It's not all that common for a pub to commit almost all of its menu to a cultural cuisine, and it's more rare still that the cuisine is Italian. But, from its prime real estate literally a stone's throw from Sydney's iconic beach, Bondi Beach Public Bar has taken the plunge into Italian cooking, and has come out the other side with a blend of traditional food and chilled, beach vibes that feel natural enough to ask, "Why haven't we tried this before?"
The venue is welcoming, dimly lit, with low ceilings and a decorative theme that seems like a trippy collaboration between Jackson Pollock and Banksy. One wall is covered with a 23-metre art installation by Melbourne artist and bar czar Matthew Bax (behind Bar Americano). Roughly rendered walls hem in the low tables, which form a ring around a central bar. From my vantage point, perched at the bar made from a massive concrete slab, I watch the bar fill up, sipping on a delicious 2017 trebbiano from Abruzzo ($14 a glass). The sweet front palate coupled with a light acidity and dry finish, made a wine looking to pair well with the market fish ($30) I so eagerly awaited.
Despite the fact that the bar was full at the time I had ordered, my meal arrived with enough delay to denote an attentive chef, and not so quickly that one might presume corners had been cut. The market fish, barramundi in my case, was cooked to perfection, which can be difficult for a chef during the crush of a busy service. The cauliflower caponata accompanying it came with radicchio, lemon, dill, and olives — veering away from the traditional components of the Sicilian dish; but, it maintained the classic balance between sweet and sour, and rich and bitter for which caponata is renowned.
I ordered a side of the herb and polenta nuggets ($10) with sour cream and fried parsley and they were deliciously crunchy on the outside, soft and fluffy in the centre. Thankfully, they had none of the unappealing grainy texture that often haunts polenta-based dishes. And I was right, the trebbiano paired perfectly with both. The menu veers from Italian, too. It includes the — already famous — "squish burger", all-day breakfast pizza and spicy fried chicken.
Maurice Terzini, the man behind the Dolphin, Icebergs Dining Room and now Bondi Beach Public Bar, has created a bar that takes a traditional cuisine and, instead of flipping it the middle digit, gives it makeover to fit snugly into beach-side dining culture. With an impressive yet concise wine list, a more than reasonable price point (a fifty plus some change gets you a starter, a main, and a fancy glass of vino), and a few fun pre-batched cocktails to boot, it's not hard to see how BBPB was packed so early on a dreary Thursday evening.