Charlie Sirianos has made three trips to New York in the past 18 months and says the citys thriving, energetic seafood bars and cafés were the inspiration for his first solo venture in Elwood. He was awestruck by the living in a fishbowl lifestyle and the breadth and confidence of the food culture.
For this restaurateur, who sold out of city fine-diner Syracuse last year after a 15-year partnership, a casual seafood diner in his own suburb seemed a logical next step. The location and theme came from a combination of looking for a place that was near the beach and wanting something that was light, healthy and promoted our fantastic seafood, he says.
The Dining Haul has been open about four weeks. There have been menu tweaks to add extra snacky dishes and there are plans to serve takeaway fish and chips, but for now things are running pretty smoothly (one order in our longish list was forgotten) and industry experience is obvious in the smooth, efficient operation.
The menus short haul dishes (snacking, sharing dishes) include terrific breadcrumb-coated flathead fingers with chilli and lime salt and a smooth, creamy aioli; a strong, earthy chargrilled piece of monkfish delivered on a wooden skewer and coated in a verdant, garden-fresh broad-bean pesto; and rich, saucy lamb meatballs served in a black enamel dish.
From the daily special board, a mussels escabeche mussels pickled in white wine, vinegar, mustard and coriander seeds, parsley, fennel, carrot and shallots was a great room-temperature summery dish. The shellfish were served with soft, fried bread and more of that very good aioli.
Scottish-born chef Alasdair Beattie (the Grange, Whatley, Lautre Pied, London, and FishWorks, UK) says hes also been preparing swordfish and mackerel with a similar pickling base. Its a great way to use and highlight really good product and its good value, too.
Beattie worked at the Terminus Hotel for a short time after arriving in Australia last year, and met Sirianos about six months ago. The pair decided their seafood souls were aligned FishWorks, started by chef and food writer Mitch Tonks, began as a seafood diner, a similar concept to the Haul. It grew into a popular chain across London and southern England. (Its too soon to talk chains from Elwood yet, but the possibility is there.)
Hes keen to keep the menu fluid, knowing grilled fish and salads will be most popular in the warmer months, but also will retain staples such as the house fish and chips served in a takeaway-style container with crisp slivers of potato and some very English mashed peas. The batter, made completely with rice flour, will please gluten-free diners and those who love a bit of crunch. Its slightly sweet, fabulously airy and retains little of its frying oil.
There are a few noteworthy, smaller main-sized dishes on the short haul a generous, rustic pulled-lamb and rocket salad studded with borlotti beans and chunks of feta and a charry tile of house-cured ocean trout served with lashings of watercress and a pea puree thats way more sophisticated than the fish and chips mash.
The long haul section of the menu also offers meat and vegetarian options, such as a classic 500g rib eye (intended for sharing) with chips and Bearnaise sauce and an Israeli couscous with pickled radish and dried ricotta.
The evening after haul dessert selection includes a decadent, creamy lemon and lime set cream with a fine topping of limoncello dressing. The wine list is short and well selected.
Theres a cocktail list thats loads of fun too. Start, or finish, the night with The Perfect Storm gin, basil, elderflower and soda; a Long Haul vodka, gin, dry vermouth and cloudy apple; or perhaps a Yeah Buoy! dark rum, honey vodka, ginger beer and pomegranate juice.
The verdict Put on your list
Step aboard this Elwood diner for a rollicking seafood adventure. Metal grilles wrap around the entrance, oregon beams frame ship-shaped windows, marine ply lines the ceiling and theres a huge pegboard along the side wall that holds shelves for wine bottles and chalkboards with daily specials. The galley space is kept nautically nice with a glossy grey-tiled bar on the port side, while neat rows of tables fill the starboard flank. The concrete deck is well scrubbed and orange buoys hanging from ropes serve as downlights, adding to the warm glow of the shiveringly rich timbers.