If The Horny Cray is the most conspicuous eatery in the tiny Tassie town of Swansea, the Waterloo Inn is the least.
In fact, the location initially elicited a “big fat ‘fuck this’” from owners Zac Green and Alex Sumner, who – in the dead of the ruggedly beautiful east coast winter – inspected a seen-better-days surf’n’turf diner hidden beneath an ’80s-built red-brick motel-turned-hotel, smack-bang on the beach. “We wondered if anyone would ever come – or even know how to find us,” Green tells Broadsheet.
But since flipping it into the Waterloo Inn in December 2021, the husband-and-wife duo have realised what a gold mine they were sitting on. Harnessing the power of Instagram and wildfire word-of-mouth from fellow venue owners across the Apple Isle, the drab car park quickly became a calling card for the restaurant. And so began the onslaught of destination diners – trekking around 90 minutes by car from Hobart or Launceston – for whom (this writer included) the response has been more like an emphatic “fuck yes!”
While some of the decor is inherited (kooky kitsch curtains, squeaky vinyl chairs, a chalkboard menu adorned with steak and crayfish illustrations), most of it is the result of the couple’s clever curation. What’s new looks straight out of the ’80s, including the welcome sign: a pastel-hued seascape with “Greetings from the Waterloo” scrawled across it, commissioned from Melbourne-based Chinese-Kiwi artist Mikey Ting. Around the timber-panelled room, punters plonk on novelty food stools (corn cob or burger – you decide), beneath a mighty stag’s head, or at the solid blackwood bar. If it sounds like an absolute hotchpotch, you’d be absolutely right – and that’s what’s so glorious about it.
Similarly, you never know what you’re gonna get from Green’s chalked-up menu. But the former sous chef at Melbourne’s Movida certainly plays into the old school with past hits like crayfish vol-au-vents and golden Scotch eggs, and goes hard on crowd-pleasers like anchovy toast, levelled up with piped-to-perfection taramasalata and a spattering of crisp fried rosemary leaves (a revelation).
But the day’s dishes are also driven by Tasmania’s “rigorous seasonality”, says Green, with many local ingredients only at their prime for a very short period. “It’s like a race to get tomatoes, for one.” It pays to have mates who are growers – he rattles off a list by first name only – plus he, Sumner, their three-month-old Rex and their pup Bert live on a farm 10 minutes’ drive up the road (“not upstairs, contrary to popular belief,” Sumner adds).
It’s a two-person operation: Sumner runs the floor, taking orders every hour on the hour and peddling plates like no one’s business, while Green churns in the kitchen and does drinks duty. This part of Tassie loves classically made wines, but the Waterloo is all about delicious lo-fi drops while keeping the list broad enough to cater to everyone.
Dinnertime means organised chaos, but with faces this friendly, a dining room that’s this much of a time capsule, and views this stunning – across the water to Freycinet National Park, home of the legitimately breathtaking Wineglass Bay – the Waterloo is a beachside boozer we promise you’ll love forevermore. (Get it?)
1a Franklin Street, Swansea
Restaurant: Thu to Sat 5pm–9pm