A guide to Sydney's best seafood

Cooked en papillote ... Whole fish at Chiswick.
Cooked en papillote ... Whole fish at Chiswick. Photo: Steven Siewert

Easter brings many certainties: chocolate fingerprints on freshly upholstered couches, pilgrimages to the Mid North Coast, hot cross bun hangovers and consuming more seafood than Homer Simpson at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Seafood purveyors worldwide are jumping on board the HMS Sustainability and the Good Ship Artisanal Produce with enthusiasm. In Britain, fish friars and chip monks are in friendly battle trying to source the most ethical fish, the best potatoes and the finest beef dripping available (if you're not using beef fat to immolate battered fish in England, it's really only a hobby).

The fisherman's basket from The Fish Shop in Potts Point.
The fisherman's basket from The Fish Shop in Potts Point. Photo: Jennifer Soo

On the other side of the world, Sydney has netted a host of hot seafood joints where quality and sustainability are equally paramount. Leading the trend is Steve Hodge's Fish Face, but there are also North Bondi Fish, Cranky Fin's Holidae Inn and Jeremy Strode's Fish Shop, showing that punters expect more from their seafood today than mass-farmed basa fish in a joint with enough fluorescent lighting to make a 7-Eleven look mood-lit.

Just in time for Good Friday, here is our guide to loving the best seafood in Sydney.

The Cleanfish Australia seafood market in Botany

After an alternative to the traffic jams and ravenous seagulls of Sydney Fish Market this Easter? Here is one that has invested a great deal of time and energy ensuring that it has the most sustainable produce.

Jules Crocker is at the helm with top-end seafood, such as Spencer Gulf king prawns, Diamond Shell clams and Tassal Tasmanian salmon. It is usually open only on Saturday from 8am-noon, but it will also be open on Thursday from 9am-2pm for all your Good Friday needs.

10 Baker Street, Banksmeadow, 9557 0533

Seafood barbecue

Neil Perry recommends sourcing the best and freshest seafood available, then being sure to not overcook it. The flavours should speak for themselves, but a quick little marinade never goes astray. Mix a bit of olive oil, lemon, pepper, chilli, garlic and cumin together, marinate for 10 to 15 minutes and throw it on the barbecue grill (a Weber is ideal), Perry says. Squeeze over a bit of fresh lemon and it is good to go.


Oysters at the Ivanhoe Hotel

Oysters go just as well with champagne as with a thick beer, belonging to that fantastic group of foods you can scoff wearing a black tie or board shorts. At Manly's No. 1 Hamptons-style pub, the thonged and saronged can knock back a dozen Sydney rock oysters for $32.

27 The Corso, Manly, 9976 3955

Butterfly your own garfish

These Pinocchio-nosed little fish are in season now and make great eating. You can pick them up from Sydney Fish Market or try your luck at Cowan Creek in the Hawkesbury. Cut and gut the garfish, ease your thumbs into the cavity and gently push outwards so you can run a sharp knife from head to tail along one side of the backbone. Push the fish out flat then slice under the backbone to cut it and the tiny bones away in one piece. Matt Moran suggests a sprinkle of Sri Lankan spices (garam masala, cumin, fennel seeds etc) before grilling.

Toothfish at Catalina

The Patagonian toothfish is the wagyu of the sea and this sous vide of toothfish at Catalina is brighter and whiter than a dentist's smile. Annual stock assessments mean the delicate flesh of Glacier 51 toothfish (Fiftyone Glacier is its natural habitat in the Subantarctic) can be eaten with a conscience as clean as its taste.

Lyne Park, New South Head Rd, Rose Bay, 9371 0555

Whole fish at Chiswick

Head chef Richie Dolan roasts a beaut whole rainbow river trout at Matt Moran's and Peter Sullivan's ode to the country garden. The 600 to 700-gram trout is boned and stuffed with lyonnaise onions, wrapped in Chiswick garden herbs and then wood-fired en papillote (that's ''in parchment'' for those who don't work in the French stationery industry) and garnished with more fresh herbs after cooking.

65 Ocean St, Woollahra, 8388 8688

Cast a line

Whether you have kids in tow or a group of mates and an Esky full of beer, fishing is a favourite Sydney pastime. Watsons Bay (for flounder), Grotto Point (kingfish), Blues Point Reserve (bream) and Manly Dam (bass) are all fine places to untangle knots, swear at the water and lose bait to toadfish.

School prawn popcorn at Hartsyard

Hartsyard is famous for its fried chicken and eye-popping cakes, but there is also silly deliciousness in a bag of fried prawns with Espelette pepper, sour cream and lemon. The popcorn component comes via a greater union of real-life movie popcorn and salty shrimp. Addictively ridiculous stuff.

33 Enmore Rd, Newtown, 8068 1473

Fish and chips

Bite into a good a bit of battered fish and you should get that lovely, loud, head-filling crunch that takes you back to the sand-in-togs days of school holidays past. The black flathead fillets from Steve Hodges and Josh Niland at the new Fish Face in Double Bay do it with style. Hand-cut Sebago chips and a house-made tartare, chunky with red onion and capers, complete the package. Other great fish and chips can be found at The Boathouse Palm Beach and Woy Woy Fisherman's Wharf, if you are heading north for the long weekend.

Fish Face, 346 New South Head Rd, Double Bay, 9328 9533

The Boathouse Palm Beach, Governor Phillip Park, Palm Beach, 9974 3868

Woy Woy Fishermen's Wharf, The Boulevard, Woy Woy, 4341 1171

North Bondi Fish

Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan have sea-changed the old North Bondi Italian site into an upmarket seafood kiosk and bar that locals cannot get enough of. A fish-friendly wine list by Matt Dunne contains lots of crisp, fresh whites that suit the beach views and swordfish from the grill.

120 Ramsgate Ave, North Bondi, 9130 2155

Cranky Fins Holidae Inn

No, this is not a please-wear-thongs-in-the-shower dive hotel on the mid-north coast, but a busy new seafood shack in Palm Beach full of Ray-Ban-wearing under-30s drinking margaritas and eating prawns by the bucketload. The decor is well represented by the kitschy name, with nautical knick-knacks in all the colours of the rainbow.

1 Beach Rd, Palm Beach, 9974 1159

Prawns on the beach

Head to the Sydney Fish Market, grab a wheelbarrow load of crustaceans and consume on a beach with gusto.

Seafood guru John Susman suggests looking for prawns with the feelers present, all 14 legs accounted for, bulging eyes, a head firmly attached and the sweet aroma of the sea.

''Don't be afraid to request a closer inspection either,'' he says. ''The fishmonger might not like it too much, but you're the one paying the big bucks.''

Sydney Fish Market, corner of Bank Street and Pyrmont Bridge Road, Pyrmont, sydneyfishmarket.com.au

Bar food at Izakaya Fujiyama

Put on your travelling businessman outfit and pull up a solo stool among the sake bottles and low lighting of Kenji Maenaka's izakaya bar. Don't expect the best sushi in town, but do expect lots of Japanese pub food to go with your whisky, beer and junmai: house-made fish balls, grilled mackerel, fish head with ponzu and soy, and, of course, lots of sashimi.

52 Waterloo St, Surry Hills, 9698 2797

Crabs at House of Crabs

Last year Drink'n'Dine decided to foray into the world of Louisiana crab boil. House of Crabs encourages diners to don a bib and get messy with the pearly white flesh of blue swimmer, snow and king crabs.

305 Cleveland St, Redfern, 9699 3177

Jade seafood dumplings at Lotus Dumpling Bar

On most days, dumpling queen Lucy Luo can be found pinching and rolling little parcels of joy in this slick Walsh Bay dim-sum bar. Jade seafood dumplings (the jade comes from the spinach rice dough used) are fat with fresh prawns, snow peas and mushroom. They are great as a pre-theatre snack or part of a boozy weekend lunch.

16 Hickson Rd, Dawes Point, 9251 8328

Make your own ceviche

Kingfish works brilliantly for this South American classic, says Matt Moran, and it is in season right now. Thinly slice the raw fish, douse in some chilli and lime juice and let the citric acid do the cooking. After a few minutes marinating, it is super for eating. Again, you want those clean tastes to shine.

Lobster thermidor at Rockpool Bar and Grill

Lobster thermidor says: ''I've got money and I'm not afraid to use it.'' It is the seafood equivalent of owning a bar in your house, except it is awesome instead of naff. Rockpool Bar & Grill splits open an eastern rock lobster and smothers each half in brandy, butter and killer white sauce.

66 Hunter St, Sydney, 8078 1900

Hor mok yang at Khao Pla

A world away from the beef, chicken or pork Thai joints of Newtown, Khao Pla dishes up Isaan steak tartare and grilled ox tongue to office workers and families. Hor mok is a sort of curried fish custard wrapped in a banana leaf. If you don't like the sound of fish custard, then try this gentle, sweet dish and reassess.

370-374 Victoria Ave, Chatswood, 9412 4978

Grilled southern calamari at Papi Chulo

It is primarily an American barbecue joint, but you cannot have a restaurant on a harbour and not have seafood. Chef Patrick Friesen takes the flavours of a Mennonite soup called summa borscht (summer borscht) of sausage, sour-cream potatoes, sorrel and dill and transforms them into a much lighter dish with squid and bacon in place of the sausage. It tastes as gorgeous as it looks.

22-23 Manly Wharf, Manly, 9240 3000

Late-night prawning

The best yield can be achieved on a pitch-black night, standing waist deep in a run-out tide. Their little red eyes will glow eerily in the torch light. Just grab the net when you see them and start scooping. Narrabeen Lakes and Dee Why Lagoon are good spots to try your luck. Note that crabs like this free-ride tidal run too.

XO pippies at Golden Century

Momofuku founder David Chang took to Instagram on a recent trip to Australia, declaring that Golden Century's pippies with XO sauce and crispy noodles ''reigns supreme over all other foods''. We are not arguing.

393-399 Sussex St, Sydney, 9281 1598

Fisherman's basket at The Fish Shop

Jeremy Strode takes the coastal holiday classic to the limit of its potential at this popular Potts Point hangout. There is not a crabstick in sight among his deep-fried things from the deep, only sustainable produce sourced locally when possible. Fingers of New Zealand bream, Australian prawns and local cuttlefish make this a winner. The oysters and pickles on the side only add to the good times.

22 Challis Ave, Potts Point, 9326 9000

Snapper pie at The Boathouse

After 17 years, is Blackwattle Bay's destination dish still worth splashing out serious cash for? Yes, it is. It is still just as creamy and rewarding and the only decent use of truffle oil in Sydney, perhaps the world. The pie is wheeled to the table, the lid is cracked open and the dish is silver-served to your plate. You should also know that the more it is raining outside, the better the pie tastes.

123 Ferry Rd, Glebe, 9518 9011


''Last year we had a group of friends over for an Easter get-together. I am time poor and had to come up with something that was easily produced in advance that I could quickly execute on the day,'' says the head chef at Sepia, The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide's Restaurant of the Year for 2014. This is what he did:

For the curing mixture:

Mix 150 millilitres of mirin with 150 millilitres of sake in a pot and bring to the boil to burn off the alcohol, then allow to cool. Mix through with 100 millilitres of miso.

For the salmon:

Have your fishmonger remove the scales, fillet the fish and remove any pin bones. Next, place a few spoonfuls of the miso mixture into the bottom of a tray that will fit the salmon in snugly. Place the salmon onto the miso mixture skin side down and cover the salmon in the remaining miso marinade. Place a sheet of cling wrap onto the salmon and miso so that no air can get in and then cover the tray with a lid. Place in the refrigerator for four to five days.

When ready to use, scrape away the miso and discard. Heat a barbecue and place the salmon fillets whole skin side down over the grill, making sure that the grill is raised up from the flame, because the amount of sugar in the miso will cause the salmon to burn easily. When the salmon is almost cooked, flip it over for a few seconds to finish and then serve immediately.

We serve it on the skin, using a spoon to break away the flesh, accompanied by freshly pickled cucumbers and radishes.

(Benn uses a miso from Kyoto called Saikyo miso, a sweet and delicately flavoured miso that is not at all salty. He also advises this can be done with any oily fish, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and black cod.)