettuce and buttermilk salad ($12) instead.

Food comes out slowly, but then nobody here is racing back to the office by 2.30pm, as Palmie's wealthy retirees reach for another rosé.

Pavlova hits the right end note ($15), all crisp, light shards and soft, sweet fluff, freshened up with ripe mango and lemon balm.

Pavlova with mango and lemon balm.
Pavlova with mango and lemon balm.  Photo: Edwina Pickles

Dunes Palm Beach has that effortless, crushed-linen, barefoot but well-heeled Palm Beach thing down pat.

"If they could build a second floor on top they'd have ocean views and a million-dollar business," says my guest.

He's right, but even without it you know where you are. And why.

The low-down

Vegetarian: Six summery, greens-and-grains dishes and sides (think tempura zucchini flowers with goat cheese, or roasted carrots with whey, labne and mint).

Drinks: A concise, lively, 40-odd playlist of mainly Australian, natural-leaning, summer-breezy wines.

Go to dish: Southern calamari with saltbush and sriracha mayo, $18.

Pro tip: Stay tuned for themed monthly dinners.

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.