The tide is turning.
A few months ago, a visiting friend asked me to recommend a ‘fancy’ restaurant around Byron Bay.
I hesitated. I recalled the days of Wild, Olivo, The Pacific Dining Room and Dish, but they departed Byron’s dining scene last decade, and ever since there has been a dearth of fine dining options in the area to complement a few enduring establishments.
This new slip of a restaurant sits quietly amid the shop fronts in the beach holiday town of Brunswick Heads, a 10-minute drive north of Byron Bay. Owners and sea-changers Josh Lewis (Chef) and Astrid McCormack (Host / Sommelier) opened the doors just six weeks ago and to say Fleet is sailing on a big, barreling wave of success is an understatement.
I’ve been to Fleet three times in three weeks. It’s that good. For me, the experience is ‘finesse dining’ rather than fancy dining. The food and service are refined, yet unfussy. Astrid is a perfectly personal host and Robert, behind the bar, concocts some classic and tempting cocktails. It’s like you have been welcomed into the home of friends and pulled up a stool at the communal bench to chat casually with the Chef as he gets dinner started.
The restaurant fit-out is modest and muted. There is a genuine artistry that flows throughout. Local Bangalow ceramicist Anna Karina handmade the earthen tableware (Instagram @annakarinae), a family member designed and installed the commissioned wine rack, and local carpenter Marty Johnston handcrafted the restaurant’s bar stools using locally sourced Tasmanian oak. http://martin-johnston.blogspot.com.au The ‘Fleet Stool’, as the design has been named, has a Nordic simplicity, which is sophisticated and solid with sound absorption built in – very clever. There was no noticeable noise for the concrete floor. It’s great to see Fleet keeping it local.
Josh keeps it local on the menu too. There are regular, sometimes daily adaptations to the offering according to the seasons, conditions and catch of the day. If you haven’t been to Fleet yet, then you’ve already missed the Basked Custard and Fig dessert.
The menu is designed to share and is ideally suited to couples or a small group of three or four. There are different sized dishes for entree / tapas dining or you can choose some that are more hearty. I can recommend the Kitchen Picked Share Menu for $65 per person where Josh will send you numerous dishes from the daily menu. Take his lead, although Astrid will ask you if there’s any dishes you really want to include in the degustation.
Kitchen Picked Share Menu
Our first dish was a fragrant and nutty Rye and Carraway Sourdough with Cultured Butter. The daily bread is baked for the restaurant by another new local food business – The Bread Social – which has opened at The Farm in Byron Bay (Instagram @thebreadsocial).
Smoked Mullet served with Potato and Crispy Fish Skin followed. The handmade potato and fish skin crisps are great for scooping up the smooth smoked fish paste – like a ‘fancy’ chip and dip.
We then enjoyed a ceviche of local Spanish Mackerel with Bone Marrow and Bonito. A broth is presented in a small earthenware jug for you to pour over the fish at will. It is so deliciously rich and savoury that you could sip it as a soup in its own right. An absolute treat followed – the Veal Sweetbread Schnitty Sanga. The ‘sandwich’ on white is spread with an anchovy mayonnaise that complements the crunchy fried crumbed filling. The next dish was Flame Tail Snapper served with Chicory, Burnt Lemon and a Smoked Corn Puree, which left you wanting to lick the plate clean. Such a pretty and tasty dish. The side dish of Sugarloaf Cabbage and Savoury Yeast was generous and fresh.
This was lastly followed by Lamb Breast served on Roasted Garlic Puree with Shaved Brussel Sprouts and Cheese Rind. The lamb was unctuous and the garlic puree was rich and mellow, while the salty cheese rind added a good bite for balance. The accompanying side dish of creamy Parsnip, Buttermilk, Thyme and Leek topped with Hazelnuts was decadent.
For dessert? You guessed it: Burnt Custard and Fig – but one each, served with a glass of fizzy Italian sparkling – no need to share!
The wine list is small but significant with many lesser-known wineries and varieties represented. On our most recent Fleet visit we enjoyed a Pinotage from South Africa – a completely new style of wine for me. The flavour profile sits somewhere between a pinot and shiraz, but you will need to get in quick to enjoy this drop, as there are only a few bottles left! Rest assured though, Astrid will restock the rotating cellar with something of equal finesse.
Fleet’s hours are Thursday to Monday from 3pm – 10pm: perfect for a late lunch, afternoon cocktail with tapas or a longer dinner. Reservations are available via their website www.fleet-restaurant.com.au and special diets can be catered.
Fleet has sailed into Brunswick Heads not a moment too soon and I for one am glad they chose to set anchor there. It’s dining with finesse and I would recommend it to anyone – especially a visiting friend.