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Flotilla

  • Restaurants
  • 5 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
  1. The kitchen at Flotilla in Newcastle
    Photograph: Supplied
  2. The dining room at Flotilla in Newcastle
    Photograph: Supplied
  3. Chicken roulade with mushroom at Flotilla in Newcastle
    Photograph: Supplied
  4. The dining room at Flotilla in Newcastle
    Photograph: Supplied
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Time Out says

5 out of 5 stars

Culinary curiosity never tasted so good at this fearless fine diner

Newcastle fine diner Flotilla is something of a riddle. Situated on the Carrington bridge roundabout, cheek by jowl with warehouses and builders’ yards, its location might not immediately shout high-end cuisine. And despite a legitimate claim to the celebrity sheen of its co-owner and former Silverchair bass player Chris Joannou, the restaurant’s vibe is more low-fi hipster normcore than flashy rockstar excess. 

Indeed, to list the fit-out’s constituent elements could leave you a little underwhelmed: a muted palette of neutral tones, unvarnished plywood-clad walls, painted brick, banquettes draped in brown leather, exposed Edison bulbs and cheap copper fixtures. And yet somehow, rather than appearing bland or utilitarian, the combined effect is tactile, unexpected, relaxed but bold with just a wink to some steampunk-ish whimsy. It's then you realise that these humble surrounds are in fact the first sentence of this restaurant's manifesto. Such an unselfconscious effort to buck the conventions of a fine dining establishment is a dare, a gamble, a leap of faith. And what’s true for this restaurant's design is even more apparent on the menu. 

Head chef Shayne Mansfield is a conceptual tightrope walker, dauntlessly dancing between extremes of texture and aroma, smoke and soil, sea and sky. The ocean laps against the farmyard with dishes that marry flavours usually restrained to their respective elements. For example, a chilled starter of crab poached in chicken-infused butter with a pork crackling garnish, the crunch of which is a foil for the silken texture and savoury creaminess of the chook-spiked crab meat. Individually, each ingredient is good, but together, they are a magic trick, creating a payoff of flavour that far exceeds the sum of its parts.

An ode to the mushroom is another dish that conjures wonders out of seemingly simple resources. It uses every conceivable preparation, from the saturated to the desiccated. Deep-fried fronds, a syrupy marmalade and a parmesan custard that adds a salty punch with a smooth finish combine for a display of culinary chutzpah that cannot be overstated. 

Hopefully, the kitchen has earned your trust by now, because some plates, on paper, may sound like a crime against cooking. Hay-aged quail steeped in kombucha and coffee grinds with a stone fruit sambal. Why? Well, why the hell not? Yes, it’s unconventional, yes, it’s highly experimental, but it comes from a chef with an unrestrained curiosity and a helluva lot of skill. And for the diner, the experience is thrilling. Every course is an exercise in misdirection, a whodunnit where you don’t find out who the killer is until your first bite. Where you might assume the protein is the hero, the side dishes steal the spotlight, such as this quail creation, where the sweet, perfectly spiced sambal is very much the star.

Flotilla's wine list, assembled by restaurant manager Eduardo Molina, is at once curated and expansive – two things that are not easy to do simultaneously. There are no strict pairings, but rather a choose-your-own-adventure approach, where wines are suggested based both on the diner’s personal preferences and the demands of the dish, so you'll never have to contend with a challenging low-intervention drop unless you want to.

But we urge you to be as challenged as you dare when you visit Flotilla – because the rewards are manyWhile the cooking is certainly virtuosic, it never veers too far into the pretentious. A main course of beef cheeks and veal tongue – quite literally tongue in cheek – offsets the gaminess of the meat with slivers of pickled cauliflower, adding some dappled light to a sea of otherwise rich, dark flavours. Every element is absolutely essential to balance the overall taste, without the dish feeling like a hat on a hat. It’s a plate that might intimidate some diners, but food shouldn’t always be polite. At Flotilla it’s loud, eccentric, playful and risk-taking in a way that is surprisingly liberating – and couldn’t we all use a little more of that in our lives?

Maxim Boon
Written by
Maxim Boon

Details

Address:
9 Albert Street
Wickham
Newcastle
2293
Opening hours:
Thur-Sat 5.30-11pm; Sat-Sun 11am-3pm
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