Sydney's best fish sandwiches

The crispy fish sandwich at Bondi Beach Public Bar.
The crispy fish sandwich at Bondi Beach Public Bar. Photo: Jason Loucas

That Jesus bloke was onto something when he used bread and fish to feed 5000 followers on a riverbank in Jordan. The fish sandwich is a beautiful thing – a holy gift of crunchy-fried fish cushioned by soft white bread. Simple and straight-up delicious. One hopes the disciples had tartare sauce back in the day. Praise be to tiny gherkins, capers and mayonnaise.

Two millennia later, Sydney chefs are also using bread and fish to feed the masses.

Stanbuli's traditional balik ekmek fish sandwich.
Stanbuli's traditional balik ekmek fish sandwich. Photo: Cole Bennetts

Icebergs group executive chef Monty Koludrovic rocks a bitey tartare on his fish sandwich at Bondi Beach Public Bar (180 Campbell Parade, Bondi). Koludrovic also uses panko crumbs for super-crunchy good times and serves the sanger with fried potato crisps that you know you want to stack between the white bread, too. Make it at home using Koludrovic's recipe.

The spiritual home of the fish sandwich is Istanbul, where locals have long flocked to the riverbanks at lunchtime for balik ekmek (literally "fish bread"). A crusty roll is stuffed with lettuce, onion and blue mackerel cooked over charcoal or fried on a hotplate. Chef Ibrahim Kasif is happy to fix you a brilliant balik ekmek with mackerel at Stanbuli (135 Enmore Road, Enmore).

"When we opened Stanbuli I didn't just want to do dips and pide," says Kasif. "I looked at the Turkish restaurants that had come before me in Sydney and no one was doing fish sandwiches, the real street food of Istanbul. It doesn't matter if you're a politician, school teacher or taxi driver – you still head down to the river for a fish sandwich."

Saint Peter's garfish sandwich.
Saint Peter's garfish sandwich. Photo: Callan Boys

Kasif's sandwich comes with pickles on the side as per Turkish tradition. "When you're eating balik ekmek in Istanbul you polish of the pickles first, then the sandwich," he says. "Drink the pickle juice, wipe your face and keep moving. I love it."

Sydney's most striking fish sanger can be found on the brunch menu at Saint Peter (362 Oxford Street, Paddington), where chef Josh Niland debones and crumbs garfish from Corner Inlet in Victoria and serves it on white bread with the head and tail still attached. For $22, it's far removed from the idea of smash-and-go street food.

"Anyone who looks at a garfish thinks, 'F--- me, there's a lot of bones in that'," says Niland. "It looks so tedious that most people are not going to take it home from the market, let alone crumb it and put it between Wonder White. We leave the head and tail attached but everything in between you can eat.

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"There's a great deal of generosity on display and people can see why it costs what it costs. Plus, it takes a good photo, which I think you really have to consider in the game we're that playing in right now."

Niland enhances his fish sandwich with a tartare sauce that uses yoghurt instead of mayonnaise as a base.

"I've never been able to understand why the hell we've been serving an oil-based emulsion with deep-fried food," he says.

Great with a G&T: a trio of fish finger sandwiches at The Duke of Clarence.
Great with a G&T: a trio of fish finger sandwiches at The Duke of Clarence. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

"It doesn't assist in digestion and it doesn't add anything beyond more fat. We use yoghurt because it is acidic but has the same texture and appearance as mayonnaise. It doesn't change your perception of tartare sauce; it just tastes better and is better for you."

Amen, sir.

The fish finger sandwich

The English cousin of the fish sandwich is one of Old Blighty's favourite comfort foods. Even Jamie Oliver included a "fantastic fish finger buttie" recipe in Happy Days with the Naked Chef. Oliver uses ketchup on his sanger instead of tartare, which is controversial but not unheard of. Australian children have been squirting tomato sauce on fish fingers for decades.

Fried flathead sandwiches with pea and mint mayo at Chiswick.
Fried flathead sandwiches with pea and mint mayo at Chiswick. Photo: Supplied

You can find a posh version of the fish finger buttie at The Duke of Clarence (152-156 Clarence Street, Sydney), a new bar tipping its bowler hat to Great Britain. The Duke's finger-sized finger sandwiches are filled with blue-eye trevalla, boiled-egg tartare and watercress. Great stuff with a gin and tonic.

Chiswick (65 Ocean Street, Woollahra) also offers a three-bite-sized version where dusky flathead fillets are cushioned by Sonoma white bread and topped with mint and pea mayo.

However, for the kind of fish finger sambo best experienced after too many schooners, you'll want to visit The Lansdowne Hotel (2-6 City Road, Chippendale), where a soft bun is laden with golden fish fingers, tatare sauce and taxi-yellow melted cheese.