So close to the beach it may as well be hovering above the sand, Elwood Bathers feels a bit like a holiday home. You could spend all day here – start with an omelette and a cup of coffee on the terrace, then maybe – after a stroll by the beach – charcuterie, board games and a mid-afternoon gin and tonic. As the sky turns orange-pink; flathead and chips, and a bottle of something cold and white from the Victorian-heavy wine list.
Restaurant manager and owner Joel Penno wants people to “feel like they’re coming home” when they step through the doors, and the former Stokehouse and Lucas Group (Chin Chin, Hawker Hall, Kisumè) manager has definitely imbued his first venue with a strong sense of place.
Floor-to-ceiling windows frame the seaside scene, and work with clean white walls and plenty of timber furniture to create an easy-going, beach-house aesthetic that keeps the spotlight squarely on the remarkable view.
Together with Andrew Cox, who manages hospitality investment company Imperium Group, Penno took over the former Sails by the Bay site in October last year. They brought in tan banquettes, custom-made tables, and blue-and-white French bistro chairs.
“But obviously the main feature was that view,” says Penno. “That was something we didn’t need to do anything to.”
On the menu you’ll find a mix of bistro dishes such as pan-seared John Dory with a delicate, half-crescent swirl of celeriac puree, baby capers and kale; a pork cutlet with Dijon vinaigrette, potato, and apple and fennel slaw; and a grass-fed O’Connor steak from Gippsland with potato fondant and watercress.
“I’m coming here for my birthday lunch with my family. That’s how much we love being here,” our waitress says, laughing, as she sets down half a dozen Sydney rock oysters from Merimbula, NSW. They come with a bright and peppery mignonette.
House-cured Atlantic salmon is peppered with salty salmon roe, capers, creme fraiche and tiny slices of cucumber and celeriac. A special of silky scallops and crunchy rice-paper crisps is brightened by a bitter-sour mix of green chili and lime rind.
To drink, there’s that wine list celebrating local drops (plus a few other Aussies, some New Zealanders and a couple of internationals), fresh juices and smoothies, and Mountain Goat and Peroni on tap. The cocktail list is short and free of surprises (spritz, Negroni, Margarita), some you can order by the one-litre carafe for $38. Desserts are crowd-pleasers too (panna cotta, tiramisu).
“We don’t want to be the best restaurant in Melbourne,” Penno says. “[But] we want to be people’s favourite restaurant on the bay.”
Sitting out on the European-style terrace, with that light sea breeze blowing, that really is what it feels like: an old favourite in the making.
15 Elwood Foreshore, Elwood
03 9525 6933