It was hard to get a booking at Fleet. Even a month’s notice didn’t work out. Luckily wait listing myself every evening resulted in a coveted two-stool booking for the Saturday night of our five night work trip.
After cooing over the picturesque Brunswick Picture House, and taking an obligatory walk down the jetty to where the Brunwick River turbulently meets the sea, we still arrive at Fleet a bit early for our booking.
The warmth of Astrid McCormack’s greeting sits in direct contrast to the concrete and wood minimalism of the tiny space. With just 14-seats, Astrid is able to be relaxed and generous with her time. I’m soon kicking back with a Red Grasshopper ($20) of tequila, lemon and honey, and a dusting of smoked paprika encircling an orb of ice.
My dining companion opts for Yulli’s Brews Seabass Mediterranean Lager ($16) that drinks like a salty, fruity Pilsner against a thematically appropriate coral head of potato chips with fronds of dill peeking out. They’re sticking out of a creamy Smoked Mullet ($18) dip, made from house-smoked mullet interspersed with crisp squares of skin.
If that dish was all about sharp, smoky edges, the wreath of Mud Crab ($26) and chilacayote melon is about soft, wet, restraint. Sitting around a golden pool of egg yolk, it’s a texturally interesting dish that shows off the capacity of the South American melon to adopt the flavour of the crab.
Chef Josh Lewis turns the crab shells into crustacean oil, which help to make his Snapper ($26) with broad beans and purple society garlic flowers, into a ridiculously tasty piece of fish. The eye-catching skin is crisped up using chicken fat. “Shame it’s not the kind of restaurant where you can lick plates,” my dining companion volunteers. I did contemplate it.
Each dish here captures a sense of place, though none quite so beautifully as the Oyster ($12) warmed over coals then presented (in locally made ceramics) with sheep yoghurt and shaved macadamia. You couldn’t be anywhere else but the Northern Rivers as you roll this creamy, tangy, briny cloud around your mouth. You’re unlikely to want to be anywhere else either, particularly if Astrid teams this dish with sake, and you heed her sage advice not to share.
While unmistakably Northern Rivers, Fleet does have echoes of Ester. Instead of cooing over a blood sausage sandwich, here you’ll be wondering why you’ve never encountered a Veal Sweetbread Schnitty Sanga ($15) before. In pillowy soft white bread from neighbouring White Shores, the crisply crumbed sweetbreads give way to creamy pleasure punctuated by tangy spurts of dill, anchovy and mustard mayonnaise. If you can tear your lips away, it brings out the sweetness in the 2014 Gramenon ‘Poignee de Raisins’ Grenache ($22/glass) from the Cotes du Rhone. It’s a good match, and a nice wine, with stem, leaf, dark fruit and chesterfield leather making it mysterious, without being heavy.
We work our way through the extensive by-the-glass list as we watch deepening shades of our first Brunswick Heads sunset reflected in the windows of parked cars.
Whatever the Smoked Pork Loin ($32) lacks in size, it makes up for in flavour. Coal is beautifully integrated with the pig, which has been smoked earlier, then gently warmed through to ensure the texture of the fat remains toothsome. Fluffy Sugarloaf Cabbage ($8) makes a dish-appropriate fluffy foil, though the purple Radishes ($12), rolled in honey, seaweed and sesame to curb their peppery intensity, win on originality.
Fleet is very good on the details. Even in a hot place, the ceramics have been warmed, and tastes are offered the instant you show interest in a wine. Perhaps the only misstep is in the Liquorice, Dandelion, Onion and Shiso ($14) dessert. Full of umami, this palate-stretching bowl of baby shiso leaves, crisp onions, earthy liquorice ice cream, and dandelion for bitterness, is a compelling pleasure to eat. The only thing I didn’t like was the lingering taste of onion for the fifty-kilometre drive home.
Bring mints. Eat it anyway. Your memories of this enchanting little restaurant will linger for a whole lot longer…
Shop 2/16 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads
Ph: (02) 6685 1363