8-18 Kingsway Cronulla, NSW 2230
|Opening hours||Tue-Thu noon-late, Fri-Sun 11.30am-late|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 7209 2839|
People tell me all they want to do is dine outside. It feels more open and relaxed, they say; but what they really mean is safer.
It makes The Pines quite the hot ticket at the moment, with its Beach Bar terrace and large, whitewashed dining room with windows thrown open to beach views, right in the heart of Cronulla's famous restaurant "alley".
For a joint that opened last November, it's pulling an excitable party-time crowd. At a rough estimate this sunny lunchtime, I'd say it's 30 per cent family groups and 70 per cent off-the-shoulder frocks and stilettos (that percentage possibly skewed by the presence of a hens' party).
It's a dreamily attractive Hamptons-style setting, from the luxurious booths inside and the high stool seating on the terrace, to the park of Norfolk pines across the road, echoed by a tiny graphic pine tree on plates.
It's so attractive that when Adam Cryer, Brian McCarthy, Lenny Davis and Ross Robinson approached chef James Metcalfe of JRM Hospitality to help set up the kitchen and menu, he says he jumped at the chance to join the business.
Metcalfe is a chef I've followed since his days at Justin North's Becasse in the noughties, through to The Bellevue in Paddington and St George in Chippendale; and not just because he has a way with pork jowl. OK, that might be the main reason.
The food at The Pines, from head chef Nicholas Sum, is just as good-looking as the rest of the place. Oh look, there's my old friend the pork jowl, in a pretty play on Thai ma hor. Three tranches of crisply cracklinged pork ($28) are glazed with soy and ginger and topped with pickled pineapple, radish, coriander, basil and rau ram (Vietnamese mint).
In a lighter dish, fresh tuna has been cubed and marinated then topped with a smoked oyster dressing and herb oil and pink flowers ($29). It's supple and fresh, but I want that oily, smoky hit you get from canned smoked oysters, over the subtlety of house-smoked.
When in doubt, order by the box. The menu puts its most popular dishes in boxes, from seared scallops with cauliflower puree and curry oil ($29) to a big seafood bouillabaisse for two ($110) with rouille and baguette.
Of the four steaks from the grill section – including dry-aged Rangers Valley Black Onyx 1kg rib-eye to share ($160) – it's the 250g Rangers Valley flank ($38) that gets the box treatment. Cured with koji, the umami-rich fermented rice or soybean culture used to make sake, soy sauce and miso, the meat is crusty, pink and satisfying.
"The enzymes accelerate ageing, so dry-curing over a 48-hour period enhances the flavour and produces amazingly tenderised meat," says Metcalfe. The only choices offered are "pink or well-done", which seems a bit black or white. I would advise pink.
Sommelier Noel Sorrenti suggests a glass of The Iberian ($16/$55) from Coates Wines in McLaren Vale, an earthy, gutsy blend of seven grape varieties from Spain, Portugal and Roussillon.
There are fries, green beans, grilled broccolini and a classic green salad, but the poor things have to compete with the (boxed) side of macaroni cheese with lobster ($25). Crowned with a panko crumb crust and a gently cooked tropical lobster tail, the macaroni is lightly creamy and pleasant, the cheesiness held in check.
Service is attentive and breezy. You can drop in just for pizza and a martini if that's your thing, and kids are served a scoop of ice-cream after their pizza, pasta or fish and chips. For adults, crisp pavlova with passionfruit, mango and Chantilly cream ($18) is like a farewell to summer, especially with a sunny glass of Rameau d'Or Cotes de Provence rosé ($14) on the side.
But why farewell summer? The Pines is what you want your beachside restaurant to be, packaging up that summer vibe so seductively, it might even last through the depths of winter.
Vegetarian Quite a few options throughout, plus a dedicated vegan menu
Drinks Former Rockpool and Merivale sommelier Chris Hoy's drinks list includes Smoke, Oak, and Rock cocktails and lively, contemporary wines with a separate Coravin section and 22 by the glass.