The Newport

The puffy, scorchy pizza Margherita is the go-to dish.
The puffy, scorchy pizza Margherita is the go-to dish. Photo: James Brickwood

2 Kalinya St Newport, NSW 2106

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Opening hours 02 9997 4900
Features Outdoor seating, Family friendly, Groups, Views
Prices Moderate (mains $20-$40)
Chef Sebastien Lutaud
Phone 02 9997 4900

When Justin Hemmes bought the old Newport Arms for a reported $50 million, he virtually installed an open-air food festival in Australia's largest waterfront beer garden.  Open in late summer, the place went ballistic; busy on weekdays, hectic at night, rammed at weekends. Cue queues for the pizzeria, burger shack, seafood shed, juice bar and craft beer bar. 

But that was never the gamble. The real risk was always going to be winter. What happens to 11,500 square metres of open space when the winds begin to blow?

I'm curious enough to find out, and so is half the North Shore, many of whom appear to be under four years of age. And – who knew? – it's totally charming. There is a special joy in sitting outside in mild, lemony Sydney winter sunshine overlooking Pittwater's unemployed yachts, a cold wine chilling your fingers. It was for times like this that Uniqlo created the ultralight vest.

The venue's views of the Northern Beaches.
The venue's views of the Northern Beaches. 

There are outdoor heaters, piles of rugs, and a row of fire pits for the night-time chill, but by day, everyone is acting like it's a summer holiday, hanging out listening to live music on the big stage, popping bottles of bubbly for birthdays, sitting down to buckets of cold prawns or playing al fresco table tennis.

With a venue that can seat a thousand people, food becomes more about logistics than gastronomy, so the big surprise is that almost everything is cooked to order, whether it's a puffy, scorchy pizza margherita ($20) of fresh basil, buffalo mozzarella and San Marzano tomatoes from the uncompromising Vincenzo Biondini, or lightly curried Singapore noodles strewn with prawns and bugtail ($19).

Exec chef Sebastien Lutaud's menu is full of trans-seasonal fish-and-chips, crab omelettes and kids' chicken schnitties, while Franck Moreau's wine list is full of sunshiney wines, including that most summery of all wines, rosé. A floral and herbaceous Provencal Domaine de Triennes ($10/$50) is a great fit for the pizza, as is a locally produced (Mona Vale) Modus Operandi pale ale ($7.50).

A bucket of prawns helps maintain the summery, holiday feel.
A bucket of prawns helps maintain the summery, holiday feel. Photo: James Brickwood

The Diner Burger ($20) comes in a brown cardboard box with a slew of good chips on the side. It's in the Shake Shack style – fresh and bright with lettuce, bacon, tomato, onion, cheese, pickles and a cooked-through grass-fed beef patty. My only dud was a barely warm half-rotisserie chicken ($24); the flesh homogenous, the skin wet, and the accompaniments – four soft tacos (cold), a tub of chilli sauce (thin), another of garlic yoghurt sauce (thin) and a third of tabouli (burghul-free) – baffling.

Salads are unexpectedly great, from a blood-red mix of pickled beetroot and red cabbage dotted with fresh goat's cheese and toasty, roasty hazelnuts ($18) to roast pumpkin and carrot with fregola ($18).

There will be tears before bedtime on occasion, as the wind topples your smoothie or rain sends you undercover, but what a great leap of faith this is. The money, effort and talent Hemmes is throwing at The Newport is prodigious; the result is very user-friendly. You get all the stuff that usually costs a fortune – waterside tables, live entertainment, decent food and wine – for a $20 pizza. It's an instant summer holiday, even in winter.

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.

Salads are unexpectedly good.
Salads are unexpectedly good. Photo: James Brickwood

THE LOWDOWN

Best bit: We're all going on a summer holiday.
Worst bit: Juggling orders from different outlets.

Go-to Dish: Go-to dish: Pizza margherita (San Marzano tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, basil), $20

http://merivale.com.au/thenewport