Lower Deck, Jones Bay Wharf, 19-21 Pirrama Road Pyrmont, New South Wales 200902 9518 6677
|Opening hours||L Tues-Sun; D Mon-Sat|
|Features||Licensed, Outdoor seating, Bar|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Chef||Stephen Seckold, Ian Royle|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
Some couples have what they call Date Night. We have Bait Night instead, when we choose the ugliest, boniest, oiliest and most sustainable fish for dinner, over the most beautiful, pin-boned and farmed. Things such as leatherjacket, sardines, whitebait and mackerel - all brilliant fish with a bad rap. It's no real hardship when dining in; but dining out is trickier.
At Flying Fish, it wouldn't surprise me if the fish and seafood came from a casting agency. Western Australian marron, Northern Territory mudcrab, yellowfin tuna, blue eye trevalla and the exquisite Glacier 51 toothfish from the sub-Antarctic, all line up like Victoria's Secret models.
Exec chef Stephen Seckold, who first joined the restaurant in 2004 under founding chef Peter Kuruvita, says the sourcing is as ethical as he can manage, although he is aware it is very high-end. Seckold says he has experimented with low-profile fish such as Coorong mullet, but couldn't convince his diners. "It's not always about us," he says. True. It's about us, too, and our willingness to give bait fish equal time to date fish.
I've always enjoyed walking past the maxi-yachts and luxury cruisers down the long pier, entering through the buzzy deckside bar, and arriving in the warm, wood-lined maritime/industrial, double-decker dining room. Flying Fish is one of Sydney's most unashamedly glitzy restaurants, with sweeping harbour views to the old coat hanger itself. Inside, it's all double-clothed tables, sparkling light installations, walls of wine, polished table service and corporate entertainers.
While the meat on offer is equally prime (lamb rack, wagyu ribeye), it's the seafood you're here for, from an excellent daily-changing list of oysters and sashimi to live crustaceans. Fish gets the full chef treatment from Seckold and head chef Ian Royle in the on-show kitchen.
Their Petuna ocean trout ($31) cuts like orange butter. It's thick, soft, gently sous-vide'd and as gently smoked, dressed to impress with a buttermilk emulsion, crisp apple, sake-marinated trout roe and a super-crunchy furl of seaweed-dusted trout skin. Western Australian marron ($34) should be on the rich list, its innate sweetness brought forward by a quick saute in brown butter, a foam of marron-shell bisque, caramelised baby fennel and floaty sails of marron crisps.
The considerable wine list is full of serious treasures at serious prices. Even a more moderate treat, such as a juicy 2010 Rockford Local Growers Semillon, has a pretty high mark-up at $17 a glass and $85 a bottle.
It's little wonder they call the sustainable Glacier 51 toothfish ($49), the ''wagyu of the sea''. It tastes more of lobster than fish under its crisp skin, the pearly white flesh gently cleaving apart as if made of compressed scallops. Tangy sea grapes (caulerpa lentillifera), nettle butter and a sea-green persillade add layers of complexity. A veal and scampi hot pot ($48) feels a little safe; the veal a mild backdrop to the lush crustacean tails.
Desserts set a similarly rich course, and a molten dome of marshmallow, gingerbread crumble and rhubarb compote is saved by a stunningly bittersweet cocoa and wattleseed sorbet ($18).
Flying Fish turns 10 this year: and there is a flurry of nostalgia-laced and truffle-scented celebrations in August. I hate to think how the global seafood situation will change in the next 10 years, but at least we are more educated in our choices. Paying top dollar for a great seafood experience is as much a part of that as Bait Night.
Best bit: High-quality seafood
Worst bit: High-quality prices
Go-to dish: Glacier 51 toothfish, nettle butter, sea grapes, persillade $49
Terry Durack is chief restaurant critic for The Sydney Morning Herald and senior reviewer for the Good Food Guide. This rating is based on the Good Food Guide scoring system.