Judith Elen samples the catch at a Brisbane seafood specialist
ELLYFISH is the newest in the cakewalk of restaurants along the Brisbane River on Eagle Street. This easygoing promenade is restaurant central and Jellyfish, which opened at the end of July, is at its heart. Steak prince John Kilroy, whose carnivores’ mecca, Cha Cha Char, is a short jog away, aims to do for fish fanciers, here, what Cha Cha Char does for meat eaters: that is, source and offer the best that’s available.
The river is instant resort for the city-bound worker, so Jellyfish is certain to be a business favourite. I’m here with a local friend for lunch on a Thursday and there are several tables of suits, women and men clearly furthering deals. At other tables, there is more fun afoot. A party of 10 women, designer-booted, flashing gold, at a long table along the back wall, look as though they have never had an office to go to.
The Storey Bridge is on our left and Kangaroo Point across the narrow stretch of water. A paddleboat passes, and the little blue City Ferry plies the river, back and forth between the banks. It is almost like being out fishing with always something to watch, but lazily, with no demands.
The service here, too, is easygoing and, as the meal progresses, also turns out to be rather desultory. As we arrive a waiter offers us the menu and drinks list and then another offers bread (fresh rolls, $2.50). Chef’s herb butter arrives. We order a bottle of mineral water (Voss sparkling, $9.50). The waiters and waitresses are in long grey aprons, with striped blue and white shirts, a look that perfectly suits the open, light-filled space.
The menu first lists the eight line-caught choices of the day, its selling point and focus, with the chef’s recommendation of cooking method and sauce for each. But the menu is multiple choice. As well as the chef’s list, each of the day’s fish can be done in any of five batters (saffron, tarragon and star anise, for example) or five crumbs (sesame, parmesan, citrus and dill), and can be ordered singly or with a choice of two fillets (400g, $38).
As well, there are 10 entrees and eight mains, including meat dishes, plus sides and a separate list of tomato salads, a nice touch and a hint that Brisbane is not as deprived of good tomatoes as some regions (oxheart tomatoes with anchovies, capers and olives is one, $6 each).
I choose a reef fish ravioli for my entree, with chive tomato beurre blanc ($24) and decide to try a two-fish combination of the chef’s dishes for my main: ovenroasted barramundi with lemon and shallot sauce and grilled rudderfish with chermoula emulsion ($36). My friend settles on the blue swimmer crab and mussel consomme with saffron tomato concasse ($22) and goes for the basics for her main: beer-battered bluenose served with remoulade ($28). (My friend wants to know what bluenose is and a young waiter tells us it’s a typo and should be blue-eye cod. Why not fix it? we wonder. A later visit to the internet reveals a New Zealand fish, bluenose sea bass.)
Looking for a light, slightly fruity white wine, we ask about the 2006 Spring Vale Gewurtztraminer from Cranbrook, Tasmania ($55; $11 a glass) and, advised it is not at the dessert end of the traminer spectrum, we order two glasses. It is perfect with the ravioli, which are delicately rich in their light tomato-tinged sauce. Equally fine is the consomme, which just submerges the shredded crabmeat and mussels arranged around the plate.
Surprisingly, the mussels are smoked rather than fresh as we had anticipated, but then the dish’s focus would have been on the shellfish rather than the subtle consomme. In several dishes, the chef uses hints of clear but intense tomato, giving a nice point of difference for seafood cuisine.
My friend’s main course fish is tender, the batter immaculate. We’ve also ordered a side of steamed baby vegetables and one of Paris mash ($6 each), perfectly al dente and creamy, in turn.
My rudderfish — which the waiter has recommended, saying most people have not heard of it and want to try it for that reason; it is now listed on the menu as butterfish — is meltingly sweet and moist. The barramundi, though, comes in a couple of small segments and is rather dry.
Going swimmingly: Jellyfish Restaurant on the riverside boardwalk has been an instant hit with lunchtime and evening diners
Dainty dish: Oven-roasted barramundi
The two sauces with my double-dip dish are served in small separate bowls and both are beautiful. I begin by following chef’s match, then try each fish with the other sauce. But it’s the fish served with luscious chermoula emulsion of fragrant but subtle North African spices and herbs that I would come back for.
It’s a long lunch, so desserts are in order and the list features several temptations. I choose chocolate tart and my friend, apple tart ($16 each). The chocolate is fine, with barely a hint of sweetness, and the apple a generous round of thin, overlapped slices in true Normande style, lightly caramelised and atop the thinnest layer of pastry, so that it’s difficult to tell what’s crust and what’s apple.
Both desserts are a great deal more than their