4 The Esplanade Mosman, NSW 2088
|Opening hours||Lunch Tue-Sun from noon; dinner Tue-Sat from 6pm (bistro opens daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner)|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Phone||02 9969 5050|
You've gotta love a happy dog, and the happiest dog in all of dogdom is running up and down the beach outside Bathers' Pavilion, in absolute rip-roaring glee.
But even this little fella isn't as ecstatic as the north shore locals, now that Bathers' Pavilion has reopened its doors after a thorough 10-week renovation and reinvention.
Four thousand of them crammed in over the first four days of business, across the fine-dining restaurant, the cafe-turned bistro, the newly created bar/lounge area, the chef's table and the very come-hither, open-air Louis Roederer Terrace on the first floor. A week or so later, and they are still pouring through the doors, almost wagging their tails with joy.
It's the biggest facelift the old girl has had for a couple of decades under the reign of executive chef Serge Dansereau, and the biggest since 1988, when Bathers' Pavilion founder Victoria Alexander first applied her formidable aesthetics to the building, fighting court cases and changing zoning restrictions to make it what it is today.
Joining Dansereau as financial partner is the entrepreneurial Ian Pagent, who gave Sydney the much-loved MG Garage in the late '90s. His investment sees the long, louvre-windowed dining room resplendent in blue-and-white striped banquettes, walnut detailing, revolving ceiling fans and high comfort levels.
Also on board is head chef Cameron Johnston, who returns after a successful few years at St. Claude's in Paddington, as well as ACME's Cam Fairbairn and Sepia sommelier Rodney Setter.
Gazing out the window, it's easy to see where the inspiration of a coastal cuisine and focus on seafood sprang from. Moreton Bay bug, for instance, comes as fingers of pearlescent flesh, lightly grilled over binchotan charcoal and bathed in a smoky beurre blanc with touches of green tomato, parsley oil and macadamia puree and a topknot of fried nori. It's sweet, light, refined.
A reimagined bouillabaisse is a winning assortment of elegantly plated goodies, from poached blue-eye to Port Phillip Bay scallop, poached SA marron, Kinkawooka mussels, turned kipfler potato, baby fennel and dollops of rouille, with a pour-on of bisquey, aromatic broth.
It's one of the most successful refinements of bouillabaisse I've seen, capable of sweeping you away to Provence when teamed with a fresh, vibrant 2018 Aix Coteaux D'aix En Provence Rosé ($19/$48/$89).
Detail is impressive, technique is serious, and the kitchen is good on sauces and emulsions, which taste rich, smooth and balanced.
Faults? A fillet of snapper was pressed too hard for too long in the pan, leaving it crisp-skinned but dry; and the beans with beautifully poached Murray cod were still starchy.
Meatier dishes include a fruity, hand-chopped steak tartare with little rye crisps for crunch; and a stack of boned and seared quail with jerusalem artichoke and coffee polenta.
Sides of silky pomme puree and well-dressed salad, be warned, are an extra $14 each.
Fresh from Melbourne's Attica, pastry chef Kumiko Endo plays with form, texture and fruit. Her wedding-white Epoisses washed-rind souffle cheesecake is spiked with shards of white chocolate, dramatised with raspberries and a sweet/sharp juniper and raspberry sorbet that I can't stop eating.
It's all SO Frenchy, with its choices of butters and salts; its mirepoix and brunoise and turned vegetables, it's as if Dansereau is aiming at French Michelin stars instead of Australia's chef hats. But instead of feeling anachronistic, it all feels rather charming. And happy-making.
Vegetarian: Dedicated vegetarian menu offers five different dishes.
Drinks: Beach-friendly cocktails and an elegant Australian and French-driven wine list studded with gems including a 1976 Domaine de la Romanee Conti at $6750.
Go-to dish: Bouillabaisse with fennel, kipfler, rouille.
Pro tip: Sunday lunch on the Louis Roederer Terrace is a must. Ordering water at $9 a head is not.