There was in me a certain level of anticipation, brewing since December 2019 when I first planned on visiting Sandbar Restaurant in Bateman’s Bay. At that time of course, the Currowan fires were burning, the whole coast set to light up. The rest is three years of history.
This December the skies are greyer, clouds are just clouds, and no lockdowns in sight; a drive along the coast is green and lush and those crystal clear waters flashing by. No wonder I was ready for an epiphany.
Arriving at a retro motel in riverside Batemans Bay and ascending the iron stairway we are met with a closed door, and a doorbell.
Wait a minute? Where am I? I pressed and waited and as the door opened a different environment was revealed. One of a hushed, temple-like atmosphere, with polite unobtrusive attendants, upholstery absorbing the sound. A predinner lounge filled with locals beginning their night out.
Shown to my window table where I could look over the palm trees and water, remnants of a 1970s Australian coastal town, a sense of finally being here, perhaps finally being able to relax and celebrate life again. So, after an explanation of the way things would go with the five courses offered, I answered, ‘A glass of bubbles please’, to the lovely Tomoyo.
Sitting with my anticipation and a glass of French blanc de blanc looking out to the changing sky over the Clyde became an inner celebration – of having made it through something.
A slice of crusty bread and whipped butter with charcoal salt arrived, followed closely by the welcome course which was a fascinating tribute to the humble pumpkin – utilising the skin, the flesh, and a broth.
Following the suggested order of eating, my taste buds were welcomed by a spiced cocoa and kombu kelp cup, three tiny jewels of pumpkin seed miso and nori that were over three months in the making, on a delicate tuile of Dutch Raypenauer cheese, and finally the contrast of the bitter grapefruit in a lemongrass and pumpkin tea … OK, I thought, I’m ready.
First course, kingfish, meltingly tender under a celeriac nage (light sauce) and duck fat miso. A surprising, cool chaud froid (reduction) accompanied the fish, verdant in its cocktail glass, with all the lovey clean flavours of cucumber, granny smith apple, kiwi fruit and chervil with tiny accents of crystallised olive.
Second course, a slender piece of Tasmanian ocean trout with miniature trees of funori, (a delicate purple seaweed), brussels sprouts, jewels of cabernet sauvignon, and a ribbon of Jerusalsem artichoke parfait topped with a rich, bright matelote gelee (jelly of intense fish stock). A crispy puff of tapioca. Textures and layers, sweet, alkaline, bright, crunchy and ocean fish which my knife fell straight through.
A glass of Organic Rose was ordered to accompany me through the next stage, and I’m already feeling light-headed.
Third course – the chicken course. A tender, boneless morsel of chicken draped in a thin veil of nashi fruit to tease the tongue. The tenderest beef cheeks encased in a tiny potato corset, pureed parsnip and random acts of tarragon oil.
A light and frothy shiitake veloute was presented in a copper pan for my own addition. More bread was also offered so I could clear the gorgeous handmade Japanese dish of the delicate veloute.
For the ‘cheese course’ I ordered a sweet plum sake, Kubota Ume, which was like wine gums with a clear finish. Served on ice, this was my first sweet sake and instant new obsession.
The cheese of this course was Meredith chevre, presented in a perfect gyoza with pine nuts, sitting on an arrangement of sweet grilled pear, parsnip crisps, a quenelle of pear sorbet, with karkalla from South Durras, and drizzles of a perfect beurre noisette. The brown butter combined with the sorbet and chevre was transportive …
The final course arrives, dessert. A gorgeous leaf-shaped platter holding a pale wooden box, crowned with a small square of slate and a canele, a French pastry I had never tried but whose reputation had preceeded it … crisp outside and slightly gooey inside, flavoured with the roasted Japanese tea known as Hojicha, thyme and cacao soaked in a cherry rum butterscotch. The slate was lifted off its box plinth to reveal a pillow of pale pink Sakura (cherry blossom) ice cream, raspberries, strawberry sorbet, and dried tomato skin and salted kelp. Totally celebrating the fact I had senses at all, I also enjoyed a black sugar sake, (Hombo Shuzo Kokuto Umeshu) on the recommendation of my lovely attendant. And I am so glad I did.
The word transportive has snuck into this piece for a second time. I cannot remember the last time I was able to sit and savour so many divine elements in a meal, one not eaten for base hunger, but to sate a hunger of the soul, the hunger your senses have when they desire the ‘I know not what’ of life, the colours and textures and surprising flavours of an incredibly well constructed meal … like a journey through a memory I haven’t yet had. Until now.
Chef David Tinker grew up in Durras, has worked with the best chefs in the world and Australia, has a wine-loving Japanese wife and celebrates the Australian coast. All of these things shine through his menu and we are led along chapter by chapter through the story he is telling.
In the restaurant itself, there is the excellent, quiet service, muted colours and cushions, the voices of Australians celebrating. Outside the sky is changing colour over the water and the food courses appear like little works of art, one after the other … everything coming together to become the one flavour that encompasses all. An evening celebrating life, a memory created, and admiration established.
If you haven’t been marooned on David Tinker’s Sandbar yet, it might be time.
Set five course menu $139, add pairing wine and sake for another $115
Open Wednesday to Saturday from 6 pm, bookings recommended. The Sandbar Restaurant.