PICTURES \ DARRIAN TRAYNOR
Was I just in the wrong mood to have to join a queue for a table for dinner? Was it a case of reviewer snobbery? Or are our city venues becoming designed for the infinitely more patient?
I admit it. I gave up on the wait for a table at this popular, trerndy new diner. (That same week, my more determined colleague had waited two hours to review another). Had I been indolent, or derelict in my duty?
Fish Dish was on a longish list of places I had in mind. It wasn’t at the top, but it was easily located and a table sat waiting.
Tucked at the base of the liftwell into the Crossley Hotel, sitting incongruously in the centre of Little Bourke Street, and with one of the greenest waiters I’ve struck in a long, long time, I really thought I’d made a terrible mistake. I felt as though I was in suburban diner – a world away from the queuing, tweeting, up-to-the minute crowd.
But the venue was soothing, the menu was unthreatening and the young waiter charming.
Fish Dish is a 12-month-old venture owned by Paul Le Noury, who began collecting fish-shaped plates early in a career that began at Stephanie’s in Hawthorn in the late 1980s and continued with Greg Brown at Bouchon in Toorak. Le Noury owned a restaurant called Fish Plate in Brighton in the late 1990s, and later ran another in the Charsfield Hotel in St Kilda Road. Most recently, he has been running Yum Catering.
Le Noury was approached by the owners of the Crossley Hotel (who are connected to the Charsfield Hotel) to open a restaurant in their recently refurbished venue. The fish plates were rehung and a few months ago, chef Matt Barnard (ex-Provenance, Collingwood) joined the team.
Barnard’s menu is short and inchallenging. (As is the wine list.) There are three shared dishes – oysters natural (or with a passionfruit salsa); local calamari and tuna tartare and seven mains, five of them seafood based.
Our tuna tartare arrived in a molded mound in the centre of a curved white dish. Small diced pieces of good-quality raw tuna were studded with pieces of cucumber trimmed to similar size. The advertised salmon roe was absent, and the dish was dressed with curls of parsley. It was a generous serving and a pleasant, refreshing starting and sharing dish. The calamari, nested in bed of untrimmed rocket was of excellent quality, lightly dusted with flour and accompanied by a dish of terrific house-made aioli. So far: not bad.
We could have had fish and chips, spaghetti marinara or whole fried snapper with eight spices from the list of seafood offerings; or chicken breast with preserved lemon and cous cous; or a 200g eye fillet with anchovy butter. We chose the salmon with fennel and salmon roe and the half-seared tuna with yoghurt and lime dressing.
Here, Barnard’s skills shone. The tuna, cooked to perfection, came on a bed of soft potato, with a tangle of vividly flavoured herbs, wedges of lime and a smooth, refreshing yoghurt dressing of similar quality to that top aioli. It was a judicious balance of ingredients that allowed the fish and the herbs to dominate. The salmon was crisp-skinned, sitting on logs of blanched beans and quartered bulbs of roasted fennel, beside a dusting of dried salmon roe. The flavour combination was good and each of the ingredients respectfully treated, to create a pleasant whole.
The dessert list offers four choices – we skipped the affogato and the strawberries and cream panna cotta, opting for a chocolate brownie and an intriguing dish of Delice De Bourgogne brie.
The brownie was slightly too dense, lacking spring and sponge – but its dark-chocolate ice-cream was of fine quality and its white-chocolate soil was nicely executed. But the cheese dish was odd. The unsparing wedge of stunning, buttery cheese was surrounded by a smear of beetroot paste, small piles of beetroot dust, tender baby yellow beetroot halves and a crumble of blanched, roasted almond. There was a splash of the lemon thyme honey over the cheese. Some of the flavours worked nicely, but I found myself looking for something to subdue the flavours and a carbohydrate-style host for the cheese.
Sometimes dinner needs to be an experience where the world stops – and you can just get off.
Fish Dish Café & Bar
51 Little Bourke Street, city
Cuisine \ Seafood
Chef \ Matt Barnard Owner \ Paul Le Noury
Prices \ Entrees $15; mains $28-$34; desserts $13-15
Open \ Monday to Friday noon-3pm; Monday to Sunday 5-10pm
Phone \ 1300 536 687
The Verdict \ Worth a look
In the upstairs bar, shadows over the charcoal-coloured marble counter create a moody ambience that’s in stark contrast to the starched tablecloths and vivid white walls in the restaurant space below. There, polished wooden and pale timber tables are a canvas for the intriguing collection of fish dishes that bob merrily along the walls. Gathered from bazaars, second-hand dealers and through the goodwill of friends and customers over the past 20-odd years, they epitomise this homey, beach-themed restaurant that wouldn’t be out of place in Sandringham or Brighton but seems a fish out of water in Little Bourke Street.