The Lagoon, Stuart Park, North Wollongong, NSW
The Lagoon Restaurant has a name befitting its location, ambiance and cuisine. Tucked away in a corner of Stuart Park, with its own dedicated car park and surrounding stroll grounds, the open glass window panels of most of its surrounding wall tempt any diner to panoramic views of the Tasman Sea, a perfect horizon with real deep blue ocean water and even the apparently stuck long container ships waiting for their turn to unload cargo into Port Kembla, although a decent distance away from it all.
On a recent visit in the so-called winter of the Illawarra region, it looked and felt like a summer's day in London. We were there early for lunch, although the crowds packed the place in especially after 1pm.
The menu was extensive, primarily concentrating on seafood, not just sourced from the NSW South Coast but also from other parts of Australia. My group of three pondered over the cold and cooked platters - these offered a sampling of crustacean sea produce like Balmain Bugs, fish grills and prawns.
Then there were the farm and ocean or surf and turf combinations which provided both beef or lamb cuts with a smaller serve of seafood. We chose the third option, all seafood produce but at least offering two choices on one plate. I was more than happy with my selection of John Dory with scampi from the Indian Ocean off Western Australian state. One of my fellow lunchers chose king prawns with barramundi, always a reliable tasty sample of what it means to partake in Australian seafood. We did observe a young man at a neighbouring table with a feast inspiring sizable dish of lobster and crab, whilst his young female companion had a more modest dish.
The Lagoon is a civilised place with white table cloths, well dressed and trained wait staff and provides a mood of being in a well organised function. Even the garlic bread was especially aromatic that day.
There are strong hints and touches of Mediterranean influences in the dishes available, especially in the gravies and sauces blended into most of the seafood. Sauces can be a tricky part, for I recall on an earlier visit, how my mate and I found that the rather brash and heavy stuff given to us did spoil the overall charm of the seafood platter. This time around there was no such discouragement.
We had chardonnay on our table in the middle of the hall, from which we could observe proceedings like birthday parties, the spectrum of well made dishes arranged carefully and spectacularly on the main counter near the bar and the energy of a rather elegant and smiling tall young man who paid attention to detail and assured the fullness of our wine glasses.
The fine dining continued with our summery option of three gelato flavours served in a boat like contraption. Mango, raspberry and more. The female staff were nice enough to change cold for hot espresso. The afternoon wore on but not the spirit and satisfaction at our table. Kangaroo was available and fresh oysters captivated as entree. Apart from the food, I reckon there was also another positive X factor that day at this fine dining venue which can lower its formality to relax every visitor. And then Wollongong City centre beckoned as we left, going past the big live aquarium tanks, into a balmy 22 degrees Celsius outside.