Heading to Byron Bay for the Easter break? Pack your drinking shoes, because the Northern Rivers now has a killer new wine bar, and there's some pretty excellent snackage to boot. Astrid McCormack and Josh Lewis, formerly co-owner/manager and sous-chef respectively at Loam, the now-defunct Bellarine Peninsula eatery that was named GT's Regional Restaurant of the Year in 2012, have opened Fleet in Brunswick Heads just in time for the long weekend.
McCormack's interest in wine was no small part of the appeal at Loam, and so it is at Fleet. The tiny shopfront offers a tight but interesting list of 18 wines ("with a couple of magnums"), most of them available by the glass, plus six beers, a couple of ciders and a clutch of cocktails. Sustainably produced Australian wine is the focus, with a handful of internationals thrown in for good measure, so South Australian and Victorian rising stars such as Ruggabellus, Luke Lambert and Patrick Sullivan will be on pour alongside Campania's Cantina Giardino and South African winery Lammershoek. "The goal is to sort out a takeaway licence so our guests are able to buy the wines they drink in-house as well," says McCormack.
The food more than keeps pace in terms of interest. Lewis is a Vue de Monde alumnus of some years' standing, and his opening menu has plenty of edge and pulls no punches for the regional audience, whether it's a veal "schnitty sanga" amped up with sweetbreads, or the lamb breast with Brussels sprouts and cheese rind. The oysters are pickled, chicken is a choice of liver or wing, and there are carrots for dessert, with brown sugar, sesame and butter.
The menu is written largely in the telegraphic style free of description that chefs use to test the patience of would-be diners, so what "prawn legs, silken corn" actually means remains to be seen.
That said, the site is too small for a coolroom, so Lewis's menus are going to be driven by what's on offer at the region's numerous farmers' markets, so it might be some entirely different crustacean legs on offer on any given night. The plan, says McCormack, is "to cook clean, deceptively simple, tasty food".
Fleet - the prices are good, the talent is hot, and the neighbourhood is ripe for a venue that pushes the boat out a bit. We can't wait.
Fleet, open Thu-Mon, 3pm-10pm, 2/16 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads, NSW, (02) 6685 1363