Fish & Chips - Stephen Hodges – FISH FACE
By Franz Scheurer
Stephen Hodges, Greg Doyle’s business partner at the glamorous Pier Restaurant in Double Bay for 13 years, decided he didn’t want to cook for the ‘To Be Seen’ crowd any longer, but cook honest, simple food, for the average punter, using the freshest possible ingredients in a small restaurant, where he could actually observe the delight on the diners’ faces as they ate his creations. He took over Fish Face, a long-standing fish café, and after a complete refurbishment, reopened in late November 2003.
The tiny Darlinghurst restaurant, largely open to the street, seats a mere 28, but he’s served 109 in one night. His laconic comment: “it can get a bit hectic, for sure”.
Stephen with the help of a couple of his mates dug out a space underneath the restaurant and designed the modern prep kitchen and superb refrigeration facilities. What he wanted didn’t exist, so he designed and built it. Basically it’s a static environment fridge, running at 0 to +1 C, but contrary to everywhere else, this whole unit is sitting within a large cool room, to ensure that the temperature never varies. Static environment fridges are imperative for keeping of seafood in optimum condition, as normal refrigeration dries it out. The flaw with the static environment units on the market is that they sit in a hot kitchen and never work at optimum temperatures or humidity. By thinking outside the square and building his unit inside a cool room these problems were eliminated; ergo very pampered seafood.
Stephen insists on only using Australian produce. In his words: “The imported stuff may be cheaper, it may even look as good, but it’s never as fresh and I can taste the difference, and I believe so can my customers”. He only buys complete fish, gut in, head on. He buys only the best, regardless of price and, if he can’t get it locally, he flies it in from wherever it is fresh around Australia.
In his kitchen there is a sushi/sashimi station with one chef and a hot section shared by two chefs. A trainee cook does a bit of everything, including operating the cash register and there are two staff out front looking after the customers’ needs. It’s a real team effort and you can even observe the sushi chef preparing dessert.
The menu shows off Stephen’s mantra: “Seafood, Vegetables, Salt!” This is followed through, be it in a ‘Steamed Fish, Spiced Prawn Broth, Steamed Asparagus’ or ‘Char grilled Tuna, Marinated Tomatoes & Olive Tapenade’. The salt comes in many forms, be it capers, tapenade or anchovies, but the dishes always remain simple, approachable and incredibly fresh and full-flavoured. Stephen explains that one of the most important aspects of cooking seafood is to correctly set the protein. If the cooking temperature is wrong, then the result will never be as good as it could be. He believes in gentle rather than furious cooking methods, showing respect for the produce. The seafood is always the hero. His standout dish, though, is his ‘Fish & Chips’.
Fish & Chips are available as ‘Take Away’ or to eat in the restaurant. Served in a waxed, paper-lined cone, and full of gorgeous hand-cut chips, flathead fillets in beer batter and a couple of lemon wedges, it’s a generous serving and it walks out the door as fast as he can make it. If it’s eaten in the restaurant then the cone is placed in an ingenious table-stand, served without cutlery and the patrons are encouraged to eat with their fingers.
The chips are hand-cut, blanched from cold in the early afternoon, and then deep-fried to perfect golden crispness a-la-minute. For his fish Stephen makes a simple beer batter. The secret? According to Stephen, it is the VB (Victorian Bitter) in the batter. He won’t use another beer and believes that is what makes it so fabulously crunchy.
The best Fish & Chips in Sydney? Without a doubt!
Chef / Owner: Stephen Hodges
132 Darlinghurst Road
Darlinghurst NSW 2010
Tel.: +61 2 9332 4803
FISH & CHIPS by Stephen Hodges – FISH FACE
Chunky potato chips
Batter: Makes 2 lt
2 cups self-raising flour
2 cups plain flour
4 cups of corn flour
2 tsp turmeric
1 bottle 800ml Victoria Bitters (Australian Beer)
Batter: combine all ingredients and whisk well, leave to rest for 30 minutes before use.
Fish: Immerse fillets in batter and coat well. Shake off excess batter and deep-fry at 180 C in vegetable oil until golden and crunchy.
Hand-cut chunky chips from firm potatoes. Blanch chips by starting them in cold fat and bringing it up to a fairly heavy bubble. Remove, strain, leave to cool and cover with cloth. Re-deep-fry for 4 minutes at 180 C in vegetable oil.
Serve with a couple of lemon wedges and some tartare sauce.