Manly Pavilion review

Makeover magic works its charm at Manly Pavilion.
Makeover magic works its charm at Manly Pavilion. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

West Esplanade Manly, NSW 2095

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Opening hours Lunch, dinner and drinks daily from 11.30am
Features Outdoor seating, Licensed, Bar, Accepts bookings, Views, Family friendly, Pub dining, Long lunch, Open fire, Wheelchair access, Vegetarian friendly
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Phone 02 9974 2041

Even on a grey and blustery day, the Manly Pavilion is a spiffing place to be. Behind you, green cliffs.

Before you, ferry-dotted views across the harbour to the Heads. And directly in front of you, fish and chips and a glass of Polperro pinot gris.

The wedding cake pavilion has carved out a special little waterside niche for itself since it started life as a bathers' changing room in the 1930s.

Chargrilled kingfish collar is sticky, saucy fun.
Chargrilled kingfish collar is sticky, saucy fun. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Even as it lay sad and shuttered for the past three years, it proved an irresistible lure to the Isaac brothers' Boathouse Group, drawn to seaside venues (Palm Beach, Rose Bay, Balmoral, Shelly Beach) like a seagull to a chip.

Boathouse founders Andrew Goldsmith and Pip Robb have given the old dear a makeover and now she's awash with greenery, adorned with lobster pots and lined with anchor print lampshades.

A busy schedule of oft-postponed wedding receptions and events is playing out in the ground floor function room, while the first-floor restaurant is all scallop-shell bar, terrazzo floor, ornate mirrors and soft linen table napkins. It's totally charming and fresh.

Prawn and mussel laksa is a play on everyone's favourite spicy Malaysian noodle soup.
Prawn and mussel laksa is a play on everyone's favourite spicy Malaysian noodle soup. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Group exec chef James Brownrigg plots a course for the menu by the usual Boathouse stars – fish and chips, crab toasties, pizza flatbreads, prawn cocktails.

He then charts a different course with a few newbies, with a success rate that goes up and down like a Manly ferry tossed around by the swell.

There's a chargrilled kingfish collar that's all sticky, saucy fun, for just $11.

Kingfish crudo with plantain chips.
Kingfish crudo with plantain chips. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

A savoury gochujang glaze outside seasons the soft, giving meat inside, begging to be squeezed with lime and torn from the bones. It's a good sign, too, that the kitchen buys whole kingfish and parlays it into different dishes across the board.

As ceviche ($27), each thick, even slice of kingfish is topped with red chilli in a puddle of coconut milk and lime, but it's strangely bland; more of a texture than a flavour. Crisp plantain chips – another recurring theme – add crunch.

Another newcomer of prawn and mussel laksa ($36), is a play on everyone's favourite spicy Malaysian noodle soup, but comes, oddly, without noodles.

Red cabbage and beetroot.
Red cabbage and beetroot. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Not sure of the thinking here. It's a very large golden-brown slurry of curry, nobbly with cashews and strewn with crisped curry leaves, with four big tiger prawns and four shelled mussels on top.

An impressive display, but it just doesn't work as a dish, noodles or not, and I'm relieved to hear later it will be quietly retired from service. The equally large Balmain or Moreton Bay bug linguine ($38) looks to be a better bet.

It's very rare that I get halfway through a dish and come to a stop, not because I actively dislike it, but because I am bored.

Bounty chocolate and coconut dessert.
Bounty chocolate and coconut dessert. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

It happens with a pizza-like flatbread bearing Queensland bay lobster, bechamel and chilli ($29) that never quite gets off the ground, and a piled-high shredded beetroot and red cabbage salad ($12) whose flavours aren't as bright as its colours.

Desserts are more entertaining. Group head pastry chef Marco Iacobbe does a clever Bounty dessert ($16) that looks like half a coconut, the rough, crisp shell of chocolate holding a light, delicate, white coconut bavarois.

They haven't nailed the menu yet, and opening a restaurant and event space in the face of two long weekends was obviously pretty challenging.

The locals haven't worked out how best to use Manly Pavilion yet, either, but they will. My tips: colonise the bar, hog the armchairs and fire-tables (yes, tables with an open fire in the pedestal) on the terrace.

Meet up for drinks and oysters, and treat the kids to fish and chips and house-made Paddle Pop ice-creams.

If you stay cool, expect a wait, be nice to the fairly junior staff and don't order anything too fancy, the old place will still work its magic.

The low-down

Manly Pavilion

Vibe Sparkling fresh dining room and terrace with postcard-perfect sea views

Go-to dish Kingfish collar with chilli and lime, $11

Drinks Beachy cocktails (Boathouse margarita), 15 beers, a non-alcoholic drinks list and Australian/French wine list.

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.