Sealevel Restaurant, Cronulla
Sealevel Restaurant in Cronulla, has been around for 18 years. It is owned and operated by the Shire based Allouche family, who has been involved in the local hospitality industry for as long as I can remember. Over the years, the business has built a strong following from the local residents, who flock down not only for the excellent food but the most wonderful location, right on the water’s edge off North Cronulla beach. This has always been the go to dining choice for many locals, including ourselves. You just can’t beat that ocean view, and every time we’ve had people visiting, this is where we’ve taken them for a taste of the Shire!
As befits a beachfront venue, the menu features lots of seafood with the platter for 2 being ever so popular. For non-seafood eaters, duck and beef have always enjoyed pride of place and interesting treatment.
I must confess though that since our return from overseas, our loyalty was tested by the emergence of half a dozen new restaurants in Cronulla dining precinct. When 15 years ago, Sealevel stood out as the only choice for “fine”dining among a plethora of takeaway joints, fast forward to 2016 and the variety of eating places is staggering. To the point where Sealevel’s menu looked predictable and boring.
But earlier this month, Terry was offered a dining voucher for his birthday, so we booked a table for 4, taking the kids along for a special evening. It was a cold and windy Thursday night, we arrived at 6.30pm, and were greeted by a warm and friendly staff. I looked around and the restaurant was a third full already, the clientele a mix of families (like us), couples possibly after a romantic night, and I noticed two tables beside us were set for large groups (who arrived 30 minutes later and filled the place with noise and laughter, not a bad thing in itself, but as unfortunately the building’s acoustics are not the best, it makes holding a conversation very challenging. You just have to talk louder, something to be aware of).
As usual, we ordered drinks first, knowing it would take a while to peruse the menu. I decided on a cocktail for a change rather than the usual sparkling wine, and ordered an Aperol Spritz. Terry ordered 2 beers at once, saying he was thirsty, and Michael, the waiter, not missing a beat, offered to bring him 5 in a bucket of ice so he could open them at his leisure!
With Marc and Anne starving (teenagers!), we ordered not one but two portions of sour dough bread served with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and butter as well as a bowl of marinated olives and set out to study the menu.
You have a choice of a Mid Week set menu ($ 55 for 2 courses – $65 for 3 courses) or an A-la-carte menu, which features 10 entrees and 10 mains. As I mentioned earlier, half of the dishes are seafood, with the rest split between chicken, beef, pork, duck and interesting vegetarian options (strangely, no lamb tonight)
For entrees, Anne ordered Potato gnocchi, served with pancetta, dried cherry tomatoes, cauliflower, 3 cheese sauce and olive powder. She wasn’t so keen on the strong olive flavour, nonetheless polished her plate.
Terry can’t go past a plate of scallops and went for the seared atlantic scallops with black pudding, roasted pumpkin puree, spiced beetroot gel and crispy quinoa. The scallops were cooked to perfection, moist and full off flavour, however the crispy quinoa was far too crispy for Terry, who reckoned it was like chewing on tiny rocks and that ruined the dish for him. I tend to agree with him, the mouthful I tasted was a little gritty …a pity, as the dish was otherwise very tasty.
As for me, I have always been keen to try vegetarian options, so ordered the mushrooms: a pile of mixed king brown, shimeji and oyster mushrooms, with miso butter, panko sesame fried tofu, smoked onions, crispy garlic, and dashi onion cream. The combination of earthy mushrooms, rich miso butter and crispy fried tofu was such a revelation, I could have eaten more of it and vowed to replicate the recipe at home!
For mains, both kids picked the roast chicken breast stuffed with gypsy ham and smoked cheddar served with carrot and potato fondants, celery fennel puree and rye parmesan crumbs. I told them it was not a very adventurous choice, as it looked to me like an upmarket version of Chicken cordon Bleu. Still, they loved it, and Anne said Cordon Bleu is actually her favourite dish so she was over the moon!
Terry ordered the BBQ prawns, served with beurre blanc foam, smoked tomato, grilled corn and chili salad and sweet corn puree. This is actually an entree, but for an extra $13, was served as a main-size portion. A nice touch, I think, as I often find some entrees so yummy I wish they’d come in a larger serving.
The fish of the day was Swordfish served grilled with a bowl of chips, and a refreshing salad of fennel, redlof, mint, daikon and soy roasted seeds with orange dressing. The fish was cooked to perfection ( i.e. not too dry ) and so were the chips, which I was made to share with the rest of the table ( it was quite a big bowl for one person anyway ).
The menu features a selection of side dishes, ranging from feta and watermelon salad to mashed potatoes, the sizes of which are designed to be shared. We didn’t order any, as to be honest, we found that not only are the portions sufficiently large but there are also enough garnishes on the plates to fill you up. Having said that, had we skipped the starters earlier, we probably would have gone for a little extra.
When the dessert menu appeared, Terry and Marc initially declined, declaring themselves too full. Until I mentioned affogato, the dessert you have when you don’t want to order dessert. Terry ordered his with Grand Marnier, Marc preferring Bailey.
Anne and I were lured by the idea of pretty sweets so she ordered the white chocolate and raspberry meringue roulade, salted white chocolate mousse, freeze dried raspberry, and lemon lavender gelato. She gave the thumbs up to the meringue roulade and the white chocolate mousse, however didn’t like the gelato ( tastes like cough mixture she said, I don’t necessarily agree with her but will say it is very much a grown up flavour)) or the freeze dried raspberry (too strong and tart for her liking). In hindsight, she would have preferred the selection of gelati.
I didn’t have such qualms with my choice: textures of mandarins, mandarin sorbet, meringue, mandarin and elderflower curd, freeze dried mandarin and mint fizz. Being a mandarin lover, I was in heaven and could have happily eaten another serve of it, even though I was quite full.
So, is Sealevel boring? Definitely not. And we don’t seem to be the only ones thinking this. The place was packed! You can’t say people came for the view alone, as at that time of the evening, there was nothing to look at beside a whole lot of blackness (it was a moonless night!). It is just that while the food is as fresh and carefully handled as in the past, it is given a bit of a modern twist: powders, gels, foam, freeze dried items, asymmetric plating… Anne commented that it was Masterchef kind of dining! And that, makes it fun.
I can’t finish this review without mentioning the service we received from the staff, efficient and friendly without being too familiar. These folks know their stuff, from describing every item on the menu, sharing a story about a wine or talking to a shy teenager ordering coke! Some have been working there for so many years they seem to be on a first name basis with a lot of the patrons, and it was sweet to watch a young waiter shadowing a more experienced member. They took care of our table brilliantly, along with Blake, one of the partners ( the Allouche boys are very hands on ) who kindly suggested I take my opened bottle of wine home, after I mentioned how I really loved it but could not have another drink. I think we’ve come full circle, Sealevel is back to being our Cronulla favourite.
Sea level Restaurant & Bar
2 The Kingsway, Cronulla NSW 2230
Ph: (02) 95238888