The first thing I should tell you about Paper Daisy is that the second you arrive for dinner, you’re going to wish you were staying the night. The restaurant is set inside Halcyon House on Cabarita Beach.
The area is home to a renowned surfing break, and the property was once a two-level 1960s surf hotel, complete with daggy arches. These days it’s a boutique luxury hotel, with a wonderfully Australian feel; and those white-painted arches and orderly rows of small, square balconies are the only hints of its former life. The resulting hotel is testament to what you can achieve through artful renovation over knock-down rebuilding.
I turned green with envy from just peering at the blue and white striped banquette of pool lounges facing the aquamarine pool. The restaurant and pool are screened from the pumping surf by a row of pandanus, creating intimacy and giving the place a tropical feel.
With room rates starting at $540 a night, staying at Halcyon House might well be out of reach, but you can still enjoy the beautifully appointed hotel by visiting Paper Daisy as a casual diner.
The large open dining room keeps up the hotel’s blue and white theme, with lots of textures and quirky collections of seascapes, and other beachside bric-à-brac.
Three Courses ($95/head) each and a bottle of imported New Zealand wine, set us back just under three hundred bucks.
Paper Daisy throw in all the extras, like an amuse bouche of choux pastry with smoked fish and tartare sauce, that you eat wrapped up in a mustard leaf. You'll also receive a big slab of sourdough with their own macadamia nut butter, situating you nicely in the local surrounds, so expect that for your coin, you'll be quite well fed.
We were very happy with the slippery, wet 2012 Rippon Gewürztraminer ($90); a fruit forward wine with a whiff of rosewater, and a dry finish that cleans up the palate nicely after eating fish. It was a particularly good match with smoked fish, presented in a tangle with sprouted rye grain noodles, oysters and mushrooms. It’s earthy and intriguing, and I’m delighted to see a kitchen really pushing the envelope of what can be done with kingfish.
Our wine is light enough to also suit a gentler poached and grilled squid dish, accentuated with sea lettuce, egg yolk and prawn vinegar.
The aquatic location sees us stick with seafood for mains, which included a lovely coal-roasted Squire (baby snapper) kept light and summery with preserved cucumbers and citrus.
While this dish was simple, showing off the kitchen's skill cooking over coal, the grilled and glazed blue eye cod was more complex, with a coriander and basil puree, crisp Jerusalem artichoke chips and pickled turnip, all tied together with a sauce made from pipis.
Vegetable sides magically appear with your mains. They included a fabulous pasta-like salad with long strips of carrot and sunflower seed dressing. There’s also some broccoli that's a little dull; though it is hard to complain when the nightly sides simply come with your meal.
High quality staff really take control of your meal, running from a knowledgeable sommelier, to a maître de who asks for feedback with: “Don’t be nice, be honest.” Heed their advice, and skip over the fragrant Ducasse banana parfait sitting under a crunchy hat of caramelised milk and wattle seed then dusted with orange zest, in favour of the more boring sounding lychee sorbet.
Presented under shavings of macadamia milk chocolate and accentuated with chrysanthemum tea granita, it's not a visually exciting dessert. However it strokes the pleasure centres in a most surprising way; and, like the rest of inventive young chef Ben Devlin's menu, it's not something I've already eaten fifty times before. After eleven years and more than two thousand reviews, that's really saying something.
Halcyon House, 21 Cypress Crescent, Cabarita Beach
Ph: (02) 6676 1444