Saturday, April 23, 2011


My last (and first (and only)) visit to Flying Fish in Pyrmont was around two years ago. While this sounds a little odd considering how much I enjoyed that meal, it does show how many fine dining options there are in Sydney. If you enjoy trying different restaurants, but can’t afford to go every week, then it’s going to be quite a while before you return to some of these places if you like them. To dine here I was forgoing the chance to try some of the other fine-diners that I am still yet to enjoy.

Being two years since my last visit, I was a little nervous about how it was going to pan out, as it was roughly the same time gap since I last visited Bilson’s. And we all know how that turned out. With so many great dining experiences since the last visit, had my palate or standards changed? Had I become (gasp) more discerning?

Walking to the restaurant, I realised I certainly hadn’t become any better at navigating. Last time we came here we wandered around the Pyrmont waterside for ages looking for the restaurant. I joked that this time that wouldn’t happen. Minutes later, it did. Take note, children. Look at a map first. (AND WEAR A SWEATER WHILE YOU'RE AT IT!!!)

Two things made me enjoy Flying Fish the last time I was there. Firstly, and not surprisingly for a restaurant with a piscatorial name, the seafood was spectacular. Fresh, well selected and well handled. The other reason was the service. I still have fond memories of the sommelier we had that night. Knowledgeable of what he was serving, but also friendly and, most importantly, fun. While the view is spectacular, I think the memories of that night are the reason why we requested an upstairs table for the return visit, on the off chance that we might get the same table and have the same sommelier serve us.

While I don’t consider it an official “Thing That Made Me Enjoy Flying Fish Last Time I Was There” (TM), the fact that it serves up refined Sri Lankan food is also a bit of an appeal to me, a huge fan of the flavours that country’s cuisine puts out.

Finally we see the pier we have to walk up, making sure we avoid the delivery/parking lane that we walked up last time.

While we don’t get an upstairs table, we do get a table right by the window, overlooking the harbour. A pretty fair compromise.

After a tasty amuse bouche of a crab, caviar and cream tart, the first dish arrives. And it is a total stunner. Seared yellow fin tuna with grapefruit, pork belly, pork crackling and black pepper caramel. A great piece of fish, perfectly cooked. The caramel is too sweet on its own, but plays an important part when everything on the dish is combined. It has that sweet/savoury thing happening and it definitely wakes the taste buds up. There’s also a few layers of texture which work well together. Although there is maybe a little too much caramel on the plate. The sourness of the grapefruit adding another dimension to the flavour and transporting it to a sweet/sour Sri Lankan dish, as if a fair whack of tamarind was added. The grapefruit also cuts the sweetness of the caramel and leaves a neutral taste in the mouth. The dish is paired with a borderline tasteless rose (I hate roses normally so don’t take my word for anything here) which feels oddly appropriate.

I feel guilty for leaving some caramel on the plate, but the dish would be too sweet if I ate it all. Then again, it’s caramel. Does it really matter if I leave some on the plate? Hmm, a deep metaphysical debate to be considered when my dining companion leaves the table for a toilet break.

Looks like Bilson’s last week just wasn’t.that.good. Two years ago Flying Fish was great. Two years later it is great.

Ocean trout cooked sous vide is next and it’s delicious. Regardless of how many restaurants have a confit/sous vide/slow-cooked ocean trout dish, it never gets dull. Here it sits with quinoa and a pea mousse and is topped with (if I remember correctly) caviar. The fish is incredibly soft and pairs well with the flavours and textures of the other ingredients. The puffed quinoa adds that textural element that was attempted in multiple dishes at Bilson’s last week but wasn’t achieved.

Soft shell crab with black pepper curry leaf sauce and coconut salad is amazing. Each element is separate. And excellent. I seem to remember there also being some grapefruit there, again playing with the sweet/sour of Sri Lankan food (if the black pepper curry sauce wasn’t enough of a nod to the sub-continent).

The dinner takes a severe turn. Roasted hapuka (similar to groper) with hazelnut, balsamic potato, grape, capers and buerre noisette. From dishes that played straight to Sri Lankan taste, we’re now playing to French/Italian. The punchy, curry flavours are turned down and the flavour of the ingredients are turned up. Well-paired ingredients and an excellent bit of fish add up to an excellent dish.

After a palate cleanser of berry jelly with cucumber, pomegranate and fruit (a spoon would have been nice to eat this with), we stay subdued and hit up a piece of wagyu with shredded, braised short rib, mushroom, beetroot puree, smoked leek and horseradish sauce. On the side is a leaf salad, perfectly crisp and perfectly dressed. The beef—in both forms—is delicious. As is the mushroom. As is... you get the idea. A great dish. Part of me thinks that Flying Fish should concentrate on fish for every course and set itself apart as a “fish restaurant”, but it was a great dish so I won’t complain.

Cheese course next with some gorgonzola, figs and other things I don’t recall. A good cheese course. I don’t normally like blue cheese, finding the aftertaste too confronting, but the fig pairs well.

“Tastes and textures of apple” is next and it’s probably the first dish that feels like it’s trying to appeal to diner’s more accustomed to other (read: French) fine diners around Sydney. Apple is presented various ways. It’s delicious. I love apple. I would have liked a wine pairing with this too, though, as it isn’t an insubstantial dish. A good wine pairing would have made this a very solid dish.

Finally, a banana plate. Banana tart, a piece of banana and a banana and popcorn semi-freddo. Banana and I have had out differences over the years, but this is delicious. It’s banana.

Service was a little mixed on the night, with some staff being excellent--friendly and informed—but others seemingly going through the motions.

Wine matches to the food were generally good, but the wines weren’t that great for some of the courses. I’d like to see some more excellent local wines used and less of a reliance on the international wines that often have less bang for the buck.

The chair I was in was terrible. While comfortable to sit on, the backs sloped back slightly at the top, meaning that whenever I sat back against the chair, I was leaning back slightly and felt off balance. An unnerving feeling. But that could have been because of me, no one else seemed to be having that problem.

After my first visit of Flying Fish I knew it was good, but I didn’t think it was in the top echelon of restaurants in Sydney. I still believe that. While there are some tremendous flavours on the plate and a great selection of seafood to be had, the food just doesn’t have that perfect balance that the top restaurants do. Still, for the uniqueness of a Sri Lankan fine-diner and for excellent seafood (and everything else) it’s WELL worth a visit.

While I hope that I get to return before two more years, I doubt that it’s going to happen. With the new set of (amazing) restaurants due to open later in the year at nearby Star City, I imagine that I’ll be spending a lot of time there. Being out of the way, I hope that Flying Fish can stay open and competitive and continue to serve up great food for many more years to come.

RATING: Will return to [?]

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