Just how many bars and restaurants can Hobart take? As the food and bar scene seems to be expanding like the cosmos, we do wonder sometimes if this dazzling array of food and eating choices must reach a limit – of sustainability. But Phat Fish is a good addition.
And it’s delivered by a Malaysian chef who swerved from a business degree at UTAS to pursue his love of cooking. The randomness of chefs and their origins never ceases to amaze me, but most of them are there for the love of food. It’s not a bad start.
It’s been a busy 4 years as well for Henry Lau – who has packed what he thinks is more like 7 years’ work into 4. He skated through The Grape, Squires, The Winston, the prep. Kitchen at Mona, and lastly had 2 years at the Customs House Hotel. This is his first head chef job and he’s determined to nail it.
What’s Henry’s big driver at Phat Fish? To showcase Tassie produce to tourists and locals alike, but in new and different ways. And with an absolute multinational team behind him, that’s going to happen, for sure.
We visited on Friday night just the week after opening, and the place was busy, but had a cool vibe. We loved the décor – the turquoise tiles at the bar with downlights lifted the entire atmosphere, and the high round tables with bar stools? The perfect floor plan. I can’t believe more restaurateurs don’t take notice of what’s happening around them.
Jack Greene’s pub – further along the Salamanca strip, always pumps, always delivers, and the décor is clever. And of course it has the high bar stools everywhere, which lifts the atmosphere subtly but decidedly and has become a home away from home for many Hobartians.
Funny that both Jack’s and Phat Fish are owned by Paul Jubb – one of the owners of Barilla Oysters and is a very experienced and sharp operator. Henry tells me he’ll always be grateful to Paul for giving him the chance to shine, but I doubt Paul would have given him the nod if he had a moment’s hesitation.
So where does the Cajun influence come from? They wanted something with a difference, that was tasty, and with the appointment of Tyler James Peterson from Las Vegas as the manager, the team was complete, and Phat Fish had its theme.
And the food. I had to have the Oyster Po’ Boy Sandwich, which was enormous. At $18.50, the baguette held an ocean of shredded cabbage, pickled onion, Cajun mayo, topped with about 8 really fresh, plump oysters on top. Chips were great, the flavours sang, and the only criticism I had was the damned baguette. Too big, too hard (it was toasted), and just too much bread.
Yes, we gave feedback, and Henry is on to it. I’m not the only customer to leave most of the bread and devour the rest. He’s moving on that. We also tried the Crispy Skinned Salmon Fettuccine with citrus cream and leak – at $24 great value, and the combination of the lemon in the fresh pasta with the salmon was delicious.
We also had to try the Smokey Ardbeg Oysters – topped with ‘Ardbeg Butter’ and warmed through. $21 for half a dozen – again, good value. And what on earth is Ardbeg you ask?? It’s whisky which definitely has a peaty, smoky flavour. Awesome. An unusual oyster dish, but it works.
There’s much more to try there, and we’ll definitely be going back, not the least the mussels and soft shell crab. And yes, the food was fresh. The wine list is small and carefully chosen with some good Tasmanian wines as well as a few French and mainland offerings. The Beautiful Isle Pinot Noir from Legana, TAS at $40 is definitely worth a try.
Henry runs a tight ship with just 4 in the kitchen: Dylan Sherman, (Tasmanian) second chef, and Ronan and Catrice (Nepalese) doing larder. But Henry has it fluid as well – so everyone learns everything, can jump in any station if needed, and the two dishies Powie and Khem, from Hong Kong, keep the wheels turning.
For Henry, to set up this kitchen from scratch was a huge job, and kept his brain busy, but he’s happy with it. And we’re happy with the fact that the produce and menu is seasonal with a focus on local.
For a new head chef, Henry Lau has it sorted. Phat Fish is powering, and becoming another vital part of the Salamanca bar and food landscape. Henry’s main thrust? The customer! What the customer wants – the customer gets, and he’s quick to respond. That in itself, is good business.
Phat Fish / 61 Salamanca Place, Battery Point, TAS 7004 / Ph: 03 6245 3874 / Open 7 days / $$/ Facebook: phat fish Salamanca