Just one hour from Sydney in the small and quiet coastal town of Thirroul is a totally unexpected fine-dining restaurant that takes you completely by surprise. Flanagan’s Dining Room is in the heritage-listed building that was originally the Thirroul Beach Kiosk situated on the Promenade. Being heritage-listed the building’s character, charm and soul from the 1940’s still exists. The restaurant’s bi-fold windows open to take the diner almost onto the sand and while enjoying a drink or the degustation menu you are so close to the water’s edge you can not only hear the waves but see them crashing on the sand.
Thirroul is a very easy one-hour drive from Sydney yet these two areas of Australia’s eastern seaboard are worlds apart. In just over an hour we transported ourselves from the stress, haste and congestion of Sydney to an idyllic little town that nostalgically takes you back to a bygone era.
Irish-born John Connolly arrived in Australia in 1994 with a background in the food and hospitality industry. He settled in the town of Thirroul and opened Flanagans Fish Cafe in a small shopfront on the main road. In 2008 John moved the shop to the its current position and opened Thirroul Beach Kiosk. However he wanted to take the business to another level and contacted his Turkish friend and chef, Arman, who used to work at Efendy in Balmain. Charmed by the town, Arman joined forces with John and created a restaurant placing emphasis on supporting local businesses for all their produce and began growing their own vegetables, herbs and edible flowers. Recently the business changed its name to Flanagans Dining Room and undertook a renovation.
Lunch is available five days a week and has a menu that changes daily depending on what’s available. On Friday and Saturday nights Flanagans Dining Room hosts a seven-course degustation menu that changes every week and this can be enjoyed with matching wines.
Carl and I were very much looking forward to the Flanagans experience and being able to sit by an open window overlooking the beach and watch the waves pound onto the shore. However, on the night we were there it was raining cats and dogs. The restaurant windows were snapped shut and the driving rain drowned out any chance of being able to hear the surf, however, what we lost in terms of openness and a view was made up for by a warming gas fire creating a cosy and intimate dining experience.
With the weather being so dastardly, I was thinking we might be the only ones venturing out on such an awful night and so I was quite surprised when we arrived at Flanagans to find every table occupied and just one table-for-two remaining. We sat at the one remaining table that was in a quiet corner of the room where on a good day, the bi-fold windows would be open – never mind!
Flanagans is extremely accommodating. Despite having a small kitchen there’s effort made to accommodate personal preferences and allergies. When I booked the degustation menu, I asked for a non-seafood option and as soon as we were seated at our table the waitress remembered my request and let me know the chef had prepared different courses for me. On other occasions they have happily created a gluten-free or vegetarian degustation option.
The restaurant is small, seating between 30 and 50 depending on the configuration of tables. The decor is stylish, minimalist and elegant with polished timber floors, billowing sailcloth ceiling, globe lights hanging from varying heights, trestle tables, Bentwood chairs, banquettes, paper tablecloths and a touch of blue in the linen napkins and water glasses – you know how I love my blue! Our meal began with a selection of warmed and thickly sliced sourdough bread from the Berry Woodfired Sourdough Bakery that we smothered in butter and enjoyed with a glass of sparkling mineral water.
It doesn’t take long for the food to arrive and we notice everyone in the restaurant is being served at the same time. The first course was Clyde River Oysters that are locally sourced with white balsamic and pink shallots. Carl loved these and said they were ‘awesome’. He said the balsamic and shallots were a flavour sensation with the extremely fresh oysters.
The oysters were paired with a French Champagne from the Burgundy region. The champagne was very dry and delicately flavoured so worked very well with the oysters drizzled with white balsamic.
I had goat’s fetta coated in a cornflour batter that was gluten-free with mint, cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. I love goat’s fetta with mint and this is a dish I would love to try and recreate at home. Cheese and champagne are always a beautiful pairing.
The second course was scallops with chilli, ginger and soy. Carl said these were ‘ridiculously good’. After eating the scallop he picked up the shell and drank the dressing.
The scallops were paired with a d’Arenberg Stump Jump Riesling. I’ve been a fan of d’Arenberg Wines since visiting their winery just over a year ago. I’m also quite a fan of Riesling as I think that over recent years I’ve had more glasses of Sauvignon Blanc than I’d care to count and so I consider a Riesling to be a refreshing change. The wine was crisp and refreshing and I can see myself enjoying this as the sun goes down on a beautiful day (but not this day!)
I had a Thai vegetable curry. The vegetables still had some crunch which contrasted well with the smooth curry sauce and the sauce had some warming heat but not enough to prevent me from tasting the rest of the night’s meal.
The third course was squid with paprika, oregano and baby cos. Now Carl is a huge fan of squid and he said this squid cut like butter and was the best and most tender squid he had ever eaten and there was no chewiness to speak of.
The squid was paired with a Cuttaway Hill Estate Chardonnay from the Southern Highlands and being a cool-climate wine it had hints of melon and peach with just a trace of oak. This is a Chardonnay that works very well with seafood.
I had marinated chicken thighs with a cauliflower puree. Although the chicken was moist and very tender I thought it was a little bland and perhaps some extra seasoning with some lemon juice would have given the dish a lift.
The fourth course was calf liver with Spanish onion, sumac and parsley. I do like liver but I normally have it in moderation and not as an entire dish. While I thought the Spanish onion gave great crunch to the texture of the liver, this was probably a little too much liver for me.
The calf liver was paired with Ingram Road Pinot Noir. I do love pinot! This is a darker-coloured pinot but still very subtle in flavour and a lovely light red wine to contrast the depth of flavour in the liver.
The fifth course was salmon with tahini, walnut and pomegranate. This dish is served neither hot nor cold, just warm and looked very pretty on the plate. Carl said it was ‘unbelievable’ and he just loved the combination of tahini and pomegranates. As ‘awesome’ as the other seafood dishes were, this was Carl’s favourite.
The salmon was paired with a Monkey Place Creek Rose. It’s good to see Rose wine back on the table. It’s been a long time. I do remember them being very big in the 70’s but they were more like lolly-wine whereas today they’re a lot more sophisticated. Served cool and being a light wine, it went very well with the salmon.
I had marinated beef fillet with shoestring fries, garlic yoghurt and jus. This was sensational. The beef was soft, tender and melt-in-the-mouth. The fries were the thinnest I have ever seen and so light and crispy. The yoghurt and jus were plentiful and I always love it when there’s more sauce than you need and this is exactly how it was with this dish.
The sixth course was a loin of lamb with chickpea, chard and rosemary jus. One of my most favourite parts of lamb is the loin. The loin was lovely and pink, well rested and cut with little resistance. The delicate rosemary jus worked beautifully with the lamb.
The lamb was paired with a Crooked River Black Top Shiraz. This wine is grown locally in the Gerringong Region. While the wine did have hints of blackberries, pepper and spice, it was also more sweet than I was expecting. I think a less-sweet shiraz would have worked better with the lamb.
The final course was Creme Brulee with mastic, vanilla and fresh strawberries. There was a lovely cracking sound as the back of my spoon hit the brulee and the fresh strawberries added a little tartness to the sweetness of the toffee. This was a very smooth brulee that wasn’t overly sweet and light enough to be a refreshing finale to an incredible meal.
The Creme Brulee was paired with a Longview Epitome Late Harvest Riesling. This is a wonderful dessert wine that has notes of apricot and honey and isn’t incredibly sweet. I loved how both the dessert wine and the champagne were served in chilled glasses.
We didn’t have coffee. We just couldn’t fit another thing in. And my advice to anyone heading to Flanagans for the degustation meal (which you must rush out and do), is hold the bread, there are plenty of courses to come. We had a lot of questions for our waitress who was very knowledgeable and if there was anything she didn’t know she went back out to the kitchen and came back with the information we needed. There were two waitresses on the night who were certainly kept busy yet no table ever went unnoticed; the service seemed to be extremely smooth.
Although there is plenty of free parking in the beach car park (yes, that’s right, there’s FREE parking), you’ll be pleased to hear we didn’t drive home. We had accommodation just a five-minute level walk away and were able to walk (stumble) back to our room. As we walked home we talked about the evening and we agreed that the Flanagans dining experience with the ease of parking (that always gets me stressed in Sydney), the stunning view, the varied, interesting and well executed cuisine and the ease and tranquility that comes from being in a place that moves at a slower pace, is very, very therapeutic. You must try it!
Verdict: An unexpected and totally fabulous surprise where the setting and the food exceed expectations.
Degustation Evening: $80PP or $125PP with matched wines.
Flanagans Dining Room: The Esplanade, Thirroul NSW 2515 Ph: 02 4268 1598 Hotly Spiced and Carl dined as guests of Flanagans Dining Room.
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