34-36 Sydney Street Mogo, NSW 2536
In most cases, eating out at the South Coast is a cheap and cheerful affair, or a rather disappointing one. If what you want is a special night out with food as spectacular as the natural surroundings, you'll be choosing from a very short list.
There are good reasons this is the case, most important the fact that the place is jammed with out-of-towners with cash to burn for at most two months a year and the rest of time it's pretty quiet.
This makes it all the more exciting when a new, good place opens up.
Josh Tyler ran two eateries, Tyler's Pantry in Mogo and Tyler's Kitchen in Malua Bay, but recently closed the Malua Bay restaurant. This allows him to add weekend dinners to the mainstays of breakfast and lunch at the Pantry.
The Pantry is an established favourite for breakfast and lunch - with excellent, pretty relaxed food, in lovely airy surrounds, and music on Sundays.
The dinner service takes things up more than a notch, with the menu written to incorporate as many local ingredients as possible, and changing weekly.
Tyler is not tipping a fashionable nod to local produce, he is passionately committed to it ... and he has the skill to do it well.
Tyler is not tipping a fashionable nod to local produce, he is passionately committed to using little-known and/or ignored ingredients, as well as local fish and meat, and he has the skill to do it well.
This man can really cook, taking full advantage of what's available, and creating spectacular dishes that taste as good as the coastal air smells.
The menu is a one-page document, often finalised just moments before the doors open, listing perhaps seven or eight savoury dishes, three or four desserts, a few side dishes and a choice of six cheeses.
The friendly staff explain that you can choose two ($35), four ($65) or six ($80) courses. All the savoury dishes are a little larger than a standard entree. Between two people, six courses would be adequate; eight would be better for a hungry pair.
The floor staff is competent and friendly, if a little unsure about details of food and wine. Very good, still warm bread hits the table quickly, with softened butter and salt.
Like the menu, the wine list is concise and well chosen, with plenty of local offerings, and a good number available by the glass. Joshua's Fault sparkling ($12) from Gundaroo, makes a nice start, as does Gallagher riesling ($12) from Murrumbateman.
A welcome feature is a decent selection of dessert wines by the glass to finish, including the brilliant, clean, bright-tasting Plantagenet Ringbark riesling ($12). But to the food, which is quite rightly the star of the show.
The kitchen is open at Tyler's, but set back in the room, so you can see activity, but not peer over it like a three-ringed circus. The chefs are all working hard, focused and quickly, this is not a shouting, clanging establishment.
Our first dish is butter-toasted flathead, with peas, chorizo and mussel broth. Presented beautifully in the bottom of a shiny black bowl, the lovely little flathead fillets are spotted with bright green, double peeled and split, green peas. Tyler brings the golden mussel broth out from the kitchen and pours it around the outside of the fish, to complete the dish. At first taste, the broth is very salty, but once you give it a moment to mingle with the other ingredients the balance is perfect.
This is a great dish, the tender and spectacularly fresh flathead mingles beautifully with the crystal-clear broth. The texture, flavour and the aroma of the dish, are all in perfect harmony - nothing overwhelms, all elements work together to create a wonderful, and surprisingly rich, dish.
Next kingfish, in translucent raw slices, is simply presented with wild passionfruit and a little basil and coriander. It is hard to pinpoint why this dish is so much better than so many others of the kind, but it is. Clean and magnificent in texture and flavour, it takes full advantage of the jumping-fresh fish with its wonderful subtle flavour and soft, but never mushy, texture, and enhances it with simple, natural flavours.
Likewise, quail with garlic custard, boudin noir and leek is a lovely balanced dish, with elegant flavour and texture combinations.
Dessert is every bit as good as what has come before, and should not be missed. The simply described chocolate and passionfruit egg is ''hatched'', with orange caramel, at the table. The perfect white chocolate egg, sits in a black bowl, and Tyler brings a copper pan of hot caramel, pouring it over and releasing the passionfruit custard inside. The custard is incredibly good, swirled with the cooling caramel, and the richness of the thin chocolate shell that partly melts as you eat.
The performance continues with a mountain of eucalyptus ice, fig-leaf ice-cream meringue and berries, presented with a little bottle of bright red cordial to pour over the top.
All of this showmanship could be a little much if it weren't done so modestly, and to such good effect.
Josh Tyler is clearly a man who knows what he is doing in the kitchen, and one who also finds food exciting. He is not afraid to take risks - and has the ability to bring out the best in the often unusual ingredients.
Summary: A great restaurant - taking the very best of local produce, and creating inspired dishes that are greater than the sum of their parts. Josh Tyler is making food as beautiful, surprising and fresh as the coast itself.
Breakdown scores are a quick reference to key highs or lows. They do not relate directly to the score out of 20.