Merivale has a number of great establishments around town — Mr Wong, Papi Chulo, Palmer & Co — but it's been hard to feel a lot of love or loyalty for a hospitality empire that seems to own every second venue in the city. Set to change that is Coogee Pavilion, which opened its doors at the foot of Coogee Beach on Thursday and breaks the mould of what we expect from suburban pub refits.
The thing is, the Pavilion is more than a bar or restaurant. Think seaside Grounds of Alexandria. It's a buzzing beach boardwalk experience welcoming any and every kind of human. Inside, you can grab a coffee from the Will & Co stand, slurp on a superfoods smoothie off the lovejuice cart, get a trim at the barber's, pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers or just stroll around enjoying the choice overload. The nostalgia-ruled games area, set to open in the next week, will add 1960s ping pong tables reworked into adorable pastels, petanque (that's French bowls), a giant hand-painted Scrabble board and old-school arcade games to the mix. And there's another two floors of Pav to come.
The food offering is designed so it's as easy to feed a family on chewy, true-Italian pizza for under $20 a head as it is to indulge in a sophisticated, three-figure seafood feast. The lengthy menu combines share plates by executive chef Jordan Toft and head chef Zac Sykes, woodfired pizza by Vincenzo Biondini and a raw bar — as well as breakfast (starting August 2) by Danielle Alvarez.
Both the seafood and pizza are pretty solid. The thinly sliced Hervey Bay scallops with yuzu, mandarin and Japanese seven spice ($18) are a beautifully delicate start to our meal, while the grilled sardines with salmoriglio, lemon and sea salt ($14) follow up with a punch of strong, charcoaly flavours. A suitably maritime Vesuvio pizza ($22) of San Marzano tomatoes, Fior di Latte, olives, capers and Ortiz anchovies is perfect, marrying minimal, quality ingredients on a dreamy wisp of a base.
The only disappointment on our table is the duck confit salad ($23), whose characterful individual components of crisp Jerusalem artichokes, white radicchio, green olive bagna cauda and goat's cheese are lost in combination. It's a good meal for two, but this is a menu best enjoyed in a group; I look over at the party beside us, hoeing into a platter of oysters ($3.50 each) and the 'smashed crab' (pot-roasted whole mud crab with caramelised garlic and black pepper drawn butter and parsley, at market price), with some jealousy.
Drinks-wise, we have two of the best cocktails we've had in a while. The Shaky Pete ($16) of Beefeater Gin, ginger and James Squire One Fifty Lashes Pale Ale is a crowdpleaser; a ginger beer with a mean bite. The Pornstar No.2 ($17), meanwhile, is the adult Passiona you never knew you wanted: a mix of Hennessey Cognac, passionfruit, vanilla and Chandon with depth and a peppery finish. Though it would be nice to see more in the craft beer department (especially considering the number of summer days we're set to while away here), there is a nice variety of mainly Australian wines with — hip hip hooray — a few available on tap and by the carafe.
The aesthetic here is familiarly Merivale, but it really works, combining nostalgic nautical touchstones with clean, contemporary character. Adding some jaunty charm are bespoke creations like the carnivalesque lettering designed in-house and this giant 45kg rope knitted lampshade — not to mention the adorable whale mascot in lightbulbs hanging out on the back wall.
Already the best beach hang-out in Sydney, Coogee Pavilion is a gift: to the Coogee community, to young families and old sea dogs, and to the people of Sydney, who now have an instant beach holiday just 25 minutes out of the city. How the venue will settle into the neighbourhood is yet to be seen. While the atmosphere in the Pav is electric, metres away on the main road, the only life on a Thursday night is drunk backpackers. So long as the local-focused culture of the Coogee Pavilion holds, the future is bright.