This morning was one of those glorious early-spring mornings in Sydney when the air is clean and just a little crisp and the entire day sits brightly before you ready for the taking. Mrs Prick and I, being sans Little Pricks this weekend, slept in, pottered about, read papers, and contemplated our options. As we saw it there were only two real choices: On the one hand we could scoot around the neighbourhood to a couple of open houses to check out properties we’d lately been perving on and then go have a lovely lunch someplace near water.
Or we could head into the city with signs threating to “behead those who insult the prophet”, get tear-gassed by the cops, and try to storm the American Consulate.
It was a close run thing, but we went with Option A. Today’s riot was a family affair, and it would not have felt right not bringing the kids (note the proud mother taking a happy-snap, presumably to be shared on some sharia-compliant social media). Which meant heading east to check out The Sailor’s Club, Greg Doyle’s new venture on the site of the old Pier on – or rather, over – Rose Bay, which he ran for 21 years.
Now I never made it to the old Pier, which is a shame, though I have the cookbook which, like so many other volumes put out by now-deceased restaurants sit on the shelves like travel guides to no longer extant cities long since over-run by changing tastes and fortunes. The new Pier – er, Sailor’s Club – is a far more casual affair. The new fit-out is bright, with lots of whites and yellows, even on the paper (!) napkins. Some, though not all – and there’ll be more to say about this later – dishes come served on speckled melamine picnic plates. It’s all-day dining, and there’s a bit of a lounge that serves snacks into the night as well, though it is disappointing that in the main room one can’t order, say, the beef tartare or Rangers Valley meat balls. Nothing on the menu comes in over $30. Economically, this sounds smart: Get as many hours of the day as possible out of the place, cut prices, and make it up in volume.
But does it make sense? Yes, up to a point. The place was well full when we showed up, loaded with the full complement of Eastern Suburbs archetypes, from the long table of gazelle-like girls celebrating a birthday to older gents with their second wives and babies, fellows who no matter how much money they have never shake that expression that seems to say, “No way prams were this complicated and expensive first time around …”. At one point I overheard the fifty-something year old woman at the next table say something about “having to have lunch with my stockbroker”. Who has stockbrokers any more?
Anyway, it being a bright Saturday afternoon we teed off with Sailors’ Club’s own “Cucumber Mary”, billed on the menu as a concoction of “Organic Square One Cucumber, roasted mary mix, crispy tomato waffles”, a great take on the traditional drink made with, as horrifyingly wanky as it sounds, organic cucumber vodka. The cucumber was a great balance with the bartender’s spice, coming in over the top to rescue the palate in the same way a hit of raita saves the day after a hot vindaloo. Not sure about the “crispy tomato waffles”, though; more like a bit of limp tomato peel.
We started with a couple of raw fish dishes, and here we saw the ghosts of the old Pier really come through. A sugar-cured ocean trout for Mrs Prick with dill and brioche could have been plucked from the old cookbook, as could have my crudo of John Dory – which turned out to be snapper as they’d run out of Dory – with char-grilled chilis and blood orange (page 97’s “carpaccio of John Dory with ruby grapefruit, baby fennel and extra virgin olive oil may or may not have been the inspiration for this dish). Both were bright and fresh, exactly what they should have been, though despite otherwise similar presentations, the crudo came on a proper plate while the ocean trout was on melamine. Odd.
Mains: Mrs Prick had fish and chips, again on melamine, while I had the “brick chicken”, again served on a proper plate. (“Do they not trust me with grown-up plates?”, wondered Mrs Prick). Fish and chips are hard to screw up in a proper kitchen, but there was something not quite right. The batter was a lurid orange, and the dish itself was a bit limp and flaccid. The chicken was, well, as the saying goes, “winner, winner, chicken dinner!”. Half a bird deboned, given a light treatment with salt, oil, and herbs, and cooked pressed under a brick. Simply presented, with perhaps a bit too much of a final splash of EVOO, this tasted like chicken, and in the best way: robust and rich, and I’d be interested to know where they get their chooks.
So what’s the verdict? Well, on the face of it, pretty good. If we lived in parts east we’d be regulars, as so much of the crowd clearly already is, despite its only having been open a month or two. But the kitchen feels like it’s driving a sports car across the ANZAC Bridge with only a couple of points left on its license: it wants to let loose and go hard, but at the same time has to keep it to 60km/h. Granted this is based on one visit and a few dishes, but there seems an internal contradiction whereby casual neighbourhood grub shares a menu (though not a crockery cabinet) with fancier stuff. The fancier stuff wants to win the race, but the demands of turnover handicap this impulse. With a little fine-tuning and perhaps a more adult dinner menu, neither side would have to lose.