I must have driven past the stretch of harbour at Rose Bay Pier thousands of times throughout my life, and I will never, ever get sick of the view. Now, thanks to Jacqui Lewis’ revamp of Pier, her father’s long time fine dining establishment, I can sit and stare at it for much longer than it takes the traffic lights to change, with a drink in hand and food for under $30 to boot.
The Sailors Club is the answer to the prayers of locals like me, and beyond – finally, a spot giving full access to sparkling water views, without the extreme expense. Rather than the rare occasion palava of dining at a decidedly ‘fancy’ restaurant, The Sailors Club is a more casual affair, and therefore able to be a more regular one. Beachy decor conjures a leisurely feel, with sunshine yellow metal chairs, rope coiled stools and stripy napkins reminiscent of an old fashioned beach chair. A wide, arched strip of turquoise blue ceiling reminds me of those tunnels at the aquarium where the sharks swim overhead, though the water views out of the Sailors Club windows are far more impressive. Shiny white tables and bright, patterned cushions complete the ‘1960’s Palm Springs’, breezy vibe.
Expectedly, the place is a socialite hotspot, but that’s not to say that families and those of a mature age aren’t equally welcome. I came with my family for Mum’s birthday, and we were one of many. The menu is arranged clearly into starters, mains and ‘sweet goodness’ for dessert. There is also a kids menu with fuss-free options like ‘fish and chippies’ and pasta with cheese, if you too have a picky younger sibling or child. Gluten-Free options are also clearly marked, an eastern suburbsy touch.
The food is clean and elegant for the most part, but not perfect. A Spring green entree of ‘tender’ leaks arrived lukewarm, also an adequate description in terms of flavor, the tough to cut leeks and bland, yoghurt quality of fromage blanc given little depth from a scattering of sesame seeds. A side of greens were more satisfying, with broccoli, snow peas and green beans steamed til just crunchy, made morish with the classic addition of garlic and olive oil. More fiery is a delicate arrangement of glistening kingfish sashimi with blood orange, micro herbs and some bold, chargrilled red chilli.
An obvious seaside main, fish and chips is offered for adults too, a modest portion of flathead coated in light cooper’s beer batter, served with a heap of lightly crisp fries of the skinny french variety, good vehicles to dip into some marvelous tartar sauce, fragrant with fresh dill and briny capers.
Alternatively, for a lighter fish option, confit ocean trout is served with simply shaved and grilled zucchini, allowing the clean richness of the ocean trout to shine.
If your into chicken over fish, you could order the ‘brick chicken’, cooked underneath a brick, an intriguing technique said to be what makes the skin go so crispy. Topped with lemon thyme and an intense, salty oregano gremolata, its comforting and familiar yet definitely a cut above your usual roast.
Dessert is where things get more interesting, if a bit hit and miss. Arriving in an impressive cloud of smoke, the Sailors Club Tiramisu is literally a jumbled up version of the usual uniform layers of the dessert. The traditional flavors are present but intensified and transformed with some liquid nitrogen action, into crazy bits of chocolatey, mocha rubble, hiding a base layer of syrupy espresso-marsala soaked chocolate sponge, all tempered by a slightly tangy marscapone ice-cream and the odd salt flake.
A sight almost as pretty as the view behind it, the buttermilk and blood orange float is comprised mainly of a tangy, fizzy blood orange sherbert above a light as air buttermilk cream. Also surprisingly tangy was the ‘coconut pudding’, a bowlful of all sorts of things including toasted flaked coconut, granola, and something that I swear tasted just like weight watchers cottage cheese – this would make a fabulous summer breakfast, but for dessert felt a little strange. Maybe it could be rectified with the addition of some of the delectable butterscotch sauce that bound the banoffee dessert, the classic elements of banana, toffee and biscuit presented in creamy, crunchy, powdered and pureed forms, with the addition of peanuts - ultimate gluttony presented in an elegant martini glass, like an Elvis approved eaton-mess.
Come summer, the Sailors Club will be an ideal place to swing by after an afternoon on the beach, to sip on cool chardonnay whilst watching the early evening sunset, or on one of the creative ‘house cocktails’. I tried the Portside Tea, simply because it includes Earl Gray infused Bombay Gin. Unfortunately there was no traceable tea flavor, though it is citrusy and refreshing. That was until I noticed the presence of a tiny floating bug towards the bottom of my glass. Thankfully I’d only had a few sips and let a waitress know, who conceded ‘that’s gross’ and offered to replace it, which I declined. Still showed up on the bill though. Alas, nothing is perfect – but The Sailors Club certainly has the on-paper credentials to be so.