In the jumble of retro milk bars, casual eateries and upmarket restaurants that make up Cronulla's food scene, a suave new bar-cum-restaurant has emerged. Opening quietly in late-2017, Baker Lane is simultaneously filling a gap (literally and figuratively) and upping the stakes.
Somewhat of a perfectionist, co-owner Jono Lane is behind every cocktail that passes over the Baker Lane bar. Not that the confidence is unfounded, both he and partner Robyn Baker have worked in hospitality for years. They took over the famed Cronulla nightclub Fusions three years ago. And they had always intended to expand into food, so when the space directly behind Fusions, formerly occupied by the Feros Group's Gerrale Street Kitchen, became available, the pair moved swiftly.
The interior has been completely revamped by design firm EB Designs. The Scandi palette of crisp white and blonde wood has been replaced with darker tones on the walls and tables, and moody lighting to create a more sultry vibe. The tan leather banquette survived the refurb and is now offset by blue velvet ottomans and vertical timber slats. The sophisticated fit-out is unlike any other venue in The Shire. And that's exactly the point. This is where you come for an afternoon gossip over wine, a first date, a long lunch or a birthday dinner. It's classy, yes, but also warm and welcoming.
The food menu has a safe collection of crowd-pleasers — fish and chips ($28), chicken schnitzel ($28) and seven steak cuts (starting from $33). More excitement (and, in fact, better value) can be found in the share plate section. To start, chicken wings with a sweet chilli and lime glaze ($14) and beef croquettes with garlic aioli ($16) both pack a flavour punch. But it's the crumbed goat's curd ($15) that has our attention. Bordering on 'too pretty to eat', the plate is dressed with pickled beetroot, ginger snaps and dollops of balsamic, which, when combined with the goat's curd, achieves the ultimate sweet/tangy/creamy balance. If only it were acceptable to lick plates clean (in public).
On the larger dishes side, the cured meat plate ($36) and cheese plate ($42) pair well with a bottle from the Australian and New Zealand-dominated wine list. A dish titled Hot Meat From The Oven ($34) could be easily overlooked but you would be remiss to do so. The braised meat (which rotates daily) is tender, rich in flavour and served with bread, pickled vegetables and a simple salad. The sides, again, aren't new — garlic bread, mashed potato, steamed broccoli — but with most under $10, you may as well grab a few to round out the meal. It is food that doesn't require a lot of thought. It looks good and tastes good without dominating, so you can focus on why you're really here: cocktails and conversation.
Speaking of cocktails, the menu is extensive and incorporates a range of spirits to please most palates. The watermelon mojito ($18) quenches a balmy summer thirst, while the Geisha ($18), made with vodka, strawberry liqueur, passionfruit, and grapefruit, is served ice cold and goes down a treat. The mentally-prepared final order — a Hot Sweet Mexican margarita ($20), which combines reposado tequila with chilli honey syrup — was foiled by the realisation that, actually, those first two cocktails were deceivingly strong. Not to worry, there's always next time.