Fish and Chips by Fish Face in Darlinghurst. Photo: James Brickwood
Fish Face has forever been the place for great fish, cooked every which way, including excellent beer-battered fish with chips. But with a new restaurant and sushi bar opening later this year in Double Bay, the original Good Food Guide-hat-wearing, turquoise-tiled Darlinghurst sidewalk fish caff has taken a different route. It's now counter service only, with a few eat-in stools, eco cutlery and serviceware, ready-to-go salads, sides and sauces in plastic containers and even a tub at the door to receive your rubbish as you leave.
Luckily the fish remains superb. Josh Niland and Steve Hodges are almost evangelical in their pursuit of super fresh, sustainably sourced, lip-to-tail use of produce. "All our fish are processed and dry-filleted on site," says the glass-backed, handwritten menu board.
So, here's how it rolls. Original owner and fish maestro Hodges runs the register, pours your wine (a red or white of the day) or a nicely malty Murray's Whale Ale from Nelson Bay. You just have to slide your own glass out from under the bench. There's a couple of fish choices for either Batter Fried, Crisp Skin, Panko Crumbed or Grilled; sauces and dressings, ready-packed salad leaves (cos and iceberg) with parsley, dill and chives, raw wooden cutlery wrapped in a napkin. Just pay up front and wait.
Showstopper: Beer battered fish and chips. Photo: James Brickwood
The show stopper is fish 'n' chips delivered with a dramatic flourish in a deep, wide, black cardboard cone, set in its own little stand. Stumpy hand-cut chips come with wedges of fish in an intriguing, super-crunchy batter. The beer batter of yesteryear is forgotten. Niland's secret formula contains things like vodka, honey and rice flour and the batter keeps its crunch, he reckons, for up to two hours. It's based on a few tricks the young but well-credentialed chef picked up staging with Heston Blumenthal. The batter is lacy and crackly and makes a lovely envelope for firm-fleshed pink ling.
Or there's panko-crumbing - the thin, crisp, dry-not-greasy shell that goes around tonight's batons of shovel-nosed shark. The fish is sweet and stringy, in a good, skatey kind of way. Makes sense as shovel-nosed shark is actually a species of ray. So now you know.
Footnote: if it's on, try grilled john dory liver with parsley - seared rosy, slightly wobbly slices, delicate with a squeeze of lemon, lushly draped on rounds of toast. Or a ''shark cutlet'': the slightly gelatinous ray fin poached, crumb-fried and dusted with reggiano and fried sage.
And next time we'll order the salt & vinegar onion rings with Niland's vinegar powder. Or the salt & pepper calamari with native pepper.
This is fish 'n' chips for the 21st century.
With craft beer, decent house wine, dress-your-own salad and Gelato Messina round the corner, Fish and Chips by Fish Face could well be the best fish 'n' chipper in town.
Do … think about eating in. It's fun.
Don't … worry about the two-hour batter crunch test. Why wait?
Dish … um … fish & chips, perhaps?
Vibe … so casual you could come in your cossie. Except the beach isn't anywhere nearby.
- (02) 9332 4803
- Prices - Fish & chips from $13.90-$17.90 (market prices change daily); sides $5; sauces 50 cents.
- Owners - Josh Niland and Steve Hodges
- Opening Hours - 5.30-9pm Tuesday to Sunday
- Author - Joanna Savill