Poor old Darlinghurst. First they lost their Café Pacifico then they lost their Fish Face. And sure, chef-owners Josh Niland and Steve Hodges may have replaced the tiny-and-very-specialised seafood restaurant with a fish and chipper (Fish and Chips by Fish Face), it's not quite the same. Stand still and rot, as they say.
Anyway, Darlo’s loss is Double Bay’s gain. And boy have they gained. The new restaurant is broken into two parts, to be accessed by two separate doors (so structurally decadent!). The first part to open, Fish Face, is a menu of Hodges favourites – dishes like the beer-battered flathead and chips and yellow curry (more on those later) that have had Sydneysiders crossing town for a taste for years. Out the back, Fish Face Dining (set to open in the next fortnight) will serve a menu that’s a little more Niland-esque. It’s here you’ll see the ex-Est chef flex some muscle of his own.
But right now, we’re eating white peaches and albacore out the front. A few bits and pieces from the original restaurant have made their way over to the new 50-seat digs, including the Sydney rock oyster paintings, and the glass specials menus. The aesthetic is similar too – high tables, open kitchen, sushi and sashimi fridge, a clean layout that belies the crazily high level of knowledge and skill at the pass.
Thick, meaty slices of raw albacore are draped over chunks of new season white peach, scattered with rags of saltbush and a light drizzle of lemony olive oil. The dish is razzed up with thin shavings of albacore mojama, a cured fish product, boosting everything into high definition.
A fragrant, sour yellow curry of gently poached blue eye is given a vegetal twang with the addition of big leaves of Thai basil, Vietnamese mint and perilla, tempered with toasted cashews and jasmine rice. It’s the perfect summer curry.
And yes, you can still get the beer-battered flathead and hand-cut chips. Here, the dish has been fancified with a side of house-made malt pickles. But at its heart, it’s still just excellent fish and chips: great quality flathead, with crisp-on-the-outside-creamy-on-the-inside potato nubbins and chunky tartare.
And it’s this easy transition between elegant flavours and textures and some fairly rustic chunky gear that makes us sit up a little straighter. Take the home-style stone-fruit tart: here, the pastry is chunky and charred, glistening and sticky with the caramelised juices of peaches and plums. But then they’ll switch it up, serving a light and velvety chocolate slice with sour little muntries refreshed with a scoop of lurid green native mint ice cream.
They’re just that good.