15/20

Flying Fish

Lower Deck, Jones Bay Wharf, 19-21 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont, New South Wales

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Anniversary: Flying Fish is still one of Sydney's glitziest restaurants.
Anniversary: Flying Fish is still one of Sydney's glitziest restaurants. Photo: Jessica Hromas

Terry Durack

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.

Glacier 51 toothfish, nettle butter, sea grapes, persillade,
Glacier 51 toothfish, nettle butter, sea grapes and persillade. Photo: Jessica Hromas

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.

Smoked Petuna ocean trout with cucumber, apple and buttermilk dressing.
Smoked Petuna ocean trout with cucumber, apple and buttermilk dressing. Photo: Jessica Hromas

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.

THE LOW-DOWN
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.

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Lower Deck, Jones Bay Wharf, 19-21 Pirrama Road, Pyrmont, New South Wales

  • Cuisine - Seafood
  • Prices - About $190 for two, plus drinks
  • Features - Views, Business lunch, Accepts bookings, Private dining, Bar, Licensed
  • Chef(s) - Stephen Seckold (exec chef), Ian Royle (head chef), Peter Kuruvita (founding chef)
  • Opening Hours - Lunch Tues-Sun from noon; Dinner Mon-Sat 6-10.30pm
  • Author - Terry Durack
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6 comments so far

  • Not sure how a fish (previously on the 'watched list') caught 4000 miles off the coast of Australia, which comes frozen, has more plastic and cardboard wrapped around it than most christmas presents, can be called 'sustainable' or advertised as such. Do they take into consideration how much diesel is used to catch 'sustainable' fish.? Not sure why so many chefs/top restaurants are getting behind such a gimmick.

    Commenter
    Brendan
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    August 05, 2014, 10:01AM
  • My fiance took me to Flying Fish just recently for a birthday celebration. It does not get much better than sitting inside near the fire on a cold evening, looking out at the bridge and enjoying some fantastic service and even more fantastic food. The Blue Eye Trevalla main was one of the great eating experiences Ive had in Sydney. Cant wait to return!

    Commenter
    Andrew X
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    August 05, 2014, 11:02AM
  • No wonder so many "high end" restaurants are going down the gurgler. $17 for a glass of wine.

    Commenter
    Catherine
    Location
    Date and time
    August 05, 2014, 1:15PM
  • i wouldn't be caught dead in the joint

    Commenter
    captain ahab
    Location
    pyrmont
    Date and time
    August 05, 2014, 2:00PM
  • If toothfish is the "wagyu of the sea" why is it sold for next to nothing in Japan (gin mutsu)? Why is it just a basic midweek fish that can be bought for a few bucks?

    Commenter
    hmmm
    Location
    Date and time
    August 06, 2014, 9:02AM
  • One of my favourite restaurants in Sydney. Awesome for birthdays and all sorts of occassions. Some of the best food and service in Sydney/Australia. Re Japan - you cannot compare seafood restaurants with Japan - it's chalk and cheese (I thought Australia had the best seafood until I visited there).

    Commenter
    DaZza
    Location
    Leung Oval
    Date and time
    August 06, 2014, 12:04PM

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