In the name of research, Qantas’s creative director of food, beverage and service scours the globe to find the seafood restaurants he’s wild about.
I’m about to embark on a new project – a seafood restaurant – and, as with all my ventures, much of the inspiration behind the menus and the look and feel of the place has come from my travels. While I’d never copy something that I see or taste (I don’t like lazy types knocking o other people’s ideas), I can’t help but be influenced by all that I experience around the globe.
I’ve eaten at many seafood restaurants, from Michelin-starred establishments to lesser-known backstreet spots. My vote for the best in the world goes to Kaia-Kaipe, near San Sebastián in Spain – and what a place it is. Set on the harbourfront in the fishing port of Getaria, it has a four-metre- long charcoal grill and offers a wide range of super-fresh fish straight off the boats. Here you can dine on lobster and turbot (a European flatfish) and choose shellfish from one of the tanks out the back. Kaia-Kaipe also has a killer wine list.
Then there’s Sushi Saito in Tokyo, a three-Michelin-starred restaurant widely regarded as one of the nest in the Japanese capital. If you like your fish raw, it doesn’t get any better than this. Hang the expense and choose the omakase menu (dishes are selected by the chef) then sit back and watch as the sushi is made right in front of you. It’ll be one of the greatest food experiences of your life.
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Hing Kee is a little seafood joint in Hong Kong’s Tsim Sha Tsui district that’s also well worth seeking out. I love their gently steamed razor clams, grouper with ginger and shallots and, most importantly, the mud crab served either “typhoon shelter” style with a mountain of fried garlic on top or with black beans and chilli. Don’t expect the service to knock you off your feet but the fragrant and perfectly cooked seafood more than makes up for it.
Lastly, in Los Angeles’ Santa Monica, drop in to Water Grill to feast on their platters of raw and poached shellfish. There’s a multitude of oysters to choose from and the raw clams have a delicious nutty, buttery flavour.
If they’re in season, don’t miss the freshly shucked sea urchins – there’s no sweeter- tasting seafood. There are also piles of delicious poached (and peeled) prawns for dipping into a spicy cocktail sauce. They’ll go down a treat with a bottle of Chablis. Afterwards, cap off a perfect day with a walk on nearby Santa Monica Beach.
My new restaurant will be called Wild, reflecting the sustainable, wild-caught fish on the menu (there are three aquaculture exceptions: oysters, mussels and clams).
Sourced directly from local suppliers, the fish will be dry- filleted – a crucial step in preserving the pure flavour – in our temperature-controlled filleting room and served raw, poached, chargrilled or fried.
Wild has been designed by Australian architect Grant Cheyne, whose brief was to evoke the feeling of sitting in a cliff-top restaurant overlooking the turquoise Mediterranean Sea. That was enough to set him on the path of creating a really beautiful space.
Inspired by my collective dining experiences, I hope to bring a fantastic seafood restaurant to life in Sydney later this year. We are so lucky: if anything defines great Australian cuisine, it’s our succulent fresh seafood. I can’t wait.
Top image: Water Grill in Santa Monica, Los Angeles.
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