Seafood sangas go fancy: Sydney's best fish sandwiches for summer

The panko-crumbed barramundi sandwich at FSH MKT in Bondi is one of hundreds of fish sangas the new shop is selling each ...
The panko-crumbed barramundi sandwich at FSH MKT in Bondi is one of hundreds of fish sangas the new shop is selling each week. Photo: James Brickwood

The recipe for a fish sandwich in Sydney has remained largely unchanged since McDonald's started putting crumbed pollock on a bun in the mid-1970s. A bit of lettuce, a squidge of tartare, some crisp-fried fruit de mer and voila – a hand-held lunch built for trips to the beach, and all the better with a Sunnyboy on the side.

Over the past 12 months, however, more chefs have been taking the summertime classic beyond its fast-food roots where cheap imports of basa, hoki and hake have long been the three kings of the fryer.

"I tried at least 15 different combinations of fish with both batter and breadcrumbs before settling on Queensland whiting – because it's the right thickness – covered in panko," says Bar Tropic chef Francois Poulard, referring to the light and flaky Japanese bread coating.

Bar Tropic's panko-crumbed whiting sandwich has been a best-seller since the venue opened in November.
Bar Tropic's panko-crumbed whiting sandwich has been a best-seller since the venue opened in November. Photo: Steven Woodburn

"Panko brings a crunch you can't really get when making your own breadcrumbs. However, we do remove the crusts from the sando's soft white bread and blitz some of them with the panko too."

Poulard's crumbed whiting sandwich was quick to become one of the chef's most popular menu items when Bar Tropic opened at Manly Wharf in November. "I think people just really enjoy the familiarity," he says.

Meanwhile, fish chef du jour Josh Niland launched Rose Bay's Charcoal Fish in September with a rotisserie Murray cod and gravy roll to take away, and Bondi's Icebergs Dining Room and Bar reopened after lockdown with a battered Dory sandwich to ride alongside its classic cheeseburger.

Seafood-loving chef Josh Niland at his Charcoal Fish takeaway shop in Rose Bay.
Seafood-loving chef Josh Niland at his Charcoal Fish takeaway shop in Rose Bay. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Marrickville restaurant Baba's Place began offering a Lebanese riff on Maccas' Filet-o-Fish in August, around the same time Manly's Fish and Lemonade was setting up a food truck in Drummoyne to serve battered fish in fluffy tramezzini bread.

"There have definitely been a few more fish sandwiches popping up this year," says Veronica Papacosta, co-owner of Fish and Lemonade and chief executive of Seafood Industry Australia, which represents Australia's commercial fishing industry.

"We're noticing more Australian seafood being used at takeaway fish and chip shops too," she says.

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"Imports are here to stay as they're important to certain parts of the market, but for discerning eaters and people more interested in the providence of their food, Australian seafood is on the menu and I think fish and chip shops want to be a part of that."

Domestic seafood is also becoming a more premium product, says Papacosta. "Given the high costs of fishing, producing, harvesting and distribution, we've probably sold our fish for too cheap for too long ... I think people are expecting to pay a little bit more for Australian fish these days."

One of the most popular new takeaway joints spotlighting Australian fish is North Bondi's FSH MKT, which opened a few blocks back from the beach in October.

Fluffy white bread is wrapped around crumbed fish in a kebab-style take on the genre at Fish and Lemonade.
Fluffy white bread is wrapped around crumbed fish in a kebab-style take on the genre at Fish and Lemonade. Photo: James Brickwood

With a grassy area perfect for picnics just a chip's throw away, FSH MKT offers five fish sandwiches (or burgers; chefs tend to use the terms interchangeably), including a $22 "swordy sanga" featuring grilled Mooloolaba swordfish and salsa verde on an organic potato bun, and a barramundi sandwich with panko-crumbed fish, tartare and slaw.

"We're selling hundreds and hundreds of the sandwiches each week," says FSH MKT executive chef Joel Bennetts.

"We're also doing lots of burger and sandwich specials. I recently asked one of my chefs to have a crack at a special of his own and he's marinated swordfish in a jerk-style mix of paprika, cumin, and fennel. It's almost like a Portuguese chicken burger."

Fancy Bondi fish and chip shop FSH MKT is already a hit with locals who love a sunny spot to enjoy them.
Fancy Bondi fish and chip shop FSH MKT is already a hit with locals who love a sunny spot to enjoy them. Photo: James Brickwood

Bennetts suggests the popularity of FSH MKT's sandwiches may be partly due to Bondi's healthy-eating set viewing a fish sandwich as healthier than straight-up fish and chips. Icebergs chef Alex Prichard agrees.

"It might be an eastern suburbs thing, but I genuinely believe that putting fried fish on a sandwich gives people a false sense that they're eating something that's better for them than a cheeseburger," he says.

"Never mind that a fish sanga has more carbohydrates thanks to its batter. Nine out of 10 times at the Icebergs bar, it's the Instagram models ordering the fish sandwich and their boyfriends going for a burger."

Rolls with Murray cod, gravy, skin and stuffing are served at Josh Niland's Charcoal Fish takeaway shop.
Rolls with Murray cod, gravy, skin and stuffing are served at Josh Niland's Charcoal Fish takeaway shop. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Sydney's best spots for battered fish between bread

"Fish and chips are synonymous with Australian summers, and great fish sandwiches are the next step up," says Icebergs' chef Alex Prichard. "They're also pretty easy to eat – instead of dipping your fish in tartare with every bite, there's already sauce on the sanga."

Fich at Petersham

The home of the inner west's best fish and chips also rocks an audibly crunchy southern-fried ling sandwich furnished with cos, tomato, cheddar and red onion on a milk bun ($16 with chips). Shop 3, 98-106 Audley Street, Petersham

Fish and Lemonade

Pillowy, crustless bread wraps battered hake, pickles and tartare to create a $10 snack that sits somewhere between sandwich and taco. "It's a nice, neat package that doesn't fall apart when you get to the end of it," says co-owner Veronica Papacosta. "It's been a long time since I've eaten a meal sitting down, so sauce management is key." Shop 15, Manly Wharf, Manly

Fish Butchery

Saint Peter chef Josh Niland's retail and takeaway store sets the gold standard for Australian fish sandos, featuring buttermilk-fried Bermagui pink ling, or maybe Laurieton blue-eye trevalla, always bolstered by iceberg and pickles ($20). 388 Oxford Street, Paddington

Icebergs Dining Room and Bar

Dory (John or mirror, depending on what's good at the market) is sandwiched on a potato roll with lettuce and a tangy house-made version of McDonald's Big Mac sauce ($22). "Dory has an even thickness all over, and the texture lends itself to fish and chips really well," says Prichard. "It's firm, but also delicate. A fish that's too soft or fatty will become lost in the batter." 1 Notts Avenue, Bondi Beach.