283 Bondi Rd Bondi, NSW 2026
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 11.30am-midnight; Sun 11.30am-10pm.|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||02 9114 7371|
How good is eating outside? It's in our DNA, forged under the hot sun at thousands of backyard barbecues and beer gardens throughout the land.
Here in the big, piazza-like courtyard of The Royal in Bondi, eating outside is such a dreamy, summery thing to do, it makes you bless your cotton socks (should you be wearing any) that you are not skiing in Hokkaido or braving the icy sleet of New York.
Instead, you're sitting in the shade of a transplanted 50-year-old olive tree scoffing puffy, wood-fired flat bread – like pizza that blew up in the oven, sheening with olive oil and rocky with sea salt – and ordering Negroni by the litre (hell, yeah).
Justin Hemmes has done much to shake up Sydney's beachside pub scene at Coogee, Collaroy and Newport. Now it's Bondi's turn, as Merivale does what Merivale does: moves in, waves a big wand, inserts top-shelf chefs, and turns old-school into new-school.
Hence The Royal now sees Mike Eggert, of Pinbone and Mr. Liquor's Dirty Italian Disco, and Khan Danis, of Rockpool Bar & Grill and Cipri, installed as joint head chefs, alongside Queen Chow's Christopher Hogarth, with a brief to do "local Italian just like it used to be".
Beyond the freshened-up front bars and pool tables, the belly of the solid old corner pub has been hollowed out and stripped back to an almost abandoned state, but for a forest of wooden tables and chairs, wood-fired pizza oven, wicker wine jugs and hanging legs of ham.
The terrace is the sweet spot, with tables and canvas directors' chairs cleverly given shade and shelter, and open kitchens running down the side.
The Eggert/Danis menu is straight-up and simple, the only way to survive when you are designed for turnover. You could – and should – build a meal around that baked-to-order basketball of bread by adding smooth creamy burrata ($8), freshly sliced prosciutto San Daniele ($15) or spicy 'nduja ($8).
It's worth sharing a pasta or two – especially a beautifully al dente rigatoni sauced with a gravel of pork, cooked in milk for a nonna-like sweetness, under a storm of grated parmigiana reggiano ($28), or a fruity, tomatoey stew of Sardinian fregola ($29), the pearls of semolina pasta awash with calamari and mussels.
Chilli oil adds a lick of warmth to polenta studded with fresh corn kernels ($9), and there's a perky little salad of soft oakleaf and pickled nectarine ($9) in a sharp shallot dressing.
The top half of the menu is best, like the top half of an icy-cold beer.
Of the mains, a meaty 300g pork schnitzel scattered with parmigiano and capers ($27) is just a pork schnitzel, and a small whole roasted flathead matted with green herbs ($42) is pleasant enough.
Save 'em for winter, perhaps, because this is how we should eat in summer, knocking back a glass of bright, fresh, clean Suavia Soave ($14/$68), or a slab of Neapolitan ice-cream sandwiched between two wafer biscuits ($8) that has a siren call louder than a Mr Whippy ice-cream truck.
Totti's makes it easy, with its minimalist (but not deconstructed) fare; all care taken with the right things, and everything else as casual as hell. Plus, sunshine. It's going to break my heart when we have to head back indoors.
Vegetarian: Plenty of cheese and veg antipasti, plus eight vegetable side dishes and salads.
Drink: By the litre – orange cordial is $3 litre (proceeds to OneWave) and house-made Negroni $95 litre. Moretti beer is on tap, the wines are sunny, and Franck Moreau's pick of premium French and Italian varietals is on call.
Cost: About $120 for two, plus drinks.
Go-to dish: Wood-fired flat bread $10 (add your own antipasto, from $7 to $14).
Pro tip: There are two splendidly large square tables, outside but under cover, that are perfect for groups.