My sister is out from LA for a one-week business trip and in between meetings we squeezed in lunch at Bathers’ Cafe.
The iconic building has a lot of history. It was commissioned by Mosman Council in 1928 and was essentially built as a large changing shed known as Bathers’ Pavilion. It was opened in 1929 and considered a stunning and imposing building right on Balmoral Beach. It was a two-storey building with living quarters for the caretaker, a first aid room and the north end was the women’s change rooms and the south end the men’s. Trunks and woollen bathing suits were available for hire.
The building continued on as planned until 1967 when there was a decline in people using the facilities. It was then leased to Mr Kanaef who turned it into Mischa’s Restaurant. That’s where my husband enters the story. When he was Archie’s age he took a job as a waiter at Mischa’s Restaurant. It was always busy and brunch was an institution for every local. Carl didn’t work there terribly long as one of the managers took a liking to Carl and used to pinch his bottom every time he walked by.
Moving forward a generation, the premises are now owned by chef, Serge Dansereau who has changed the name back to Bathers’ Pavilion. At the northern end is the restaurant and the southern end houses the cafe. This is where Archie enters the story. Like father, like son, Archie is working as a waiter at Bathers’ Cafe. So far no one has pinched his bottom.
This is where Archie spent Christmas and a couple of days before that event, in walked Keith, Nicole and the two girls. Now the rule is that if you see a public figure you’re not allowed to engage with them in any way other than by just doing your job. But you know my Archie and you know he doesn’t always play by the rules and it is a fact that some time before, through a couple of degrees of separation, Mr Urban had organised two tickets for Archie to one of his Sydney concerts. Archie was just bursting to have the opportunity to personally thank Keith for those tickets and so there’s every chance he did. Carl has no such interesting stories from his days at Mischa’s.
As today was the last day of summer I couldn’t think of a better place to head for lunch and so Em and I organised to meet in the cafe for lunch. The weather wasn’t the best. Probably the coldest and wettest final day of summer I can remember. Never mind; the view is fabulous whatever the weather.
The waiters are all smartly dressed in black pants with pressed blue shirts and aprons (we’ve given Archie some ironing lessons), and one of the smartly dressed crew showed us to a table at the very rear of the cafe with a domed ceiling above us and tall windows opening out onto the view.
There is a range of seating options including Parisian-looking cafe tables for two or benches for groups or wooden tables with cane chairs or banquettes of cushions in the corners. The floor is polished concrete and as this is a venue that is always busy there is some noise but not enough to have to ask people to repeat themselves. The room is open and bright with artworks of local beach scenes on the walls.
One thing that’s starting to annoy me about a lot of places is that there never seems to be anywhere to put your bag so we have to put ours down on the floor and hope no one trips over them.
The menu has many choices divided into categories such as light meals, pastas, wood-fired pizzas, meat, seafood and salads. Having walked to the cafe, I’m ravenous so I ordered the confit duck. It was everything I was hoping for and I enjoyed it so much that the only thing left on my plate was the bone. The skin on the duck was well seasoned and beautifully crisp while the meat came away from the bone with just a nudge. The polenta was buttery soft and the fig helped cut through the richness of the duck. The only thing I thought this dish was missing was a little bit of sauce.
Em ordered the Spanish mackerel which can be served on a bed of potatoes or risotto and she chose the risotto. She just loved this and said the fish was moist and beautifully cooked while the risotto was glossy, full of colour with that wanted, creamy consistency.
You can order sides however we were advised our mains probably didn’t need them but regardless, we decided to order the baby spinach. It was just wilted so still vibrantly green and not swimming in a pool of liquid which was nice.
For dessert Em ordered the Rhubarb Floating Island with vanilla anglaise, fresh strawberries and rhubarb sorbet. I’ve had this before and the presentation alone gets you excited. I just loved the look of the palm tree biscuit standing on the ‘island’. The meringue was soft and not overpoweringly sweet while the sorbet and anglaise compliment with their creaminess and sharpness working together well. The desserts all cost $18.50 which isn’t cheap but if you’re going to order any dessert, this would be the one.
I ordered the lime brulee with coconut tulles which certainly didn’t have the visual impact of the floating island dessert. But, the brulee was everything you’d expect with the crack of toffee on the top and the creamy custard beneath. The lime flavour was subtle but present. I loved the coconut tulles and the combination of flavours in this dessert reminded me of summer holidays.
Bathers’ Cafe is a place you have to visit at least once in your lifetime. As for being a ‘cafe’ the prices are certainly more than what you’d pay at a cafe but this cafe is not your typical cafe. There’s the priceless view, the heritage-listed building and the renowned chef all to be considered. And as a bonus, you might even spot a celebrity or be served by Archie. Which would you prefer?
Bathers’ Cafe: The Esplanade, Balmoral Beach NSW 2088
Ph: (02) 9969 5050
The cafe does not take bookings.
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