182 Campbell ParadeBondi Beach, NSW
|Opening hours||Mon-Sat 7am-11pm, Sun 7am-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
It’s a wonder Bondi hasn’t yet seceded from Sydney by building a giant wall.
People here get twitchy when they’re not with their own kind. It’s why the most successful restaurants are driven by Bondi locals, entrenched in the local culture.
That augers well for owner Matt Williams, born just a couple of blocks from the corner on which his new Pacific Club restaurant stands. He can recite in detail every service station and restaurant on the site for the past 40 years.
Michael McCann’s Dreamtime Australia Design has stamped Bondi over everything, from the street-front coffee window to the floating fireplace, snug booths, cushion-strewn banquettes and whitewashed central bar.
Street-side windows open to light, air and the inevitable parade of barefoot surfers heading for the waves. Even our waiter, local identity Luke Mussett, is one of Bondi’s most elegant surfers in his spare time.
Flames are a-leaping from the open kitchen, where the customised wood-fired grill and gas-assisted wood-fired oven are worked by skilled young head chef Bret Cameron, last seen at Harvest, up Byron Bay way (the Bondi of the north).
Cameron brings with him an easy understanding of wild and native ingredients, which he marries well – and not gratuitously – with Bondi’s twin streams of comfort food and wellness.
So there’s a vegan take on 2018s “dips ‘n chip” ($12) that sings clear and true – a puddle of smooth sweet potato puree and a quenelle of quite delicious macadamia cheese offset by a tart Davidson plum relish, to scoop up with paper-thin sweet potato crisps.
And seafood, of course, like a pile of whole Yamba grilled prawns ($24), bathed in kelp butter and draped with sea lettuce. And whole fish, like a visually pleasing grilled flounder ($40) that’s dusted with dried kelp and scattered with good, fleshy, house-pickled mussels, warrigal greens and aniseed myrtle.
There are some great wines at the top end and some decent cheapies but more middle ground would be nice, like my sunny, spicy 2017 Unico Zelo Slate Farm Clare Valley fiano ($16 glass/$75 bottle).
Some heartier dishes appear only at lunch, like a wood-roasted free-range chicken from Nichols Poultry in Tasmania, which comes with blackened leek, fermented mushrooms and spring onion ($33/$65), doused in an umami-rich chicken gravy. Sounds like dinner to me.
Kangaroo pops up as a loin with quandong and toasted rice ($34), as cured floss strewn over a wood-fired wedge of pumpkin ($18), and as a lunchtime “kanga banga” ($14); a satisfyingly savoury skippy sausage tucked into a brioche roll with plenty of fried onion and native plum ($14). Bondi, you have a new hangover cure.
A lush pear and ginger cake ($14) baked in a cast iron skillet bears a dollop of smooth, rich and delicious aniseed myrtle ice-cream. The only non-event is a charred sugarloaf cabbage ($13) that just feels too riched up to be its best self.
And while the kitchen is good on sauces – universally smooth, light, glossy – I’d suggest not everything needs one.
Bondi hasn’t seen anything like this for a while – the high-detail yet relaxed fit-out, the financial commitment, the perceptive service, the polished food that runs breakfast, lunch and dinner.
It’s noisy, warm, sunny and not so cool for school that even a foreigner – from the other side of the wall – would feel welcome.
The Pacific Club Bondi Beach
Vegetarian Handful of choices, from dips and chips to grilled mushroom with ricotta gnudi and beetroot with stracciatella, pecans and blood orange.
Drinks Serious cocktail action from the central island bar, and a contemporary list of food-friendly wines that could do with more middle ground.
Go-to dish Whole kelp flounder with pickled mussels, warrigal greens and aniseed myrtle, $40.
Pro tip The table closest to the open kitchen gets toasted by the wood-fired grill.
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.