Claw­ing its way back

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - Graeme Phillips

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.

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