5 Rae Street Fitzroy North, VIC 306803 9489 1974
|Opening hours||Tues-Sat 6pm-9.30pm,Tues-Fri 12pm-3.30pm|
|Features||Outdoor seating, Private dining, Bar|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Visa, Mastercard|
Seafood. More seafood. One steak. That's the simple premise of Richmond Seafood Tavern, a restaurant steeped in the values of a more innocent dining time, when fish was presented as nakedly as the day it was plucked from the ocean, give or take a squeeze of lemon and a dash of cocktail sauce.
Richmond Seafood Tavern isn't refined in the way that Bacash is or Esposito at Toofey's was. It's not trendy and new-school in the way of Albert Park Hotel. It is a stolidly old-fashioned seafood restaurant in a city that no longer subscribes to the genre in any significant way. In my nostalgia-hued reckoning, that alone makes it a valuable cultural relic.
I think ''tavern'' is as operative a word here as ''seafood''. This keeper of the flame has few bells and fewer whistles. What to make of a place where tables are already set with very ordinary bread rolls, triangles of butter and tented napkins? It's like a stage set, where the actors are rowdy groups of diners - it's a popular venue for family celebrations and blokey business lunches - getting busy with the jumble of fried marine life known as the seafood platter.
It also has the perversity of being in Fitzroy not Richmond, although that's because co-owner Danny Cecchi, a former manager of seafood specialist Rubira's, opened there before moving to this pub on the corner of Alexandra Parade in 2004.
Walking through the front bar with a TV tuned to the nags is like shucking 30 years of restaurant evolution. The dining room is carpeted, unflashy and rather formal, balancing linen-clad tables with a blackboard menu, where listing provenance is almost a matter of course. The snapper is from Port Phillip, tiger flathead from Lakes Entrance, the john dory from Eden in NSW.
Four pearlescent fillets, at $33, are suntanned in a pan, slapped on a silver platter on top of wilting lettuce, and come with a bowl of excellent chips.
It's reassuring that they know their suppliers when plenty more high-falutin' restaurants hide their seafood under a cloak of anonymity. Notable exceptions to the Australian catchment area include New Zealand hapuka and Canadian scallops.
Their Hervey Bay cousins, sluiced with a tasty muck of butter, garlic and breadcrumbs, are a bit of Australian classicism to rival the pav.
It's utterly unpretentious, the dishes mostly uncomposed. Oysters come au naturel or Kilpatrick, teriyaki, beer-battered or mornay. A crayfish wellington puts out feelers to the fashion for giving a fresh spin to hoary relics from the bottom of the recipe drawer. It's an egg-washed golden puff of pastry with fat chunks of crustacean and a tangy yellow sauce. Whitebait fritters are like a protein version of the roesti, the tiny fish encased in a semi-set eggy batter. Tuna arrives as a pink-raw tapa piled with capsicums, white anchovy and ripe white cheese.
There's just one dish listed under the ''non-seafood'' heading: a steak, naturally enough. It cleaves to my theory that Richmond Seafood Tavern is the steakhouse of the seafood set: a real workhorse, faithful to its simple promise. Fancy isn't on the menu, and that's not a problem when there are few finer things than simply cooked, unadulterated piece of fish. Sides? Check the three salads or the chips, which come gratis with the mains.
The waiters have the functional briskness born from dealing with high volumes of diners, but the wine list is another reason to stop by. A decent list at a decent price - that's another cultural relic worth celebrating.
Still, the blowout is always an option. Moreton Bay bugs are $60 - choose from chilli or lemon butter - and a 750-gram serve, done just over that transcendent gelatinous stage, means five enormous halves. Between two of us, it's too much bug, which is like saying too much ice-cream, or too much fun, and helps explain why we didn't venture on to a dessert list comfortable in its conventional parade of cheesecake, chocolate pudding and fruit crumble. Richmond Seafood Tavern doesn't throw the anchor out too far, but there are riches in the waters close to shore.
The best bit Seafood, old-school
The worst bit Mediocre bread rolls
Go-to dish Crayfish wellington, $12