Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Fish House - worth the drive to the Gold Coast

There are certain events that happen each year that signify the passing of the seasons.  The transition from the cooler months of winter to the perfect days of spring and summer are marked by one of our favourite events.  Each year in September, local, interstate and international artists compete in the Swell Sculpture Festival at Currumbin Beach.  Each year for ten days, some pretty amazing sculptures are dotted up and down the beach and foreshore.  It's one event on the calendar that is a must visit and this year was no different.

What was different about our 2014 visit was that we'd planned a little more carefully than normal and aligned a visit to one of the country's hottest restaurants.  Instead of jumping in the car and hoping to find a corner fish and chip shop open, we made a reservation at The Fish House at Burleigh Heads.  I guess we were still having fish and chips in spirit, but in reality, the plan was to dine in style.

There has been a lot said and written about The Fish House this year, mainly on the back of having amazing food and a reputation for service excellence.  It didn't hurt getting a second chefs hat in the Brisbane Times Good Food Guide and being ranked 74 in the Gourmet Travellers list of top 100 restaurants for 2014.  Owner Simon Gloftis has spent a long time in hospitality and had owned and run several successful cafes before achieving a life long dream and opening Hellenika at Nobbys Beach, itself a hatted restaurant.  With an obvious flair for creating memorable dining experiences, The Fish House is Simon's most successful restaurant to date.

It must be said that apart from our annual pilgrimage down to the Swell Festival, we are not regular beach bums, which in some ways is sacrilegious while living in South East Queensland.  We had a general idea where The Fish House was, but it was down to our trusty SatNav to get us to our destination.  It had been a bit of a crappy and overcast day when we'd left Brisbane for the coast, but by the time we pulled up at our park, just around the corner from the restaurant, there was nothing but blue sky's above.  A great sign for both lunch and our walk amongst the installation artwork that would come later.

We'd initially been told that our reservation for lunch would be at the share dining table at the back of the restaurant, due to its popularity there were just no ocean view seats available.  It was a lovely surprise to us that after we were warmly greeted at the reception (bar) area, we were shown to our own table that had superb views of the beach and ocean beyond.  Score, things were looking up and we hadn't even looked at the menu yet!  I'd had a little sneak peek of the menu online and had been impressed with the beautiful looking items on offer.  Once we were given our menus to look over, I'd noted that all of the options I'd mentally preparing for were still on the menu!

As you'd expect with a menu from an establishment called The Fish House, the menu was almost exclusively based around fish, in fact, thinking back I can't remember there being any meat dishes on offer at all!  It was a terrible experience ordering, I just couldn't make up my mind about what to order, it was one of those times where I could have eaten just about everything on the menu.  We briefly considered putting our fate in the chefs hands with the 'chefs selection, served banquet style' but SC had some pretty definitive ideas about what she wanted to order, so I had to make up my mind!  While I were agonising over my final decision, some crusty warm bread was offered with some soft and house churned butter - it didn't help with my decision, but the bread was well appreciated.

Decisions made and orders under way, we could finally appreciate the simple beauty of the restaurant, which was clearly appropriately themed with ocean inspired art around the walls.  The view that we had of Burleigh Heads was wonderful and helped relax us so much that time just seemed to melt away.

I was almost startled to find our starters arriving but equally, I was really looking forward to finally checking out the food that had captivated so many before me.  SC kicked of with a classic prawn cocktail.  She'd been really interested to see what a two hat prawn cocktail would look like and she wasn't disappointed.  Presented in a traditional glass cup, eight prawns were perfectly aligned in the cup with a decent helping of pink cocktail sauce separating the two rows of prawns, backed by a slice of lemon.  There was not a lot to say,  the prawns were large and fresh and expertly cooked and the cocktail sauce had just enough of a kick to tantalise the tastebuds.  This was a case of simplicity becoming perfection and was thoroughly enjoyed!

I don't know where to begin when explaining my starter of crustacean risotto made classically on crustacean stock.  To say it was delicious is a massive understatement.  I'll start off by saying it looked incredible, each grain of rice was clearly visible and there was just the right amount of body to the rice.  There were visible pieces of seafood, with small prawn chunks being the most prevalent.  My first mouthful took transported me to my happy place, it had a sweetness and freshness that was unparalleled in almost any other risotto I've eaten.  I know when I've found perfection in a dish, I take smaller and smaller mouthfuls so I can preserve the flavour for as long as possible.  With my Fish House risotto, the last dozen or so bites would have fit on the end of a knife. You must do yourself a favour and get in and try that risotto.

With such lovely starters, we were eagerly awaiting our mains, hoping that they would be even better and we were certainly not disappointed.  SC's main was the thin spaghetti with bug meat, tomato concasse, chilli and white wine.  It's often hard to make past look good on a plate, but the Fish House managed to plate the thin pasta and bug meat quite elegantly.  The fresh bugs were cooked expertly as was the pasta and both were beautiful but the real star, the absolute shining light on the dish was the tomato, chilli and white wine sauce.  It was sweet and left a taste of umami on the palate, which combined with the ever so  subtle heat of the chilli was sensational.  Unbelievably, SC had polished off all of the pasta and bug meat, but left some of that wonderful sauce in her bowl, which was OK, because I polished off the rest in quick time!

Feeling indulgent, I'd selected the most expensive fish on the menu, the Patagonian Toothfish, Heard Island Glacier 51, certified sustainable, with caramelised spring onion.  I've had Toothfish before and it's quite a hardy flavour with a firm texture which I loved, but nothing prepared me for the delightful flavours of the Fish House version.  It was cooked in a sweet glaze that had equal parts honey and soy sauce and really accentuated the natural sweetness of the fish, while at the same time providing a contrasting sweetness from the slight caramelisation of the glaze.  Each mouthful was a pleasure and I was grinning from ear to ear.  It was simply presented with three small spring onions and a slice of lemon and the simplicity of the presentation belied the complexity of the flavours.

One of the cool things about the Fish House was the inclusion of unlimited sides, which included a simple cos lettuce leaf salad, with a simple and fresh dressing, some simple greens and a potato bake that had a wonderful butter flavour.  We didn't need to go more than one round, but knowing that we could have gone back for more was gratifying.

Even though it was lunch, we were in for the long haul and opted for desserts.  We probably both wanted the apple tarte tatin for two, but decided that some of the other desserts on offer had to be tried.  SC's choice was the classic creme brûlée, which was simple in its presentation but near perfect in it's execution.  While SC had no complaints what so ever, I personally thought that the custard was just a little lumpy and didn't have the absolutely smooth texture of the perfect creme brûlée. 

I'd really wanted the apple tarte tatin, but when it came time to choose, I realised I wanted the chocolate fondant with vanilla bean ice cream even more.  A well executed fondant is a thing of beauty and I had a suspicion that I was about to experience one of the best.  The fondant was presented in the simplest of manners, the fondant in a bowl with a quenelle of the vanilla ice cream that had just started to melt.  I held my breath while I cracked into the fondant and let out an exclamation of air that signified that the chocolate centre was perfectly gooey.  I'm not gonna lie here, I made a bit of a pig of myself and there may have been a chocolate incident that I'm definitely not going to talk about, suffice to say that I loved the dessert and it was a brilliant way to finish the meal.

What a revelation!  You have certain expectation when heading to a two hatted restaurant, but to have those expectations exceed is a rare and beautiful thing.  The food was exquisite and without doubt worth the trip down to the Gold Coast to check out, in fact, the anticipation of going to the Fish House again makes the hour long trip seem like a dream as opposed to the usual burden I find in driving any distance over 5k from my apartment!

As with the outstanding food, the service on the day was reflective of the very tip top of any restaurant, it was professional but had a subtle casual feel that fit completely with the setting on the Gold Coast.  Our view was spectacular and we could watch the sun and surf from our seats without obstruction.  I did think the building itself was a bit odd, especially from the outside, where ordinary brown bricks are placed into a boring square(ish) structure.

The Fish House was an incredible restaurant where I had a meal that exceeded my (sometimes wild) expectations and has now made its way to the top of my favourite restaurants list.  I can't wait to go back again, but the next time with friends, so we can share the experience with others (Big Boy, that's you buddy).

We moved on from the Fish House to check out the sometimes freaky, sometimes funny but always intersting sculptures that dotted their way along Currumbin beach.  All the while I was reflecting on how great the meal was and plotting my return visit.

The prawn cocktail was 'old school' but definitely brought up to two hat standard 
I've been dreaming about that risotto!
The bug pasta sauce was simply irresistible
The glaze really set the fish apart and those dark caramelisation spots were really tasty!
All you could eat salad 
The creme brûlée looked wonderful and that caramelisation was top notch
ohhhh yeah, look at that ooze! 
I loved this seaman painting near the kitchen!
The diners were all enjoying their Fish House meals!

The Fish House on UrbanspoonThe Fish House

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