Terry Durack

Well, of course I was going to come back. It was inevitable. I stopped at the Boathouse on my way to reviewing another Palm Beach restaurant and the coffee was so good, the views were so delicious and the fish and chips at the next table so photogenic that I wondered why on earth I didn't just stay and review it instead.

As it turned out, the sea wasn't that much bluer on the other side, so now I'm back to see if this place is as good as it looks. Opened in 2008 by landscape designer Andrew Goldsmith and interior designer Brianna Russell, it looks as if it just fell out of Bellemagazine fully formed. There's a weekend-house-party feel to the inside-outside space, with family groups commandeering wooden picnic tables and couples on the restaurant's picnic rugs on the lawn.

Past the coffee bar, florist and food store are gossiping families in the white-washed cafe, more on the verandah sipping sparkling wine and scanning newspapers and even more on the decking that extends from Station beach over the water. I must be one of the few to drive here, as opposed to walking from the beach house, or coming by kayak or seaplane. I'm also one of the few to be wearing clothes, as opposed to boardshorts or string bikinis. The locals don't get too dressed up. Or even dressed. If you see someone in a floaty white dress with sunhat and designer espadrilles, they're from further south. Such as Avalon.

Why has the Boathouse become such a magnet? It's a bit beautiful, sure, but we've all seen prettily styled beach huts turn out amateur surfie food with a manana sense of timing. This place immediately feels different. At its heart is a gleaming professional kitchen, with young chef Leo Bressan plating up fresh salads, smoked salmon and poached egg brunches, piri piri chicken burgers, roasted vegetable and goat's cheese frittatas and, of course, fish and chips.

At one end, barista Simon Geoffrey turns out some serious Boathouse blend Single Origin coffee. The carafes of ice-cream-rich milkshakes are much-loved by locals and the beef burgers stacked with egg, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, caramelised onions and home-made beetroot tapenade look as inviting as the fish and chips.

But first, a table. There are no bookings, so it's the quick or the dead and regulars know to leave one member guarding the table and another to stand in line. This is service, DIY style. Queue, place your order, pay and take a number.

Ordering fish and chips is a given but I postpone the moment of truth by ordering a seafood antipasti platter to share ($38) that's as big as a pizza. Six Sydney rocks with shallot vinaigrette, a bowl of snappy little fried whitebait, a pile of pink prawns, good marinated olives and caper berries and some fresh fingers of raw bonito sashimi later, the appetite is not only whetted but almost dampened.

The only downers are the slightly mushy smoked salmon and those ubiquitous white anchovies, which always look so limp and dead. A bit of sourdough bread wouldn't have gone astray, either.

There's no wine list, just a few beers, four whites and four reds scrawled on a blackboard, cheerfully priced at $36 a bottle and $8 a glass. It's no biggie to pay that for a fresh, floral and fruity Pikes Luccio pinot grigio blend, then switch to a cold beer when it's fish-and-chip o'clock.

Yee-haa, those fish and chips. A pale wooden box lined with wax paper is filled with thick-cut, lightly battered chips with the requisite crunch-mash ratio, topped with crisply battered local flathead, each fillet naturally dividing into two thick fingers ($22.50). They're truly great, momentous, happy-making, return-worthy fish and chips. The amount of batter is proportionate to the fish, which has real flavour, and a good tartare sauce and lemon wedges are thrown in.

There's not much in the way of desserts; just a few friands, lemon tarts and pink-flecked meringues on offer in the cabinet. Or, if you like your ice-cream rich, sweet and over-the-top, pick up a Pat and Stick's espresso lace ice-cream sandwich ($4) from the refrigerated cabinet.

Service gets scatty under pressure and cakes and breads aren't made in-house, yet this is just the sort of casual yet professional beachside dining for which Australia should be famous. It ticks all the boxes with its smartly styled, well-cooked food, beach-house chic, glorious water views and come-as-you-are, get-it-yourself, don't-mind-if-I-do atmosphere. If you aren't already on holidays, come here and you soon will be.

Source: http://www.goodfood.com.au/good-food/eat-out/review/restaurant/the-boathouse-palm-beach-20110104-2ak19.html

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