8 Coronation Ave Pottsville, NSW 2489
|Opening hours||Lunch Fri-Mon from noon; dinner Thu-Sat 6-10pm|
|Prices||Moderate (mains $20-$40)|
|Phone||0490 380 117|
Pottsville and excitement haven't always gone hand in hand, with the possible exception of the annual Lions Greenback Fishing Competition weekend. But as of May, this otherwise quiet Northern Rivers coastal town now sports one of the most anticipated restaurants to open this year.
Ben Devlin, the formerly two-hatted chef at Paper Daisy in Cabarita Beach, has tootled all of seven kilometres south to open Pipit with his partner, Yen Trenh. The main-street corner space is minimalist, concrete-floored, open-windowed and seemingly more kitchen than restaurant – clearly designed by a chef.
It reduces the seating to high benches, counters and windows, with just a few tables down one side and in the leafy courtyard, but rather than being a mistake, it adds a casual charm that brings people together around the kitchen.
Almost all the cooking here is done quietly, thoughtfully, and to order by Devlin on a modestly sized double Platinum charcoal grill that has tiered racks above for smoking and drying; with chefs Jack Powley and Teru Watanabe? moving supportively in the background.
Just as transparent is the sourcing policy of no beef or lamb, and a concentration on sustainable fish and seafood and local vegetables. Everything is done in-house, from wood-fired sourdough ($4.50) to its butter of smoked macadamia and spent beer grain.
A selection of snacks ($8 a person) runs to a fragile shortcrust tartlet of smoked mullet dip, a tiny green mango preserved like an olive, and crudites of crisp, raw cucumber, wing beans, baby kohlrabi and baby ridged gourd, with a delicious almond and green garlic cream.
A close relationship with Northern Rivers producers Piccone Exotics and Palisa Anderson's Boon Luck Farm has turned the kitchen into a rapid-response unit, as rare, short-run or windfall fruit and vegetables land on the doorstep.
This week's fetish is the Brazilian cherry; a puffy little scarlet bauble that cooks down into a threateningly dark chutney of controlled heat and wine-gum fruitiness. It comes with the star dish, a glazed and grilled bay lobster, or Moreton Bay bug, from Bay Lobster Producers in nearby Chinderah ($40) that's sliced and splayed across the plate. To one side are broad, flat ribbons of potato cooked in buttery whey; an unexpected joy that cleaves naturally to a clean, rounded, Fetherston chardonnay from the Yarra Valley ($16/$70).
Locally caught fish are allowed to shine with just a pre-seasoning in kelp or a brine. Thick slashes of corned moon fish, for instance, are teamed with pickles, tamarillo ketchup, chickpea koji and lovely, thick, pudgy, grill-marked corn flatbread ($26).
A deceptively simple wedge of sugarloaf cabbage, grilled over coals, is a minefield of concealed richness, interleaved with crab and macadamia cream ($32).
Devlin then sends out a slice of dragon fruit the colour of raspberry jelly that's like eating fragrance rather than flesh. There is another dessert – a rubble of spent beer grain parfait with custard apple and a gloopy wattleseed ganache ($14) – but it pales beside the perfectly ripe tropical fruit. Which is as it should be.
I like the smell of smoke in the air, the inner workings on show, and even the odd curious fly in the air. It's thrilling to see Australian chefs properly own our coast as their primary source and inspiration. This isn't just a skilful chef opening a very appealing seaside restaurant; it's a template, to build the future of Australian cuisine on our strengths.
Vegetarian: Three smaller dishes, one larger dish, plus a dedicated set menu.
Drinks: Smart wine list with an emphasis on vineyards in coastal regions, and plenty by the glass for designated drinkers.
Go-to dish: Glazed Bay lobster with potato noodles, $40.
Pro-tip: Try for a ringside counter stool, opposite the grill action.