A shared love of the sea brought Bar Elvina owners Andy Emerson and Jesse McTavish together. Emerson, a fisherman who studied marine science before moving into hospitality, has co-owned revered Sydney venues, including The Passage, Acme, Bar Brosé and Prince of York. McTavish, the son of surfing legend Bob McTavish, is a keen surfer and fisherman, and was co-founder of Melbourne venues Top Paddock and The Kettle Black. He also headed up the kitchen at North Bondi Fish.

When the two hospo veterans decided to open a restaurant in the northern beaches suburb of Avalon in December, the last thing they expected was to be shut down by a coronavirus outbreak within their first month.

“I was running a venue in the CBD when Covid hit,” Emerson tells Broadsheet. “We thought [the northern beaches] would be a lot safer.”

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The pair describes a Wednesday night in the third week of December, the restaurant fully booked and the staff in position, sleeves rolled up, ready for a busy night of service.

“And then the cancellations started rolling in. We just watched Resy as all the tables started dropping off. We were like, ‘What the fuck is going on?’ Then someone came up to me with an iPhone and said, ‘Um, we’ve got a problem’.”

They were at ground zero of the Avalon cluster. The first detected case was in the cafe next door. By 8pm the following night, Bar Elvina was closed.

“Locals were throwing money at us just to make sure we had enough cash to pay our staff over the four weeks we were shut,” says Emerson. “One customer bought two $2000 vouchers just because they knew we were a new business and they wanted to help out.”

And help out they did. Bar Elvina is back open; its whitewashed walls, sun-drenched terrace and Spanish-style archways bring to mind a coastal taverna on the Mediterranean. The interiors, by Caswell Group, have pale timber beams and hand-printed Walter G textiles lining the window seats that overlook Avalon’s main street. Ex-Mambo artist Paul McNeil drew the logo, menu illustrations and murals both inside and on the facade. Horticulturist Greg Bush (The Grounds of Alexandria) designed a 140-square-metre kitchen garden for the back terrace, where the team hope leafy greens, fruit and native ingredients will grow in abundance.

The menu focuses on locally caught seafood, including oysters grown for Bar Elvina at Wapengo and Nelsons Lagoon. The mix of raw, small and larger dishes to share have “salty and savoury, big umami flavours”, says McTavish. Vegetables play a starring role, too, with a brined broccoli that is fried and charred, and served with fermented chilli oil, paperbark-smoked ricotta and roasted almonds.

“I pick wild fennel fronds on the way to work,” says McTavish, who collects local seaweed from Avalon Beach and boils it in soy sauce, and brines the broccoli in buckets of seawater from the beach.

“He arrived at work with a leech on him the other day,” Emerson says, laughing.

Bar manager Angus Thomson (ex-Barrenjoey House) has created a cocktail menu to reflect his passion for native Australian ingredients and botanicals, while Emerson has pulled together a wine list inspired by maritime influences, with grapes grown close to the sea, or in interesting island locations.

Bar Elvina
50 Old Barrenjoey Road, Avalon Beach
(02) 8926 2340

Hours:
Wed & Thu 4pm–11pm
Fri 4pm–midnight
Sat 12pm–midnight
Sun 12pm–10pm

barelvina.com.au