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It’s a conversation we have almost every week as we head out on our Saturday dinner date.
If Melbourne is a water town how come we haven’t got more seafood restaurants?
Sure, there are good restaurants which serve some great fish dishes. One of my favourites is the split, marinated and wood-fired big prawns at Rockpool. And I’ve written whole columns on the great oyster selections from Radii, Botannical and Balencea.
The irony is not lost on me that my favourite fish dish is served at Neil Perry’s Wagyu aged beef joint that features a bull on the menu.
By rights there should be a plethora of sea food places. We have a great fish market as well as the fish stalls at Prahran and Aptus at South Melbourne market. I get all my Christmas oysters, mussels, smoked salmon, Moreton Bay bugs and crays from Aptus.
Not being a steak or lamb eater any more and having a wife, Mrs. Nosebag, who is a vegequarian, I guess the lack of seafood eateries is more acute for us than most.
I think I’ve found the solution. Once again, it’s at Crown – where they are building a great system of top restaurants studded throughout the complex.
They tossed out a couple of other restaurants to accommodate it and one of them, Watergrill, was a popular seafood place. Dined there often a few years ago.
The new place is an ambitious big project: The Atlantic. It’s been in the works for a while. They announced back in December 2009, that the project had lured top chef Donovan Cooke home from the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Happy Valley Clubhouse.
He’s a part-owner with restaurant and venue veteran Hatem Saleh and, importantly, Con Andronis. I say ‘importantly’ because he’s the Andronis from Clamms Seafood and supplies about 800 restaurants.
So, if The Atlantic can’t get the best seafood, something’s wrong.
It’s a handsome fitout that seats nearly 300 but it’s cleverly put together in sections so it feels cosier. There’s a huge open kitchen which Donovan runs like an order-barking General. And although I almost expect a Jack Nicholson ‘You can’t handle the truth’ explosion it runs smoothly. [If you want an intimate dinner for two I suggest you don’t pick a table close to the culinary battleground.]
In good weather the terrace is a great spot with the Melbourne skyline across the Yarra – reminding you that this is a water town.
I’ve eaten there twice recently. On the first visit I had the best piece of fish I’ve eaten in years. It was a big slice of ‘ iron bark smoked, steamed wild Barramundi from Darwin. It was on a bed of snow peas and celeriac slivers and topped with some real Oscetra caviar. It was sensational. [And a pretty good price too when elsewhere on the menu the caviar was $170 for 28 grams.]
If you don’t like smoked cod and haddock then this may not be to your liking. I loved it.
Don’t let those prices fool you. That’s top of the menu stuff. I also had a terrific grilled fig, rocket, parmesan, honey and black pepper salad for $12. The same price for delicious wood-fired Zucchini with goats’ curd and pine nuts.
But beware of the sautéed baby spinach. The menu does say it’s served with ‘garlic, chilli’ but this would burn the mouth of a Spice Temple habitué .
The Queensland jumbo prawns are a $32 entrée but I’ve had them for a main and that was heaps. And they were delicious.
Ditto the Atlantic Seafood cocktail: A classy, glassy, chilled bowl of crayfish, scallop, crab, prawn, mussel, with rock melon and green apple.
Then there are the oysters. Before they opened [the restaurant not the oysters] the owners went to the Oyster Bay at Grand Central Terminal in New York for ideas. I’ve written about that favourite Manhattan noshhouse before. At The Atlantic, in the next few weeks, they plan to have a real oyster bar and seafood snack bar just inside the entrance. I’ll be there.
For now I had the choice of six species from South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales. Went for a selected dozen from Googlies Lagoon NSW, Tea Trea (sic) Bay Tas., and my favourites from Coffin Bay in SA.
On a second visit, I had a couple of Tempura fried oysters which were light and tasty and I’m told even the old-fashioned Oysters Kilpatrick, which an aficionado wouldn’t touch, are interesting.
So, overall, a satisfying big tick. And check out The Den. They’ve snared an old underground car park and turned it into a book-lined after-dinner spot with leather chairs and old gadgets. Plus a clever open fire. It’s open seven nights a week until very, very late.
Seeing that I started with a question, let’s end with one: Why would you call a restaurant in the Pacific, The Atlantic? Who cares. As my dear old Dad used to say: ‘Call me anything you like, as long as you don’t call me late for breakfast’.