Nestled in the backstreets of Wickham, a quiet suburb of Newcastle on the New South Wales lower-north coast, Flotilla is a restaurant with all the culinary excitement – but none of the pretension – of similar quality venues in Sydney. Lead by Head Chef Shayne Mansfield (formerly of The Long Apron and Restaurant Botanica) and Restaurant Manager Eduardo Molina, Flotilla offers a seasonal menu driven by the freshest local produce, and supported by an impressive wine list from around the globe.
If you can get a front-row seat at the chef’s table, you’re in for a special autumn/winter treat. Watch Chef Mansfield and his team prepare your dishes up close, and warm yourself with the heat from the impressive Mibrasa charcoal oven. But really, all the tables are comfortable and well arranged, and the staff attentive no matter where you are seated.
Our latest visit was for the launch of Flotilla’s Autumn Menu. Over five courses we were treated to dishes that were both inventively playful and comfortingly familiar. For our wines, Restaurant Manager Eduardo Molina paired each dish with a selection of Australia, Georgian, and Chilean Natural Wines that really complimented the meal.
The Fraser Isle Spanner Crab, with chicken skin, new corn, and beurre blanc was a wonderful start to the evening. Light but warming, the sweet freshness and char of the corn plays perfectly against the delicate crab, the fattiness of the chicken skin, and the slight acidity of the beurre blanc. It’s a great introduction to Chef Shayne Mansfield’s meticulous attention to maintaining both balance and contrast with every dish.
If the first dish displayed the delicate nature of seafood, the next – Coal Grilled Prawns, with gin cured bresaola, pickled garlic, and head sauce – was a full on kick-in-the-face of flavours, with the creamy prawn-head bisque being a real standout.
The Wagyu Beef Tartare with smoked beetroot and beef tendon is all about the beetroot – slow roasted overnight in a charcoal oven until its sweet earthy flavours are concentrated – and the way it compliments the iron-rich Wagyu. And the crispy beef tendon? Magnificent! I could eat a bowl of them all on their own, especially if I had a cold beer to sip on while doing it.
A reoccurring theme at Flotilla (as evidenced by the char on the corn, the coal-grilled prawns, the oven-roasted beetroot) is that of cooking directly over fire. With his Duck Breast with hispi cabbage, chestnut cream, mandarin, persimmon, and madeira sauce, Chef Mansfield grills the hispi cabbage over wood fire, imbuing it with a smoky charred, and tops it with perfectly cooked duck breast. The nutty earthiness of the chestnut cream offsets the sweetness of the persimmon, madeira sauce and mandarin puree,creating a mix of flavours that blend so smoothly from one to the other that nothing on the plate jars or vies overly for attention.
Which brings us to dessert. Celeriac ganache… ever hear of such a thing? No, neither had I. But, as a component of the Apple Tarte Tatin with ginger bread, celeriac ganache, and roasted chocolate, it was a treat! So smooth and creamy, with just a hint of it’s more savoury, earthy nature. The Apple Tarte Tatin itself is deliciously Christmassy for an Autumn dish, and the gingerbread only serves to add to its warming feel for a satisfying end to the menu.
Ultimately, Flotilla asks us to consider the line between Casual and Fine Dining. It’s a line that Chef Shayne Mansfield and his team seem to straddle with aplomb, blurring it even, in the very best of ways. I can’t think of anywhere else in Newcastle doing this kind of quality dining.
A trip to Flotilla is highly recommended, and somewhere you’ll want to experience again and again as the menu changes to match the seasons.
Flotilla is located at 9 Albert Street, Wickham, NSW. It is open for Dinner Wednesday to Saturday and Lunch on Sundays. For bookings phone: 02 4965 3885 or check out the website at https://www.theflotilla.com.au/