Back in the year 2000, Sydney was consumed by Olympic fever. At that time, our lovely, elderly neighbours owned a holiday house on the north coast of NSW and they kindly offered us a cheap holiday getaway there. We didn't have to think twice at such a win-fall. We loaded our three small children into the car and headed north to the sleepy, seaside town of Brunswick Heads, NSW. It was September, super warm and this coastal township pleasantly was like another world compared to Sydney, oblivious to city life 'Bruns' was happily ticking along at it's own glacial pace.
Fast forward to 2019 and sleepy old 'Bruns' has had a revival in many ways, particularly on the culinary front. From the days of a counter lunch at the local pub or the Tuesday night special at the 'Bowlo', being your best options, there is now a vast array of delectable eateries lining the handful of streets, that make up the town, in this still out of the way place. A tiny restaurant called Fleet has emerged and has caught the attention of discerning diners and restaurant reviewers, with many travelling from Melbourne and Sydney for the weekend to partake. On our recent road-trip north, we visited Brunswick Heads again, and we travelled a further fifteen minutes north from Byron Bay, just to eat at Fleet. Whilst others might travel that extra mile for coffee or shopping or a favourite surf or fishing spot, for me it's always for food!
Fleet was certainly the culinary adventure promised and a real treat for me to observe chef Josh Lewis, methodically and passionately preparing each dish from the bounds of his compact and completely exposed kitchen space. We had snared a table for Sunday lunch, and in this little restaurant which only seats fourteen inside and a possible extra eight outside (if the weather permits), getting a reservation isn't easy. Needless to say you must book well in advance.
The food is best described as locally sourced, sophisticated, a selection of small plates to share.
"The ever-changing menu is made up of a series of smaller dishes, each with a focus on a few primary ingredients. As a guest you have the option to pick and choose from the items listed. Alternatively we offer a relaxed, shared based degustation style menu. The price is $100 per head and consists of eight (8) different dishes. A la carte and degustation are offered for lunch. However it is strictly degustation ONLY for dinner."
Eating at Fleet is both an intimate and delightful experience, seated at one long bench style table (aka a concrete slab!), it lends itself to couples or small groups dining together, although you'd survive dining alone, with such super friendly and efficient wait staff to keep you company. Regardless of the shared table approach, the service is very attentive to each party. Mr G found this individualised attention a little over-whelming in such a confined space, whereas I lapped up the idea of being waited on so effortlessly, enjoying the waitress carefully explaining each dish to us as it arrived at our place on the table.
Here's what we ate:
~ rye & 'carawhey' sourdough, house cultured butter ~
~ smoked mullet, cripsy skin, potato, dill ~
~ radish, honey, sesame, seaweed ~
The three starters were faultless, the bread and house cultured butter a dream. The crispy potato chips served with the smoked mullet were like the perfect potato chip (trust me I'm a potato chip fan), hand-made of course, I wanted to request a takeaway bag for the car ride south! The radishes were exquisitely balanced, salty, sweet, with a crunchy texture and a peppery bite, we munched on them leaves and all.
~ zucchini, soured cream, oregano, chicken skin ~
~ mud crab, millet, egg yolk ~
~ king prawns, tomato, pork fat ~
All these three dishes were delicious in their own way, however we both agreed it was a resounding YUM on the prawns!
~ veal sweetbread schnitty sanga ~
~ lamb rump, bitter greens, rapini, buttermilk ~
~ charlie's mount alpine cheese, carrot, fennel seed ~
This trio of dishes were filled with pleasant surprise. I've never really been a big fan of offal or white bread, and yet when the schnitty sanga arrived and we tucked in, it was next level brilliant, creamy, crispy, soft bread vibes all in one. The lamb was melt in the mouth. The cheese course was a bold take on a cheese plate and turned out to be a flavour bomb.
~ quince, finger lime, cranberry hibiscus ~
~ spent grain, fennel, jackfruit, tarragon ~
The two desserts were worlds apart. We both loved the quince, tender and succulent. The jackfruit was a little more unfamiliar and we weren't big fans, but we loved the spent grain with tarragon oil.
Fleet is indeed a culinary adventure, Chef Josh's food will take you places you may otherwise never go. It won't be a familiar or easily anticipated journey, but as the local produce collaborates together, served on the natural shapes of locally crafted, gorgeous stoneware plates, you'll be hard-pressed to pick your favourite course. We chose to make the adventure real by letting Josh decide what we ate! Although, we did specify that we weren't keen on the oysters, but were insistent on the mud crab and prawns being included, otherwise we took on the degustation pilgrimage at his direction. This just added to the enjoyment of our meal, a little mystery, wondering what would come to the table next.
Brunswick Heads is definitely worth the detour these days, even though the locals would say it always has been, with its pristine beaches, the crystal waters of the spectacular Brunswick river flowing out to the sea, an historic picture theatre and the iconic Hotel Brunswick. However, now there is even more reason to stop in, and not just for Fleet , it's owners Astrid McCormack and Josh Lewis, have also recently opened La Casita serving up casual Mexican, and Ethel Food Store - think salads, coffee and deli provisions. Old Maids Burger Bar, on the main road into town is great for a burger, Yami provides vegetarian, middle eastern fare or Hotel Brunswick continues to offer quality bistro dining in their extensive, sunny, beer garden. Sit back, enjoy a chilled, locally brewed Stone and Wood Pacific Ale and take on that 'not a care in the world' vibe, that's a 'Bruns' essential.