Clawing its way back
MANY readers would have fond memories of the original Mures fish house in Battery Point where the menu was as simple and unadorned as the decor.
Some 27 years ago they moved to what is one of the most enviable restaurant sites in the city and, over time, built the Lower Deck into the most popular fish ’ n’ chippery in town, established themselves as one of the city’s leading fishmongers, relocated their processing plant, opened a second outlet in Kingston and built the very successful value- added side of their business.
As Jill Mure wistfully put it some years ago, “You start in this business with a love of cooking and the kitchen, and end up managing it all sitting at a desk in an office”.
The broader problem during all this growth and expansion was that the Upper Deck seemed to effectively stand still.
What had worked so well at Battery Point didn’t easily translate to the much larger 200- plus seating of the new venue.
And, for too long, they continued serving seafood from the piscatorial equivalent of a meat- and- three-veg menu as the rest of the restaurant world moved on.
Based on their superb waterfront location, the Upper Deck’s prices and, most of all, Mure’s reputation, local diners’ and tourists’ expectations over the years were too often simply not being met.
When Will and Judith Mure took over sole ownership of the business 12 months ago, they were determined to introduce some passion and lift the game.
While they’ve postponed planned renovations and redecorating until next winter, they earlier this year appointed a new executive chef, Gary Dupree and, more recently, an experienced restaurant manager, Iva Kingston.
My impression after lunch a few weeks ago was there had been a big improvement, but there was still a way to go.
While there are fish and chips for those who want them, the menu is now much more varied than before, the deep fryer less in evidence and Dupree’s cooking of the main seafood ingredients – mussels, scallops, blue- eye, salmon, lobster and squid – was spot on.
The oysters were large, fresh and beautifully conditioned and are offered in 10 different styles from natural to Bloody Mary shots.
The salt and pepper squid was also nicely tender and seasoned.
But then it got complicated with many of the subsequent dishes needlessly and inappropriately garnished while others were inelegantly presented with a confusion of culinary influences in their accompaniments, saucing, spicings and flavours.
For example, I wondered what soggy bok choy and overcooked green tea udon noodles contributed to a dish of Spring Bay mussels swimming in a Mediterranean red pepper and basil broth.
Certainly, in terms of eating pleasure, the answer was zero. So, why were they there? Why too did the kitchen feel the need to top an otherwise excellent baked cray with counter- meal style carrot curls, which did no more than cheapen the dish’s appearance?
And the accompanying limp “warm salad” didn’t help much either.
While the wine list champions Tasmania, I also wondered why Moreton Bay bugs and prawns, of necessity frozen, made the menu while many Tasmanian products, most of them readily available downstairs, didn’t.
Also why the kitchen wasn’t using such seafood-friendly local herbs and flavourings as cider, fresh wasabi, shittake, truffles, wakame seaweed, buckwheat noodles, saffron, tarragon, chervil, liquorice and horseradish.
But that’s purely from a Tasmanian perspective. From the critic’s viewpoint – reviewing what was on my plate instead of my wish list – our lunch was fine. Not fantastic, but better than OK and overall much better than it has been for years.
With the Mures’ determined support and drive, I’m sure it will continue to improve and I look forward to the day when the mussels might be poached in cider and the lobster, instead of coming Moroccanstyle with chermoula and preserved lemon aioli, boasts Tasmania’s bounty with a generous drizzling of Tasmanian black truffle butter.