In 1983, Jean Jacques Lale-Demoz opened his seafood restaurant in North Melbourne. The fine diner was in the vanguard of a trend towards seafood dining in the 1980s. In 1986 the restaurant relocated to a refurbished bathing pavilion at St Kilda beach. At the more casual end of the dining scale, Iain Hewitson opened his Last Aussie Fishcaf in South Melbourne in 1987. The same year, in Sydney, the famous Doyle family of Watson’s Bay opened their new fish restaurant at Circular Quay.
For decades, to most Australians, seafood dining was limited to takeaway fish and chips or the obligatory fish dish tucked at the bottom of the restaurant menu. Typically this would be a fillet of white fish served “bonne femme” – with a butter and white wine sauce, perhaps garnished with mushrooms – or “meuniere”, with brown butter, parsley and lemon. Shellfish generally meant a seafood cocktail or, if you were being fancy, half a crayfish (invariably called lobster on the menu) elaborately sauced and garnished.
By the 1980s, chefs were beginning to do more exciting things with seafood. But it took Swiss-born Jean Jacques Lale-Demoz to take seafood dining to a new level with a restaurant dedicated to the fruits of the sea. Simply called Jean Jacques, his first establishment in North Melbourne soon earned three hats in The Age Good Food Guide. In 1983-84 the guide noted that among the dishes was “a dish of raw scallops, sea urchin roe, mussels, limpets, clams, oysters, seaweed, poached periwinkles and squid on a bed of ice”. Or perhaps the “pâté of John Dory, prawns and olives with a cream sauce; the yabby tails with a mousseline sauce and the snapper cutlet with a peppercorn sauce”.
Other dishes of the era included the “sweetbreads with morels, Bocuse-style scallops, prepared with white wine, hollandaise sauce and truffles” at Two Faces Chef or, north of the border, Peter Doyle’s lobster and mousseline of fish at Sydney’s Reflections.
The Last Aussie Fishcaf gave seafood dining the popular touch. After the refinement of Fleurie and Champagne Charlie’s, Iain Hewitson went casual with his restaurant in South Melbourne, transplanting 1950s US culture into Melbourne, complete with jukebox, rock and roll dancers and the infamous limbo competition.
By 2018, inventive seafood offerings were legion, from the delicate barramundi collar at fine diner Vue de Monde to the soft blue swimmer crab dim sims at Northcote’s casual Sweet Salt.