Embracing the Outdoors in The Garden at Water Mill

At the Garden at Water Mill — formerly Roberts — group dinners are encouraged. Courtesy photos

In 2015, Robert’s restaurant, a popular Water Mill dining establishment on Montauk Highway, closed after 16 years. For most of the intervening years, the yellow Colonial building has remained largely vacant. Until now, that is. The recently opened Garden at Water Mill fills a hole in the hamlet’s dining scene.

Garden at Water Mill

Owners Joseph and Siobhan Miller are new to the dining scene: This is their first project. The longtime Hamptons residents sought to create a restaurant conducive to group dining. Indeed, the refreshed space embraces large parties, and, reminiscent of the two-season East Hampton pop-up EMP Summer House, the outdoors. An expansive, private garden boasts lawn games, private dining spaces and tables big enough to accommodate large parties. It is a departure from the restaurant that preceded it, the formal, celebrity-courting Robert’s, run by chef-owner Robert Durkin. That restaurant, which was awarded three stars from Newsday in 1999, was known for its ambitious, fancy Mediterranean cuisine. The Garden at Water Mill aspires to conviviality, to food easily shared, outdoors, among family and friends.

Adding interest and intrigue, The Garden at Water Mill will host a rotating cast of guest chefs, all from acclaimed restaurants around the world. In July, the James Beard Award-winning chef Tyson Cole of Austin’s Uchi will join the Garden team, preparing his omakasé sushi menu every Thursday through Sunday. August will bring chef Matsuharu ‘Micha’ Tsumura of Peru’s Maido — a restaurant ranked seventh in the world by William Reed Business Media’s famous “The World’s Best 50 Restaurants.” Chef Tsumura’s menu will feature a nine-course tasting menu of local fish and produce, as well as an accompanying wine pairing, which will include tastings of Dom Pérignon Champagne. This pop-up will be 15 days long, running from August 1 to August 15.

The Garden at Water Mill is a space designed for larger groups, that much is clear.

Four sections of the restaurant are available for private rental, including the private dining room, for up to 16 people; the backyard, for up to 24 people; the side patio, for up to 40 people; and the actual restaurant, for up to 65 people. The entire venue is also available as a party rental space, for events in the hundreds. Parties up to 24 can reserve the “private alcoves,” which require a spending minimum (for the larger of these, that minimum is $2,000 for every two and a half hours). The restaurant also offers family-style dining and a Hamptons-appropriate lobster bake: lobster, clams, shrimp, corn, mussels, potatoes, and homemade bread, starting at $500 for groups of eight or fewer.

But the restaurant is not all culinary pyrotechnics. A casual, everyday menu includes a selection of crudos (tuna, salmon and pear, scallop with pickled wasabi stem, octopus with crispy chickpea), shareable small plates (burrata, marinated beets, eggplant caponata), salads, pastas, fish entrées, and meats. Stuey’s of Locust Valley Smokehouse BBQ will also be featured on the restaurant’s daily menu. Diners can choose between smoked salmon, sausage, pulled pork, and brisket, all of which are served with fries, aioli, a jicama-corn slaw and Stuey’s signature barbecue sauce. Add to that a spate of approachable desserts, in the form of cobbler, fresh fruit pop-tarts and cinnamon buns, and you have the recipe for easy summer living.

Playful, large-format cocktails come in decorative carafes. The Unicorn Frosé, The Garden’s answer to the millennial aesthetic, is frozen rosé for four, served in a ceramic unicorn-shaped carafe. A more vegetal—and, yet, equally millennial—Garden Bunny combines sweet pea-infused gin, lime juice, cucumber and Lillet, and comes in a carafe shaped like a rabbit. The drink serves six. The wine list is slim and Francophilic, though it covers the necessary bases, with an entire category dedicated to rosé.

Inside, the dining room retains its character, the result of its inherently good bones. Exposed wood beams, wide pine floors and an original fireplace recall the restaurant’s iconic heyday, but the interior, brightened with white paint, light wood chairs and white tablecloths, sits squarely between colonial charm and Hamptons beach chic. Will The Garden at Water Mill command crowds the way its predecessor did? The answer to that question remains to be seen. Still, news of a new tenant after years of restaurant vacancy should be welcome information to Water Mill residents, where pickings are notoriously slim.

For more information, visit thegardenatwatermill.com.