Parking in Balmain, even at its far reaches, is a nightmare; so, if you intend to visit The Fenwick, and live somewhere where a ferry to the Balmain East Wharf is an option, take it. You’ll find the restaurant inside a magnificently restored 1880s sandstone building right on the harbour’s edge.
The two-storey building has timber-framed double goods doors that hark back to its former use as tugboat storage by Fenwick & Co. when Balmain was a hub of maritime industries. Being cold and windy on the day I dined, they’re firmly closed downstairs, which with the wooden rafters, gives the lower, banquette-lined dining room the appearance of high-end stables.
Following what little light there is upstairs, we enter into a combined dining room and gallery space with a wooden balustrade to prevent accidents when people fall into the epic view. Sydney Harbour Bridge, Luna Park, boats, ferries, Barangaroo – it’s all on display making the quirky art collection seem rather superfluous. We give some thought to both over the 2019 Adelina ‘Polish Hill’ Riesling ($15/glass) that does a reasonable job with lime and chalkiness, without knocking us over with excitement.
The Fenwick is a younger sibling to Ormeggio, Lumi, Ripples, The Nielsen and Aqua Dining – all part of Bill Drakopoulos’s extensive waterfront empire.
The food slides in at the plainer, more rustic end of his offerings, with a whirl of Spaghetti Amatriciana ($30) offering little more than one-note pureed tomato, pancetta and cheese.
There’s slightly more texture in the vividly green Potato Gnocchi ($29) with thin ribbons of leek and green peas helping to distract from the fact the potato-based pasta is slightly too soft. At the price point I expect more light and shade in a pasta dish, and maybe more generosity – we should have been more firmly pushed at sides.
Service is perfunctory: a sparsely populated Cheese Plate ($24) delivered without guidance (either on menu, or in person) as to what we’re eating; a bill we get up to pay when waiting at the table becomes onerous.
By my reckoning, this restaurateur’s eyes are too firmly fixed on paying for the $17 million renovation. This leaves The Fenwick more likely to please architecture and history buffs than anyone looking for a good value eat.
2-8 Weston Street, Balmain East
Ph: (02) 9159 4700