” Ohhh that person’s just leaving now. Oh no, someone else has taken it!”
Grinding my teeth in frustration, I gave up on finding parking around the main esplanade area and ended up driving up the long hill to find somewhere to leave the car. I would have thought arriving at Balmoral Beach at 10.00 am would avoid the crowds and guarantee me a relatively-close parking spot, however I hadn’t reckoned with Sydney-siders’ ability to dash to the beach as soon as the weather bureau forecasted the last summer-like day for autumn this year.
Fashion Obsessed Girl was heading overseas in a week from the day and wanted to experience Sydney sunshine before she left, and I had promised her a day out at the lovely Balmoral Beach. It has to be one of my favourite beaches – not as crowded as Bondi, a little less family-oriented as Manly, and more shade-friendly than Mona Vale, Freshwater and Chinaman’s put together. And there was also the Bathers’ Pavillion, where I had previously been to the restaurant to have a glorious dessert degustation dinner one night two years ago. While I’m interested in checking out their regular menu, the restaurant is a bit out of my current budget. I had heard that they had a more budget-friendly cafe just next door, and after viewing the menu online, I was eager for a visit.
After spending a couple of hours exposing our skin to UV rays, I announced that I was ravenous. It was shortly after 2.30 pm at this point, and I felt that any lunchtime crowd should be relatively dispersed by then. After a quick dip, we made our way over to the Pavillion.
Bathers’ Pavillion is situated right on the beach, with perfect, sprawling views of the waterline. You can’t help but people-watch if you’re fortunate enough to score a seat right beside one of the large floor-to-ceiling window panels, and the people walking by can’t resist peering in to see what delicious things you’re eating (which I was guilty of when I first walked over to check it out).
We two ladies were lucky enough to grab one of the last tables for two in the cafe, in a little room off from the main busy cafe floor. The furnishings and design in this room were a vivid contrast to the white and blue colour coordination of the main cafe, with its terracotta-red textured walls and more comfortable, homely furnishings.
Tap water in a large bottle was brought to the table as soon we were seated, always a good tick in my books. I feel so cheap when I have to say “tap, please” to the request of still or sparkling. Service was very friendly yet still professional throughout our meal, despite our casual beachy attire. The joys of dining in the Northern Suburbs.
The drinks menu was very extensive and we decided to go for a mocktail each. Fashion Obsessed Girl went for the Bathers’ Fruit Mocktail ($10.80), a combination of mango, pineapple, mint and raspberry. With the blended mango, it was quite thick and smoothie-like in its consistency. Very yum.
I had originally requested a skinny hazelnut latte, however unfortunately they were out of hazelnut syrup so I opted for the Summer Punch Mocktail ($11.80), a refreshingly light blend of passionfruit, pineapple juice, elderflower cordial, fresh watermelon and lime.
Food was a slightly harder choice, as of course what I had done was work in my usual reverse order: look at the dessert menu first, and then see what I can fit in before that. Luckily Fashion Obsessed Girl and I were tossing up between the same two “small meals” dishes – it’s always such a relief when your dining companions have similar tastes to you!
Our dishes arrived at the same time after we were about halfway through our mocktails. Fashion Obsessed Girl’s Pan-fried Garfish Fillets with Courgettes, Fennel, Mint & Labne Yoghurt ($25) had slightly smaller fillets of fish than we were expecting, but do keep in mind that it was listed under the “small meals” menu.
I have never really understood lemon cheeks over lemon wedges. Sure, it presents better, but it has a tendency to get juice everywhere when you give it a hearty squeeze.
The salad was lightly dressed with pieces of gorgeous grapefruit and the aniseed flavour of the fennel was refreshingly light. The garfish fillets were a little plain on their own, but combined with the creamy yoghurt and fresh salad, it was a lovely light and healthy meal.
When I had ordered the Wood-oven Roasted Scallops and Prawns with Octopus Ceviche and Garlic Aioli ($26), I hadn’t envisioned that there would be a lot of octopus and had said Fashion Obsessed Girl could have the octopus. I’ve never actually tried octopus, as I’m a bit squeamish when it comes to looking at the tentacles and suckers.
Hmm. Okay, there was a lot more octopus than I was anticipating. Fashion Obsessed Girl encouraged me to try it, and with my first tentative bite, I was astonished to find that I liked it. It wasn’t as chewy as I had been expecting, and having been cured lightly in a citric juice, it was flavoursome and quite juicy. The wood-oven roasted scallops were smokey and perfectly cooked, and the small prawn kebabs were meaty and brushed with what I guessed was saffron to give it that gorgeous orange tinge. The seafood was paired with a very light and deliciously creamy garlic aioli, which I used a generous amount of.
For only a dollar more than the garfish fillets, this dish was exceptional value.
Onwards to dessert!
After a bit of deliberation, Fashion Obsessed Girl had ordered the Ricotta and Pear Gâteau with Hazelnut, Chocolate Sauce and Coffee Ice Cream ($18):
We had asked the waitress if the chocolate sauce was chocolate or cocoa-based, and she said chocolate, however we could taste the grittiness of the cocoa. I thought a caramel sauce may have been a better pairing with this dish. But the gâteau itself was deliciously nutty, topped with slices of perfectly poached pear and filled with the lightly whipped ricotta cheese. The coffee ice cream was the easy star of this dish, bursting with a strong hit of espresso with the tiniest sample. It was amazing, as the ice cream wasn’t a very intense shade of brown to have warranted such a smack of coffee flavour.
Meanwhile, I was in blissful oblivion with my choice of dessert:
My Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée with Spèculoos, Strawberries & Strawberry Sorbet ($18) was creamy custard heaven. The spèculoos was a dark, spiced biscuit that tasted not unlike a Butternut Snap with gingerbread and golden syrup tones. The strawberry sorbet was full of fresh strawberry flavours (nothing worse than strawberry ice cream which tastes like Nesquik) and we learned later that they make all of the ice creams and sorbets on site.
While the burnt sugar crust was crisp and just the right thickness, what lay beneath was what stole my heart for the day. I’ve had a lot of crème brûlées and they always have something off about them – too eggy, too sweet, not set properly, or even separated. This baked custard was hands down the best crème brûlée I have ever tasted in my life so far. Silky, creamy, not eggy in the slightest – it threw me back to my childhood (and still, on occasion… *guilty face*) where I would eat cold custard straight from the carton. Filled with little bits of fragrant vanilla bean seeds that added just that little subtle crunch, I polished off the entire ramekin with ease.
After giving a sigh of bliss, we knew we eventually had to walk up the epic hill back to the car. At least we could somehow work off the delicious calories we just consumed. A beautiful meal with fresh, quality seafood with a gorgeous view of the beach sprawled before you.
Really, Sydney, sometimes you just out-do yourself.
Have a lovely weekend, lovelies! xx
The Bathers’ Pavillion Cafe
4 The Esplanade
Balmoral NSW 2088
(02) 9969 5050