It's all too … too perfect. The sun is shining, the water is shimmering, and moored boats mooch around the boatshed like unwanted dogs in the pound. This is boathouse-meets-beach-house, the entrance framed in baskets of flowers and tubs of fresh pomegranates, pineapples and pumpkins.
There's a sense of the last days of summer in the air but, being May, there's also a sense of urgency - to get in one more lunch in the sun. All down the side of the boatshed, expensively but casually dressed women gather at artfully weathered wooden tables under large market umbrellas over fresh juices and glasses of chilled chardonnay.
Landscaper Andrew Goldsmith and interior designer Pip Robb could not have chosen a more perfect spot than the old Balmoral boatshed to recreate the success of their breezy Boathouse restaurant at Palm Beach.
Go-to dish: Seared kingfish, tapenade, watermelon and mint.Photo: Brianne Makin
The boatshed still operates as a separate boat-hire business, which adds the authenticity of the great Australian tinnie to proceedings. Today, however, there are more people turning up with credit cards than with rods; and there are definitely more people than tables.
With a no-reservations policy and an order-and-pay system, be prepared to queue. And queue. Then queue again. The first will be for a table - but without any formal system in place, you'll have to trawl up and down yourself, or do what the locals do and send an advance scout to colonise. Next, join the queue to order food, spending your time wisely studying the big blackboard menu and checking out the bright, good-looking food sailing out of the kitchen pass. That could be toy tin buckets of salt-and-pepper squid ($24), or the Boathouse beef burger ($26), its top bun acting as spinnaker and wooden skewer as mast, pinning beetroot, tapenade, bacon, egg, beef patty, pineapple, cheese and caramelised onion to the base.
You'll need to be patient with those who get to the front of the queue before deciding what to order, those who send their scouts back to the table to see if dad wants a glass of wine, and those who go into glassy-eyed, order-panic mode and freeze. And then can't find their credit cards.
But let's get back to paradise, shall we? You can drop in for an excellent Single Origin Roasters coffee any time, while breakfast starts at 7.30am, and lunch cuts in at noon. Your idea of paradise might be to order caramelised french toast with green apple and vanilla-bean ice-cream ($16) for breakfast, but mine leans more towards green eggs and ham ($22). It's a bountiful plate of perfect poachies perched on lightly grilled leg ham, with juicy grilled tomatoes and a splodge of house-made pesto on a slab of sourdough toast.
Or perhaps paradise to you means fish and chips by the beach, which Balmoral already does well, from Bottom of the Harbour ($11.50) to The Public Dining Room ($32). Here, two big, beautiful, battered logs of flathead ($28) come piled in a bamboo steamer with a stack of golden, thick-cut chips and a thatch of herbs. The fish tastes of fish, and the chips of potato, a rare double win. The wine list is limited to one rose´, three reds and six whites, all at $9 a glass and $39 a bottle. A crisp, leanly textured Oakridge Over the Shoulder Pinot Grigio is a good fish and chip wine.
Resist the offer to add chicken ($6) to a Boathouse salad ($17) of lentils and pumpkin, crunchy with pomegranate seeds. It makes it heavy and oily - the only dud move as far as I can see. Much lovelier is seared kingfish fillet ($22) with watermelon, chickpeas, cress and mint, and an undercarriage of edamame puree that loops it all together. It's fresh and bright and leaves you with room for an exemplary flourless orange and almond cake ($5).
You're either going to love the Boathouse and the feeling of being on holidays or you're going to be crushed by the weight of privilege it exudes; by the styling and decorating, the cuteness and the charm. Get over it. The place is drop-dead gorgeous, the food is sunny, bright and nicely detailed, and the aproned staff are all can-do.
Sydney now has another wonderful place in which to show off Sydney. It's what we do best.
Best bit Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside.
Worst bit Peak-hour queues.
Go-to dish Seared kingfish, tapenade, watermelon and mint, $22.
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.