Returning to Flying Fish is like seeing an old friend. My first visit was during the halcyon days of 2012 – you know, when people still actually read food blogs instead of going to Instagram. It’s cool, I get ya – I do it too.
Needless to say, change affects us all – Stephen Seckold’s flagship restaurant being no exception. Does the Flying Fish continue to soar, or is it now merely a fly-by? It’s been a long four long years, let the reunion begin.
Date Visited: 8/3/2016
Address: 21 Pirrama Rd, Pyrmont, NSW 2009
Go-to dish: seared yellow fin tuna, pork belly, pink grapefruit & black pepper caramel
This post contains both the original 2012, as well as the 2016 visit. For the latter, I was invited courtesy of Tonic PR & Flying Fish to sample the chef’s menu. Naturally, the Usual Disclaimer applies in full force.
Flying Fish – 2016 Visit
For many people, Flying Fish is worth its salt in its location alone. You get a walk to the end of the pier (for all you “long walks” romantic types), and then you’re treated to a view of the harbour bridge from a Pyrmont perspective.
There have been many occasions where I have visited the Flying Fish Bar (cutely named Little Fish) for drinks & snacks just to enjoy the view by the water. It’s awesome stuff.
As for the restaurant, there are two levels. Last time, I was seated on ground. This time, I finally get treated to level 2, and it’s…a whole new level (sorry not sorry). Granted, an important aspect: lighting – is inferior, but the atmosphere counts for a lot up here, and photos later on will show you why.
That said, if you’re looking to capture nice photos of food, I’d recommend a window-adjacent table on ground level. Personal tip 😉
As for the menu structure, one can go a la carte or better yet, opt for the $150pp chef’s menu that includes five courses and two desserts. Optional courses and oysters come at extra cost.
Long-time readers already know of my preference for chef’s menus, as they ought to represent the best of the chef. Without further ado, let’s get into it!
Starting off are a selection of juicy oysters from three different regions. Our favourites were the ones from Port Douglas. They possessed none of that “oceanic” taste, and instead are dominantly sweet, with chewy flesh and needed no more than a spritz of lemon to showcase their flavour.
The crustaceans from the other locations all had varying levels of texture and sweetness, and were delicious in their own right, but Port Douglas Pacific Oysters is where it was at for me.
Restaurants that serve oysters are usually dependent on the inherent quality of the oysters themselves. Rest assured that Flying Fish sources the good stuff.
An optional course for the chef’s menu is a rather indulgent round of Yasa elite caviar w/creme fraiche, egg yolk & Dutch pancakes. Why the heck not?
I don’t profess to know my caviar brands (and boy, what a life that would be if I did), so I won’t even go there. But elite sounds cool!
I did some digging and found out that Yasa Caviar comes from Siberian sturgeon raised in Abu Dhabi. There are three grades, of which Elite is the middle child (Premium -> Elite -> Royal). Royal isn’t too far off from the famed Beluga caviar, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. You’d easily pay an extra $50-$100 for that level of luxury.
Let’s get close.
The caviar itself sports a very mild taste, relatively speaking. It’s not particularly strong, or pungent. That said, I could detect a strong hint of earthiness that gives way to a light umami finish. In texture, there’s a creamy, gelatinous mouthfeel that is concomitant with caviar. Not actually as mindblowing as I expected them to be – it’s a rather subtle feel.
That we were given mother-of-pearl spoons to enjoy the good stuff is most appropriate!
However, with a whole tub at our disposal, I wasn’t really sure of what’s next after the initial tasting. But that’s when the warm Dutch pancakes come into the picture.
Pile it up with some creme fraiche – a dollop on top and I think this might be a socially acceptable way to eat caviar.
I must say, these Dutch pancakes were almost as much of a highlight as the caviar itself. Served at a temperature short of toasty, they’re an abundant source of warm sweetness such that I can convincingly picture myself eating these by the bowl when the weather turns cooler.
They sport a very nice texture as well – fluffy, slightly chewy, almost like a take on Emperor’s puffs (if anyone knows what I’m talking about…).
As for the last element of the dish – the egg yolk – there’s not much to say here as there wasn’t much flavour at all. Texturally, it tasted like stringy cheese that’s been dried out. It wasn’t great – the caviar + creme fraiche + Dutch pancake combo is more than sufficient.
With decadence happily consumed, it’s time to start the meal off in earnest. Flying Fish definitely lives up to their name – all savoury courses in the chef’s menu feature seafood, and the cured kingfish is where it begins.
It’s with some disappointment that I say that this is definitively the most underwhelming dish of the entire menu. On the plus side, that means the rest of it gets better.
So what was the problem? Several things. First and foremost – it simply didn’t taste fresh. In fact, as much as I don’t want to say the “O” word, it tasted almost a little bit off.
As for its texture, dryness prevails, with the flesh quite chewy and generally unsatisfying. No metaphors, it is what it is.
Due to the subpar fish, the element that did make some ground in saving the dish is the compressed watermelon. This, coupled with zesty lime and cucumber gel took up the function of palate cleansing, which was something that was sorely needed.
Fortunately, it’s a small portion, and so it didn’t take too long to move onto something that almost immediately turns things around.
Talk about a see-saw – up next is nothing less than Flying Fish’s signature dish: yellowfin tuna w/grapefruit & black pepper shiso caramel.
Ooft, now this is beautiful. It’s a similar dish that was served back in 2012, and I’m glad that they didn’t tweak it too much. You just don’t mess with some things.
An all-too-small portion of tuna is expertly seared, leaving a smoky jacket of flesh whilst maintaining a bright red, succulent interior. It’s the lean part of tuna, but is so soft and supple that it didn’t matter. Texturally, it’s spot on.
The flavour is where things truly come to life. A sweet, savoury and peppery shiso caramel sauce garnishes the entire dish, and it’s likely one of the most unique flavour combos you will try in a Sydney restaurant. This is absolutely what makes the dish. It’s not perfect though – it is a little bit too sweet, and could be dialled down a notch.
As for the grapefruit, I can sort of understand that its presence on the plate is to cut through the sweetness of the caramel sauce. However, I’m personally not a fan of grapefruit, so that’s something that didn’t work for me. Your mileage may vary.
I told you things would pick up from here!
Next up, scallops, boudin noir & sweetcorn. I have to say I don’t recall ever seeing scallops served with sweetcorn before, but there’s a first time for everything.
The scallops themselves were cooked pretty much perfectly. Tender but remaining chewy & stringy all the way through, with a delicate char on the outside. Flavour is brought about by dollops of boudin noir which look like a certain something else that I won’t go into (*cough cough*)…but rest assured didn’t taste like that. I was actually surprised that it didn’t taste like anything in particular, which to me is a letdown, as boudin noir is always characterised by its intensity of flavour.
As for the addition of sweetcorn, I’m not fully convinced. I like corn, and I like scallops. Putting the two together on the same plate didn’t create something greater than the sum of its parts. That said, it’s tasty corn – popping with juiciness and sweetness. I merely fail to see how it works with the scallops.
Where most restaurants would introduce something along the lines of red meat as the main course, Flying Fish sticks to its guns and goes for a Blue eye trevalla w/white balsamic potatoes & capers. Despite the restaurant’s name, I’m still taken aback as in 2012 a land animal – quail – made an appearance. This time, it’s seafood all the way. I’m not sure what to feel about this, but as long as the fish is good, then I’ve no complaints.
It’s decent, not fantastical. What held the fish back for both myself and my dining partner was that it was too tough. On the flip side, trevalla is meant to have a medium-firm texture, so this is an issue of personal preference. I always, without exception, prefer fillets of fish to be soft and tender – to the point where I should be able to cut them with the blunt side of a breadknife.
As for flavour, it’s seasoned somewhat on the light side. Salt and pepper, which I usually don’t use, was seriously considered. However, I refrained as the mash on the side provided the required boost. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the mash is the best part of the dish! So creamy, so buttery, so guilty.
The trevalla also comes with sides of salad and hand cut chips. Salad is salad, while these chips are good enough that we finished them all. They be crunchy, they be fluffy, and have a nice little kick to boot. A really heavy way to finish the savouries, but worth it!
Now onto the best part of the meal – for real.
There is a reason why I visit Flying Fish every year for their Let’s Do Dessert special. Pure and simple – its desserts rival, if not exceed their skill with fish. A strange thing to say, but that’s how it is. I’ve never been disappointed with a Flying Fish dessert, and with the pineapple ice & yoghurt sorbet, my appreciation for the pastry team’s talent only increases.
It’s the usual suspects – an amalgamation of elements that combine to unleash an explosion of invigorating iciness, fruity sweetness and acidity. As for textures – too many to count: creamy curds, crystalline ice, soft sorbet and crunchy biscuit…it’s what I love most about a good dessert. I guess I don’t need to mention that it’s all balanced pretty much perfectly?
And of course, it’s the perfect foil to the heavy main that just preceded it. Quite possibly the best dessert I’ve ever had from Flying Fish and one of Sydney’s best.
The last dessert and final course of the night is a more Western-style goats cheese cheesecake. Being biased towards revitalising desserts more so than decadent ones, this takes off the high that was the preceding dessert. That said, most components of the place are very well-executed.
The best part is definitely the cheesecake itself. Instead of something dense and heavy, this is remarkably light, with an almost fluffy quality to it. The result is that I felt like I ate less than what is physically present on the plate. Not a bad move, given we were quite full by this point. Its flavour unquestionably sports the concordant “goat” musk, which may or may not be to your liking.
The rest of the plate plays a supporting role, though the blackberry sorbet almost steals the thunder. After all, it’s Flying Fish we’re talking about here, and they make great sorbet. As it’s blackberry, there’s a bit of earthiness that adds some dimension to its sweetness. Great stuff.
A satisfying dessert, for sure. I wouldn’t have minded another serve of the pineapple one though!
4 years on, and I can see that Flying Fish has had its fair share of changes. On the plus side, the desserts are better than ever, and some savoury courses retain their finesse. What’s more of a downer is some of the starters, and the mains could be more impressive.
All in all, still a restaurant I can recommend, but not without some reservations. Keep on improving!
- Flying Fish’s desserts are better than ever!
- The signature dish still retains signature deliciousness
- A mediocre starter, mains are so-so
- You come for the fish, but all you end up talking about is the dessert
I have a new scoring system! Read all about it here.
Most important takeaway – three separate scores for food, service and ambiance to give the final score. The new system is not compatible with any score given prior to 11/11/2014.
F6 | A3
Flying Fish – 2012 Visit
Everything below this line is dated 2012 – no amendments have been made.
Flying Fish is unequivocally the best Western-style seafood-focused restaurant in Sydney. There, I’ve said it, now, come at me everyone.
Superlative statements aside – Flying Fish is a fantastic restaurant that very likely deserves more recognition. Part of the reason is because it’s located in Pyrmont. What’s that mean? Well, it means for those of you who are used to coming from the CBD, your fastest method of getting here is – no joke – a water taxi. I personally took a bus from the CBD, but that approach takes forever, especially in peak traffic.
So yes, it’s hard to get to – but by God, it is worth every last iota of effort. Flying Fish offers an experience that is the pinnacle of Western/Asian seafood fusion. If you thought your sashimi and sushi was your only way to enjoy fresh raw seafood, think again.
It took some effort to find the place – your GPS will not be accurate. Ask around, you’ll eventually spot the sign.
The location is definitely alfresco in nature, it’s right by the water, and if you’re lucky enough to dine on the second level (we weren’t) you can see the entire Pyrmont Bay area. It’s quite the sight! Just like this boat that I happened to capture while waiting to be seated 😛
Furnishings, as you’d expect, are on par with a hatted restaurant. You get plenty of space between tables, and it’s always refreshing to sit at a table where all the cloths are so white.
We opt for the degustation menu, of course and what came to us is some serious variety.
First up, we get ‘snacks’ which are not displayed on the menu. Grissini is basically a very thin, crispy and short breadstick. There was one for each. Crunch throughout, these are faultless. The dip itself tastes like a creamed salmon with plenty of umami kick. It’s finger-licking delicious and pairs so well. A winning combination of crunchy breadsticks with a green sumac (a lemony herb) dust, adding a tangy hit.
Of course, like any restaurant, bread was on offer. We didn’t ask for much, but we did ask for variety – this was just a classic baguette cross-section. Taste and texture? Winning.
Because we wanted to pretend to be healthy, wholemeal was the latter choice – tasted like you would at a bakery. I was surprised the bread wasn’t warm, but it’s not a big deal.
I’ve had taro in many ways before, but I don’t recall the last time I had them as savoury chips. These are DELICIOUS. You don’t really taste the taro too much anymore; what really wins here is the amazing crunchy texture and salty aftertaste. If they packaged these and sold them alongside the chips you can buy at the super market…I would buy these all day long. I’m sure they’re healthier too. Best pre-meal snack I’ve had in a long time.
And of course, we were to have a seafood-based snack considering the kind of restaurant this is. The classic but tried-and-true ocean trout, salmon’s badass cousin makes its first appearance and tastes great. Texture is soft and only yielding with bites. The creme (I believe this is some sort of fish reduction/mayo mix?) provides a good texture fill in between bites, while the crunchy and umami-filled seaweed counteracts with that crispiness that’s just so delectable.
Umami’s going to be thrown around a lot in this meal, that’s for sure.
For our final snack (I know right, four pre-meal snacks!) we have the salmon, which was sure to appear on the menu at some point. The salmon itself is to write home about, but what really takes this dish up a notch is the roe – look at how gorgeous the big baubles look. Bite into one and they’ll burst in your mouth, the way it’s meant to be. Delicious with the salmon, better with the crispy and wheaty texture/taste combo of the spelt rye bread underneath. The okra? Didn’t really notice it all that much, but that’s not a big deal.
And the first course proper arrives – scallop ceviche. What you can see is actually just one scallop – it’s just sliced very thinly and marinated in mirin vinegar (I think). Scallops almost never reveal any distinct flavour as they’re just way too subtle. Flying Fish’s recipe attempts to bring them out as much it can, but overall it’s the texture of the scallop that speaks more than its flavour – soft, and ever slightly springy.
What is really interesting is the watermelon gazpacho (a tomato-based soup with spices, served cold). We were meant to drink some of this with every slice of scallop we ate. Yes, it does actually match – it seems to be a very effective palate cleanser while at the same time accentuating what was already on the tongue before getting rid of it. Can’t quite describe it, but it’s like a taste stimulant. Well welcomed!
Up next we have kingfish, which has a slight shoyu taste to it, most likely from the soy used. The great thing about this dish is the contrast between the soft flesh of the kingfish and the puffed rice which is almost like a savoury version of coco pops. The dish is a little busy as there’s a lot of filler ingredients going on, but it’s actually quite satisfying if you just take a large bite out of the whole thing and chew liberally. Who needs to be classy?
My favourite dish of the entire meal (but trust me, NOT an easy decision to make), we have supple yellow fin tuna, seared to pseudo-perfection, dashed with one of the greatest condiments I’ve ever come across, sitting on a bed of not-too-shabby pork belly.
It all starts in the tuna. While not considered as good as the king of tuna – the blue fin – the yellow fin is still a superb specimen, and it ticks all the right boxes. A firm texture with a strong, light-fatty flavour is what really hits the spot.
On top of this is the curious choice to pair it with pork belly. The belly itself is braised for an overall soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture, but not completely. Plenty of chewing is still required, but otherwise is a decent belly.
What really brings it all in is the black pepper caramel – quite possibly the best new condiment I’ve ever come across. It tastes almost exactly like it sounds. The black pepper gives a spicy, almost tangy taste to the caramel which itself is somewhat diluted (and that’s good, as the flavour is powerful enough already). It’s a combination of very simple flavours, but yields astonishing results.
Definitely the dish to get next time around.
Even if you haven’t had it, it’s likely you’ve heard of it – this is the signature dish at the ridiculously famous Tetsuya’s and yet, we have almost the same thing here! Hmmmmmmmmmmm.
Ocean trout makes its second appearance on the menu here, and it is GOOD.
As it is a confit, the flavour of the trout itself does the talking, albeit complemented by the generous sprinklings of furikake (a Japanese condiment that’s a mix of dried fish and other minor spices). It’s probably the best umami experience out of tonight’s menu. The fish itself is generous, soft and tender. Melt in your mouth-like consistency.
The shiitake crisp tastes quite nice, with the aroma of the mushroom coming out very easily, while actual enoki round out the platter. Very satisfying – my second fav dish of the night.
At this point, the sun has gone down and some interesting ambient lighting shows up…like looking at a sea of stars…anyways back to the food.
We now move onto the courses that are cooked with heat, first up – this whiting.
I think I’ve become more accustomed (nay, I prefer) fish that is raw/smoked rather than fried. I didn’t particularly like this whiting all that much – not much flavour out of it aside from the exterior, which was reasonable.
The prawns were much better – escabeche is a Mediterranean method for poaching or pan-frying seafood, and these prawns show it. It’s like the Chinese equivalent of cooking seafood. Rich and juicy, I couldn’t ask for more.
To round this plate out with a carb, the potatoes step in – it’s kind of like a hard mash, which makes sense as is a confit of potato. Satisfying finish to an otherwise average fish.
We begin moving off the seafood and get our hands into the red meat. The quail is supple and tender, but is also quite tough, a bit too tough even for quail. Lots of chewing required, that’s for sure. Luckily, it wasn’t a totally annoying experience as I chose to chew it along with the jamon (Spanish dry-cured ham) which always injected another burst of smoky flavour with each bite.
Thanks to the sherry vinaigrette and green pea mousse, the dish never got too dry. Best part though – definitely the juicy, crispy skin. Guilty pleasure? Yeah, for sure.
The last savoury dish before the desserts, we’ve got ourselves a short rib (around the upper middle of the cow) steak, which has a distinctly Asian taste to it thanks to the accompaniment of mixed veggies and black bean jus. The cut itself is medium-rare, with a very pink centre. Bloody mmmm.
A decent cut of steak, though not to the same standard as the seafood in the preceding courses.
I actually really like goat’s cheese as a pre-dessert though most of my friends find the taste and aroma to be an offence to their nostrils. I love it. The cheese is so soft and creamy, which, served cold, almost makes it taste like ice cream. I mean it technically is when you think about it.
It’s strong on the tongue, but you can balance it out by strategically eating the relatively sour balsamic raspberries drenching them in the honey. It’s hugely satisfying for very simple reasons – the ying and yang between sweet and sour. Creamy goodness, I can’t fault it.
A great palate cleanser with two components – both flavours are very refreshing in the mouth. And don’t worry about the basil – you basically can’t taste it. Pretend it’s Granny Smith apple or something 😛
A rather fascinating dessert – elderflower isn’t something you come across very often. Its jelly tastes somewhat like a normal jelly with a slight herby hint that’s not too distinct from Chinese medicine. For this very reason some people won’t really like it, but I didn’t mind it. Wasn’t the star of the plate though. That particular honour would go to the lychee sorbet – but this was an easy win; sorbet = win, lychee = win, lychee sorbet = double win.
The lemonade foam – kind of like aerated lemonade really, more of a gimmick than anything else. Tastes the same, after all.
The blackberries were a nice edition – always love a good batch of blackberries!
I’ve realised that more often than not, my preferred desserts have tended to include crumble. There’s just something so attractive about the crunchiness…the crumblyness of crumble! Tastes so good. Couple it with two types of lovely gelato and you have a safe but fantastic dessert.
The strawberry gelato is of high quality – it tastes milky but not overly creamy or aerated, and with the refreshing strawberry flavour. The same can be said of the vanilla gelato, but of course, with light notes of vanilla instead.
And then of course, the crumble. Mmmm so sugary and carby, but damn, you really do only live once.
Last but not least, petit fours!
Almond cookie – mmm buttermilk
Rose macaron – very crunchy biscuit with a sticky sweet ganache
Choc cake – this was quite standard
Blueberry sponge – sweet and grainy
Worst part about the petit fours was actually how we were to split them between two people…we didn’t get two sets! Not sure if that’s the way it’s meant to be…
Yeah so once again I totally overshot the 1.5k word limit I’ve imposed on my posts…but it seems like degustations just don’t lend themselves to that. Soz 😛
Flying Fish – definitely the best seafood that’s not exclusively Japanese. You’ve got to give it a go!
As usual, feel free to leave a comment or three 😀
The Good: most dishes win, seafood is just awesome, desserts are awesome
The Bad: non-seafood dishes is standard and not outstanding, cooked fish was a let down. The restaurant could be hard to get to and locate
I give Flying Fish a grand total of eight and a half Caesars out of ten – 8.5/10