Neil Perry’s Best Meal this Year Was in this Small Coastal Town

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Aug 16, 2017

This is the best meal the chef has had all year. And it wasn’t at a Michelin-starred restaurant. It was near the beach on the NSW North Coast with three passionate people at the helm. 

Sometimes, the unexpected happens. I never imagined I’d have the best meal I’ve eaten all year in the small coastal town of Brunswick Heads, just north of Byron Bay in NSW. In a 14-seat restaurant, set between two unassuming shopfronts, I had an eight-course dégustation to rival the most amazing dining experiences I’ve had around the world. Surprising? Yes. Utterly wonderful? You bet.

From the street, there’s nothing to suggest Fleet is one of the country’s most exciting restaurants. The interior is equally understated: a concrete counter surrounded by 10 timber stools fills most of the room. Four more seats are positioned near the window. The kitchen is behind the bar in full view of diners.

Warmth radiates from every corner of the small space, backed by confident, professional service. The young team behind the venture – Josh Lewis, Astrid McCormack and Rob Mudge – are the heart and soul of this restaurant 

The kitchen is a one-man operation. As Josh prepares ingredients, he tastes every element bound for the plate, dunking his spoon into a bucket of water and wiping it clean before tasting again. It is a simple action but demonstrates his attention to detail.

Josh’s wife, Astrid, is in charge of the floor. You can’t help but smile when she does – which means the smile never leaves my face. She pairs each course with an outstanding wine, beer or saké and, with a sense of pride, explains the dishes as they arrive. This is service that goes far beyond serving food and pouring wine.

Rob cruises behind the bar, offering cocktails and conversation. He muddles, stirs and shakes, each action precise and measured. To call him a true professional would be a gross understatement. It is mesmerising watching him practise his craft.

Lunch begins with what Josh calls “chips and dip”, a plate of smoked-mullet dip with shards of crisp potato. We eat it with our hands while also picking at a side of radish, honey and pickled wakame.

The next course – albacore tuna with peanuts, finger lime and chokos – strikes the perfect balance. Don’t let anyone tell you choko isn’t tasty. Astrid recommends a 2016 Two Tonne Tasmania Ziggurat Riesling and the combination sings.

We move on to warm, plump oysters, gently smoked open and served with a dollop of sheep’s milk yoghurt and freshly grated macadamia. It’s a very pretty dish, made even better with a glass of 2016 Chiyo Shuzo Moromi Nigori, a chilled, unfiltered saké.

The Veal Sweetbread Schnitty Sanga is Fleet’s signature. I love the soft white bread with the crunchy sweetbread and creamy mayonnaise. Paired with a cold Yulli’s Brews Seabass Mediterranean Lager, it’s pure bliss.

Fish wings cooked over charcoal are deliciously smoky; accompanied by a trio of burnt butter, sour lemon aspen and salty capers, the dish dances on the palate. Marinated pork loin glazed with miso is another hit, while the lamb neck with oxheart tomato and squid ink is wonderfully tender and the juices run together beautifully – even more so when paired with a Mayer cabernet from Victoria’s Yarra Valley.

Whatever is written about Fleet can only begin to prepare you for this intimate dining experience. It’s a privilege to step inside Astrid, Josh and Rob’s world for a couple of hours. I love seeing dedicated, focused young people working together and, most importantly, making dining a joyous occasion. 

SEE ALSO: Neil Perry’s Favourite Bakery Is in Fitzroy – Not France