I had the pleasure of eating at Long Time No Sea on my Culinary Crusade to the South Coast, right before it closed for winter and have been saving this article to coincide with the reopening this November!
Last week I sat at one of Sydney’s most famous eateries, pushing an insipid portion of smoked duck around a plate convinced that if I pressed into the ceramic hard enough I might find some morsel of flavour to add to my next mouthful. To me, fine dining is like haute fashion, all smoke and mirrors.
It’s the customer expectation that will be the death of the two and three hatters, the fact that it’s hardly ever met, not for the price anyhow.
I’m all for the regional restaurants, the 20 seaters, the single waitress getting about the room in her own time and no one minds type joint. Places like Templo in North Hobart, Fleet in Brunswick Heads and Long Time No Sea in Barragga Bay on the NSW South Coast.
Perched on the hillside overlooking Cuttagee Beach, about 30 mins north of Merimbula, Long Time No Sea is one of those restaurants that makes you wonder why people still bother with fine dining – the chefs creating and the patrons consuming.
The restaurant is as you’d expect from a laid-back South Coast eatery, rustic, simple, relaxed. The menu arrives on a single sheet of paper, changed daily to make the most of the best produce available in the local area.
Dishes are designed to be shared and prices seem fair, not that I’m paying.
I request the wine list, salivating for something natural and earthy. I’m told it’s BYO. Only BYO. Usually, I’d applaud this but break into an uncontrollable sweat as I realise what a waste this menu will be without a wine. I regain consciousness and remember the half case sitting in the back of the car ready for a friends 30th in Kiama on the weekend.
Reentering with a bottle of Chardonnay and a bottle of Pinot Noir I’m feeling both smug, and somewhat like a functioning alcoholic, sitting back at my table accompanied only by stares of other diners. Unfortunately, neither bottle is quite fit for the meal I’m about to consume but it’s better than getting in the car and driving to the nearest township’s bottle shop only to be faced with a selection of wines I wouldn’t serve in a soup kitchen.
I ditch the menu in lieu of whatever the chef feels like serving me. ‘He’ll like that,’ the waitress responds. My Chardonnay is warm, but it’s helping quell the dust from the additional Fonseca Ports that ended my dinner the night before. Four small plates are soon placed before me, a duck liver parfait, a pork terrine, a buffalo mozzarella and a serving of crisped bread – not one prettier than another.
I begin with a sizeable portion of pate, pressed delicately into a piece of crisp bread and pop it into my mouth. Gorgeous consistency, exceptional flavour, a pate for the ages. The terrine is next to be sampled, unique in texture with large pieces of ‘pulled’ pork. It’s a take on the terrine I haven’t previously come across, appearing relatively simple in ingredients but scrumptious nonetheless.
The highlight of three dishes comes in the form of a moulded ball of cheese. On a quest to make the absolute most of what may only by a mouthful or two, I direct my attention to the centre of the mozzarella, scoop a piece and push some of the surrounding ingredients onto my fork. A soft mouthful of beautiful fresh mozzarella is joined by the sweet crunch from julienned pieces of apple, balanced with delicate pieces of sliced celery. I opt for a pinch of sea salt with my next mouthful. What a triumph.
When the mains arrive, I’m incredibly conscious of how much I’ve already eaten, refusing to surrender to any of the three starters. I’m also mindful of offending the other diners as I arrange dishes for photos, and snap away. “It must be his job,” says an old man to a table of women inquisitively watching me. “It is,” I reply. “Lucky for some,” he retorts. The stares continue, and so does the eating.
A half shoulder of Lamb arrives alongside a half roasted pumpkin and a picture perfect side of butter lettuce. I direct a few slices of meat to my plate and drizzle the salsa verde over the top. I sample the end piece first, then a bit from the centre, it’s cooked to absolute perfection and is one of the tastiest portions of lamb I ever recall chewing. A woman behind me asks if she can photograph my serving of pumpkin because her husband dived in before she had the chance. I let her work her magic while I pluck a single piece of lettuce out of the bowl, ruining the blooming flower-like arrangement it’s so wonderfully presented in.
As it turns out, an entire meal can be made unforgettable by a serving of lettuce. We found that out last year at Franklin in Hobart. Fortunately, the bountiful, blushing, butter lettuce, shining in a delicate mustard dressing made the meal at Long Time No Sea memorable for the right reasons. Who would have thought?
Once the pumpkin had been returned to its rightful owner, I attempt to make the perfect mouthful, with every possible ingredient on the plate. A charred dollop of soft pumpkin, parsley, goats cheese and a few lightly toasted pumpkin seeds. I add a morsel of lamb to the load and pop it in; it’s the best mouthful of the day.
Naturally, I oblige to the one dessert choice on offer; a deconstructed apple crumble with a chamomile tea ice cream. It’s a worthy palate cleanser but I’m so cooked I can barely enjoy it.
I’ve eaten enough for two. I can barely walk. I’m obese. The exact same amount of dishes could have fed my girlfriend and me, if I’d had one to bring along.
Long Time No Sea raises its middle finger to the wank that engulfs a lot of dining in Australia, and I can say that because it was created by former Noma chef William Wade, on a quest to get away from the stuffiness of his former project. To say my meal was delicious is a definitely an understatement, Long Time No Sea is a meal worth planning an entire trip around.
Long Time No Sea is located 5.5 hours drive from Sydney and 8 hours from Melbourne on the stunning NSW South Coast. Head to their website to book.