Thirroul. A town a mere 20 minutes away from Wollongong by car, but greatly overshadowed by the latter. Most people tend to stop at Thirroul for its beaches, or to just make the most of a trip for which Wollongong is the ultimate destination. With the introduction of Flanagan’s Dining Room, Thirroul just became more attractive as a destination.
It’s helped that the restaurant overlooks the beach directly (a true beachside restaurant), and is just a little bit fancy.
This ain’t no simple fish and chips joint. Read on.
Flanagan’s is headed by ex-Efendy chef Arman Uz, who decided to come down to do something a little more along the lines of Middle Easter & Modern Australian fusion. Indeed, that whole sentence is a buzz phrase in and of itself, so let’s see what it’s all about.
This visit to Flanagan’s is a PR lunch, sponsored by Wasamedia and featuring other food blogs: The Food Diary By CK, Irene’s Getting Fat, The Lamstock, Excuse Me Waiter!, When the World Stops Spinning, The Random Foodie, Confessions of a Glutton, The Jugernauts & Belly Rumbles. Clicking on any of these links will direct you to their writeup on the restaurant. Thus, the usual disclaimer applies – I was invited, but opinions remain wholly my own.
Getting down to Thirroul wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be – one train down to the south took only maybe an hour or so. I know that if I decide to go back, it wouldn’t be difficult as I actually live on the Illawara line. Score!
As food bloggers tend to do, we chatted about food, food and more food. It’s only natural.
Upon reception, we were greeted with some lovely blood orange gin & tonics. I’m a teetotaler, and I dislike gin more than most spirits, but this was a nice, refreshing hit especially after a longish train ride. The sweetness dulled much of the gin – much to my relief.
One hell of a looker as well, this cocktail!
When I saw this is a beachside restaurant, I mean it. I took this photo standing right outside the restaurant. Yes, the windows open up fully so you get an almost unimpeded view when seated. Now that’s alfresco.
Flanagan’s is “kinda, sorta” fine dining, but at the same time not really. The decor is a mild reflection of this – nice layout, good colours but keeps it simple. It’s a very pleasant dining environment, in no small part due to the beachside locale.
We start off with bread, of which there are four(!) types. I was personally a fan of the spelt, though the rye is always a house favourite. The white I avoided (empty carbs and all that), while the sourdough was nicely punchy, but I ‘d have preferred it sharper.
What elevates the bread at Flanagan’s to a new level isn’t your usual buttery culprit, but instead olive oil and homemade dukkah. I’d love to see dukkah served at more restaurants. It’s primary advantage over butter is that it’s texturally very satisfying and has a greater complexity of flavour – the crunch of the nuts, the aroma of the spices…mmmm. And of course, less fat (even with olive oil in the mix).
I’ve only had dukkah a handful of times in my life, but none of those times have I been disappointed. Bring on more dukkah!
I’m not a drinker so I’ll glaze over this part – we were provided with glasses of white blend chardonnay to accompany our dishes. I quite fancied just how crisp the notes were, though eventually I forgot to even drink as I got into the food. Yeah, I must be the only foodie who is absolutely, completely disinterested in alcohol!
Flanagan’s has a tasting menu for $75pp (or $115pp w/matching wines), or you can just go a la carte. Prices range from fairly cheap (think single digit dollar), up to high $20s & low $30s. I’d post a picture of the menu, but I’m told it changes quite often to accommodate local produce and the climate. Always refer to the site!
Our first course comprises of these lovely Clyde River oysters w/white balsamic. They were very punchy and tangy, but the most prominent taste sensation was just how sweet it was. Really, really delicious. I would probably order a half dozen of these alone.
As for the oysters themselves, the flesh is yielding, though I did find some slightly unclean sections. A matter of being thorough, I suppose.
One of my recommended dishes at this restaurant, the seared scallops w/sambal chilli paste will definitely please your spice-loving self. I can definitely see this dish being a hit with Asians; the sambal chilli paste strongly reminiscent of the same stuff used in Malaysian cuisine. Indeed, the chilli sambal is deliciously moreish, with little meaty chunks which give more than enough flavour to the scallops, themselves nicely seared and soft all the way through.
Possibly my favourite way to eat scallops, now that I think about it. I gotta try and make these at home some day (yeah, right).
Foraying a little back in the Middle Eastern side of the equation are the monkfish koftas w/baba bhanoush. I was expecting juicy, tasty morsels of meat with a delectably creamy baba ghanoush to back it up, but what I got instead was a rather rough-textured ball of meat & veg which needs more seasoning. It wasn’t what I expected, for sure. The baba ghanoush is mandatory and even that didn’t bring enough flavour to the koftas.
That aside, interesting use of pomegranate seeds to garnish the dish – it is very pretty.
Overall, I feel the dish could be easily fixed – whatever seasoning is used, add more of it.
From here, we get four courses of fish, which not coincidentally, is all of the kinds Flanagan’s has on their menu at the time. You may notice that this isn’t “fish and chips” per se. For one, the chips are hand cut – and are delicious. I had to restrain myself from taking more than my fair share.
The fish itself is also not like fish and chips, in that it’s cooked whole – on the bone. Arman Uz describes this as paying respect to the fish and cooking it in the most appropriate way possible. When all is said and done however, this method of cooking has a major drawback – it’s cooked on the bone. Have fun picking away at all the bones and hoping your next bite won’t be the cause of a throat gash. Indeed, all four fish were quite difficult to eat, and were difficult to eat cleanly.
As for the John Dory pictured above & below, this was the best fish I tasted on the day. Very flavoursome, with a buttery flesh that was a delight. The bones made me work for it, but it was worth it.
A more standard fish served is the snapper. Nothing remarkable about this one – neither the best nor the worst of the group. Feeling more adventurous? Try the John Dory or the next fish you’ll see.
That would be the rock cod, which is the most unique fish out of the lineup. Taking a close second after the John Dory, this aquatic craniate had a more distinctive flavour in its flesh. I tasted almost a spiciness to it, which is rather surprising, in a most pleasant way.
This one’s also worth recommending tackling the bones for.
A fun interlude – this is what happens when you invite a whole bunch of bloggers out to lunch. As the saying goes – the camera eats first!
The last fish to be plated is the bream, which is quite soft and tender. There’s a distinctive “sea-like” flavour to this particular fish and I can only imagine just how fresh it must have been before being cooked. Considering proximity to the water…caught and eaten on the same day? Now that’s more like it.
With the seafood courses consumed, the red meat arrives as slow cooked lamb shoulder w/smoked eggplant & parsnip puree. This serves as the main for our lunch. The lamb is more lukewarm as opposed to piping roast hot, to which I have mixed feelings about. The texture is quite nice, though a little too chewy – if I’m chewing the same chunk of lamb for more than a few seconds I begin to be a little put off.
What surprised me most about the lamb dish is how little flavour it inherently had. You will have to eat it with the parsnip puree, which does improve things quite a bit. I had hoped the lamb would be able to carry its own though – slow cooked meat of any kind should easily be able to carry flavour due to the long infusion process.
We get three desserts that showcase a wide variety of cultural influence. The first, sun-dried figs w/walnut, maple syrup & clotted cream. The figs are DELICIOUS. They’re just really darn good figs! So sweet and so chewy, almost like eating candy except it’s actually a fruit. The glaze on it is of particular note as it gives that candy-like taste. I could have eaten these without the clotted cream – the figs are just beautiful on their own.
Here’s where Flanagan’s Middle Eastern mojo really shows itself with the Kadaifi pastry w/pistachios & golden syrup. It’s more resistant to most baklava-style pastries I’ve had. Quite nutty, and avoided the trap of being overly sweet. Quite a nice piece to dig into! A recommended dessert order.
Moving back along to the French side of things is a crème brûlée. It’s not just an ordinary one though – the Turkish influence is still there with the addition of mastic, which is a thickening agent (see my post on Booza Ice Cream). The result is something a bit more custard-like than normal crème brûlée. I didn’t really prefer one to the other, so if you’re a fan of crème brûlée in general, this is something to get.
I have to conclude Flanagan’s is an interesting restaurant. While I definitely do recommend it to those who are in the area looking for a dining destination, I can’t help but feel that it’s a bit of a confused bag when it comes to the food it serves.
If I’m ever down in Thirroul again, I’ll pay Flanagan’s another visit with a crucial difference – I’m gonna get more of those scallops and definitely more of those chips!
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
- Location is a big plus
- Scallops are bloody brilliant, also the John Dory
- Some very nice, albeit safe desserts
Not so Awesome:
- Fish cooked on the bone doesn’t justify itself , fish cooked off the bone tastes just as good with less eating effort
- Lamb is a far cry from what it could have been
- What happened to the monkfish?