The small restaurant turning heads

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It may be a shoebox, but Fleet in Brunswick Heads is at the top of the food game thanks to co-owners Astrid McCormack and Josh Lewis Picture: David Clark

IT IS about as big as some home kitchens, but for 14 people at a time, Fleet Restaurant is a dining experience you can never forget.

On a miserable, rain-soaked night on an unassuming, country main street in Brunswick Heads (and with no hope of sitting outside) 14 is the absolute maximum headcount.

At Fleet, there is staff of just four — chef Josh Lewis, host/waiter Astrid McCormack, waiter/barman Robert Mudge and one kitchen aid, Sam, who meticulously hand dries every glass, plate and saucepan like they are pieces of treasured family silverware.

Top troika: Robert Mudge joins Astrid McCormack and chef Josh Lewis

Top troika: Robert Mudge joins Astrid McCormack and chef Josh LewisSource:Supplied

Each diverse dish is made in front of you: chef Josh gets the order via Astrid (both used to work at Victoria’s Nome restaurant) and sets to work, so you can watch his every move.

Fleet is pure, foodie theatre. And yes, this possibly IS the new face of great food: authentic, real and local. The essence of the place is the fact that it is true one-on-one dining. And yes, you’re seated pretty close to everyone else, so you want to at least be able to exchange a smile or a friendly glance to your dining companions.

Fleet’s owners Astrid McCormack and Josh Lewis Pic by David Clark

Fleet’s owners Astrid McCormack and Josh Lewis Pic by David ClarkSource:News Corp Australia

Serious food critics and most importantly, real punters on the likes of TripAdvisor have been incredibly generous, real and passionate in their praise. Highly regarded food guru from The Australian, John Leatlean says it “nourishes the body and soul. It flatters with hospitable ways, unusual wines and the kind of truly original food only a tiny place with one chef could pull off”.

Great praise for a hole in the wall and whose nearby neighbours include an old-style video rental store on the main drag of Brunswick Heads in northern New South Wales.

Fleet restaurant in Brunswick Heads: Cauliflower, sea urchin and butter anyone? Picture: David Clark

Fleet restaurant in Brunswick Heads: Cauliflower, sea urchin and butter anyone? Picture: David ClarkSource:News Corp Australia

To be honest, I have never quite had a restaurant meal like it. Personally, I hate the word degustation. It just sounds so, well, BIG and long and Miss Piggy-like.

But Fleet offers, for $75 per person, small dish after small dish: a real ‘tasting’, ‘kitchen-pick’ menu.

Astrid greets you at the door just like it is her home and goes through the menu, lovingly, and basically asks if there is anything you DON’T want to eat.

To start: Celeriac, mustard, beer and horseradish. Bloody sensational.

To start: Celeriac, mustard, beer and horseradish. Bloody sensational.Source:Supplied

From there, most customers leave the choosing to the owner and chef. It is customer service par excellence.

A veal sweetbread ‘schnitty’ (aka schnitzel) sanger; southern calamari with macadamia, peas and green olive and kangaroo with shiitake, persimmon, garum and bay leaf as just a few of the treasures.

But you know what? Fleet isn’t up itself. It could be. It could be all gastronomy, smug and smartypants, But it is in no way pretentious.

A few guests are just walking out of a late lunch as we walk in for our 6.30pm dinner booking. The other peeps around our dinner table include an older, married holiday couple; a young, cool duo from Melbourne; a man dining solo and two cultured Japanese women.

Moments later ever Byron Bay’s The Farm and Bronte’s Three Blue Ducks boss, the highly regarded Darren Robertson and wife Magdalena Roze zip in for their quick dinner fix.

A max of 14 people can dine at Fleet.

A max of 14 people can dine at Fleet.Source:News Corp Australia

The decor is a touch of simple Scandinavian cool meets a touch of Tokyo. The main feature is a two-tonne slab of concrete that doubles, or is that triples, as the dining table, bar and food prep table.

Astrid is as meticulous is her role as host, even giving me a fresh, new white linen napkin every time my slid off my slippery leather leggings. Umm, last count I think it fell of four times but I stopped counting after another glass of incredibly amazing organic wine. (BTW, the wine list, the WINE list, for a teeny weeny place is out of this world.)

Pre-dinner and it is Negroni time: even the cutlery is cool at Fleet

Pre-dinner and it is Negroni time: even the cutlery is cool at FleetSource:Supplied

The entire result is a warm, homey, happy, fulfilling (and filling) experience and considering recent reports on the gradual decline of fine dining this could be one kind of dining we are going to be seeing a whole more of. Low overheads; intimate spaces; one-on-one experiences and just genuinely great food and atmos.

Dessert anyone: raspberries, brown rice, rosella and torch ginger

Dessert anyone: raspberries, brown rice, rosella and torch gingerSource:Supplied

The attention to detail at Fleet is just sensational and the service? Just as good and never, ever, overpowering.

As a restaurant it is a purely heavenly gourmet experience — the way it is booked out weeks and sometimes months in advance is testimony to that — even if it is dining on a teeny-weeny scale.

So, get there before it is impossible to!

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