Swill Magazine Issue 5 - Out Now

Three entrees, three mains, all heart: the Bondi restaurant the world has loved since 1993

Myffy Rigby

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Sean Moran, the chef and creative director behind one of Bondi’s best loved restaurants, might be approaching 60, but he looks at least a decade younger than that. He positively

glows with good health. I picture his facial routine. A Patrick Bateman-esque montage of scrubs and peels and sit-ups. It’s nothing that involved, he tells me. He doesn’t smoke, and barely drinks. Huh.

His blue eyes sparkle; his skin has the warm tones of a man that spends a lot of time outdoors. When he speaks, his whole face lights up. Sitting in a restaurant he’s run successfully for 30 years, he is dressed in white linen drawstring trousers and an Aladdin Sane-era David Bowie tee, worn to perfect softness. He looks like a man who was brought up dining at Sean’s.

 

 

The restaurant is a sort of community hub where regulars (and now their kids) order from the blackboard menu hanging off the wall, offering three entrees, three mains, two desserts and a cheese. The carte tends to stay within the confines of wholesome, nurturing dishes, served in a snug, slightly chaotic dining room where it’s hard to hear once it’s full of diners, hard to see once the sun goes down and, when a big enough storm blows through, occasionally floods. Directly across the road from the north end of Bondi Beach, the views are devastating. At the right time of day, the sun catches on the lips of the breakers, creating a soporific effect when combined with a long-lunch-amount-of-wine and a very good roast chicken.

Striped linen tablecloths are protected by sheets of brown paper. The chairs are mismatched rattan and bentwood. Musk-stick-pink paint in the little waiting area/private dining room off to the side has been sanded and buffed back until it looks as worn as the old salts doing chin-ups in their Speedos across the road. Pegboard walls are covered in a revolving art collection. Whatever’s not hanging in the restaurant is displayed in Moran’s apartment upstairs, or in his other home on the Northern Rivers.

It’s coast-core to the hilt.

 

 

When Sean’s opened back in 1993 as Sean’s Panaroma, they were operating on extremely slim margins. “It used to be

just scraped-back walls and old metal seamstress chairs that people whinged about,” says Moran. “It was really quite brutal. I couldn’t afford a coolroom and we just had a few bench fridges. It was very bare bones to set up, but I wouldn’t change it. It’s just been a nice process to grow into, rather than feel like you’ve totally got everything you want. It was what we could afford, at our pace and in our way, which I love.”

 

 

It’s developed a certain patina with age. A place of beauty, expression and joy. And so, so many shells. Moran’s been collecting them for years, using discarded scallop and mussel shells to decorate walls, make lampshades, borders for the menu and skirting board liners. There’s even a mussel shell whale on the ceiling, painted to resemble the sky on a perfect Bondi afternoon, the humpback gently gliding through the cumulostratus.

The whole place exudes a feeling of approachability that’s still impossible to nail in a home setting. Much like his cooking, it takes decades of experience to create that kind of simplicity. “I put a lot of myself into the space,” says Moran. “It’s not a ‘design’ space. It’s taken years to get those layers and to build that feeling. I love that it’s just an extension of me and sometimes I’m down here in my slippers and in my pyjamas, you know?” Out the back, there’s an Aladdin’s Cave of flavoured oils, preserves, herbs and dehydrated bits and pieces. Half of The Good Cook series sits in a pile on a bookshelf next to Frank Camorra’s Movida book, The Ethical Omnivore and a sun-faded copy of Stephanie Alexander’s The Cook’s Companion.

 

 

It’d be easy to assume that a venue like this comes bankrolled by a comfortable upbringing. A childhood shelling fresh peas on his grandmother’s lap while the ricotta gently simmered and a strung-and-trussed chicken roasted on the open hearth, say. Probably because that’s exactly the sort of food you see in the restaurant. His cooking, cosy and comforting, relatable and breezy but beautifully elevated, comes rooted in another place. It’s a reaction to his upbringing, not a reflection.

This is an excerpt from the latest issue of Swill. Want more? Order issue 5 today 

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Words

Myffy Rigby

Photography

Kristoffer Paulsen

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