Icon review: Bacash

Flounder, simply cooked and served with salad and fries (not pictured).
Flounder, simply cooked and served with salad and fries (not pictured). Photo: Simon Schluter

175 Domain Road South Yarra, Victoria 3141

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Opening hours Mon-Fri noon-3pm, Mon-Sat 6pm-10pm
Features Accepts bookings, Business lunch, Licensed, Long lunch, Outdoor seating, Private dining, Romance-first date, Views, Gluten-free options, Vegetarian friendly, Wheelchair access, Events
Prices Expensive (mains over $40)
Chef Michael Bacash
Payments Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard
Phone 03 9866 3566

Since I ate at Bacash I've been puzzling over something. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that I'm looking for excuses to relive a moment. A flounder moment. That moment when the plate lands on the table, everything else recedes into blurry who-cares, and my life is all about the fish.

When it's good, New Zealand yellowbelly flounder is soft but not mushy, and clean-tasting but not bland. The skin pulls away easily from the flesh and the flesh flakes gently from the bone. If you're not much of a whole-fish person, this is the one to start with.

The one on my plate is so pristine there's no doubt it has been carefully caught, transported, stored, prepared and cooked. Getting this fish to my plate was a chain of trust and honouring. Appreciating it is my part in this chain.

Bacash is a restaurant where you can hear yourself think.
Bacash is a restaurant where you can hear yourself think. Photo: Simon Schluter

The fish is scored so it cooks evenly. It's seasoned with salt, pepper and oil, caramelised on a hot plate, then placed on a buttered tray and into the oven. It's whipped out with impeccable judgment and put on a plate with a sprig of parsley and half a lemon. Residual heat finishes cooking the fish as it's being carried to the table, where fries and dressed lettuce await.

One of the hardest things about being a chef is finding the resolve to keep it simple. There's nowhere to hide with grilled fish, but sourcing great seafood and cooking it with respect is what they do here. Michael and Fiona Bacash have been running fish restaurants for 30 years, first Toofey's in Carlton and here since 2000 in a civilised cardigan-over-the-shoulders location in South Yarra.

This is a lovely restaurant, with a great wine list (lots of grower Champagne, my new obsession), well-drilled service and comfortable hear-yourself-think options for groups small and large.

Oysters are shucked to order.
Oysters are shucked to order. Photo: Simon Schluter

There's duck, steak, a gesture towards vegetarians, and wonderful housemade ice-cream – but, really, you're here for the seafood.

As well as the grilled fish – flounder, if it's good, and whatever else might be fresh, beautiful and sustainable off the boats – there are exemplary oysters, opened to order as though with a laser cutter. There might be sardines from Port Phillip Bay, caught the night before so the fillets are fresh enough to serve raw, dressed with salt, pepper, shallots, chives and a tickle of chilli.

Some dishes show a little more work. A blue swimmer crab dish is classic French: sweet, succulent meat is tumbled with Pernod mayonnaise and arranged over avocado. It's a retro showcase and eats like a dream.

Lebanese snapper with silverbeet, sumac, tahini, currants and pinenuts.
Lebanese snapper with silverbeet, sumac, tahini, currants and pinenuts. Photo: Simon Schluter

Michael Bacash harks back to his Lebanese heritage with a baby snapper fillet, sauteed and layered with silverbeet, sumac, tahini, currants and pinenuts. It's delicious, though it's less about the fish than the grilled dishes.

Bacash is not an innovative restaurant. It's never going to be Melbourne's answer to Sydney's Saint Peter and its fish-eye crisps, fish-head terrine and fish ageing program. But there's being staid and there's being true: I put Bacash in the latter camp.

No matter where cooking forges, lurches and quests, it's hard to see it improving on a perfect fish, carefully cooked, and brought to the table with pride.

If you're wondering exactly how exciting that can be, you should book a table at Bacash right now.

Rating: Four stars out of five.