Cooking between the flags: North Bondi Fish. Photo: James Brickwood
The Brits are famous for their fish and chips, the Japanese are masters of the art of tempura, and the Portuguese have long known their way around a deep fryer. But nobody does the whole fish-and-chips package as well as we do. From the freshness of the fish to the lightness of the batter, to the way we deep-fry to order instead of ahead of time - and the way we eat it in the sun, by the sea - it's bloody brilliant. Besides, we have flathead, and they don't, so there.
And yes, the fish and chips ($28) at the new North Bondi Fish ticks all the boxes - for freshness, flathead, flavour, frying to order, and for being furnished with tartare and lemon. You get four smallish fillets atop a scrunch of specially printed ''newspaper'' in a metal deep-frying basket that has never seen a deep fryer. OK, the batter is light enough to soften where it sits, but I'd rather swing that way than towards the invincible suit-of-armour. And oh my, the lemon even comes in a twist of muslin to protect you from the horror of indiscriminately directed juice (try it yourself - it channels the juice in a consistent flow from the base).
But really, who is going to analyse their lunch to this extent, when they could be otherwise occupied in doing what Sydney does best in January - goofing off, drinking beer and watching the tanned and the toned wander around wearing little more than a surfboard.
Go-to dish: Beer-battered flathead fillet. Photo: James Brickwood
What was North Bondi Italian has done a sea change, moving away from meaty salumi and pasta to the seafood, salads, and spritzes that go so naturally with Sydney, surf and summer. High-profile restaurateurs Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan (of Aria, Chiswick and the Opera Bar) originally intended this to be a six-month pop-up, but it now looks here to stay, redecorated as a casual, breezy, seaside diner, complete with blue-cushioned banquettes, wicker chairs, over-sized rice-paper lanterns and rustic sketches of crabs and prawns. It feels a bit like a messy do-it-yourself weekender, in that liberated ''we don't care, it's only a beachhouse'' way Sydneysiders have.
No boats are being rocked with the menu, which clearly sets out to give the people what they want - grilled snapper and salmon, a cup of prawns, crumbed calamari rings, a generous tuna niç¸oise salad and the aforementioned fish and chips. They've even resuscitated good, old-fashioned garlic bread, but it's unconvincing, like a dad joke.
Fish being one of the most variable things you can put on a menu, it's odd that there's no list of daily changing specials, but I'm told it's coming. On both my visits, the grilled whole fish of the day is John Dory (firm-fleshed, and more steamy than grilled, $58) and the oysters are Wallis Lake rocks (good, briny and well handled, $3.50 each).
There is the odd contemporary raw dish, such as a simple, bright-tasting kingfish under ponzu and green chilli ($19) and a plain iceberg salad that has trouble justifying its $10 tag. Desserts are mostly fruit-based, including a fresh berry ice-cream sundae ($14) that's sweet and summery.
A no-brainer wine list full of savoury reds, crisp dry whites and chilled roses includes a fresh and fruity 2012 Tscharke ''Project Naturalis'' Savagnin, from the Barossa ($59), alongside "gin o'clock" cocktails, pitchers of sangria, and home-made sodas of lychee and Thai basil.
So, nothing particularly new wave or brave; just perfectly acceptable fish and seafood done under pressure by a pro team for a relaxed crowd from families to the frocked-up. This is cooking between the flags; safe, sure, and where most people want to be. Nothing wrong with that.
Best bit Fish and chips by the sea
Worst bit Peter Sullivan in shorts. It's just not right
Go-to dish Beer-battered flathead fillet, chips, tartare sauce $28
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.
- 02 9130 2155
- Cuisine - Seafood
- Prices - About $90 for two, plus drinks
- Features - Accepts bookings, Licensed, Views
- Chef(s) - Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan
- Owners - Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan
- Opening Hours - Daily noon-midnight
- Author - Terry Durack