Located in Brunswick Heads, just 15 minutes from the buzz of Byron Bay, Fleet is about as compact a restaurant as you’ll find, with just 14 seats, mainly arrayed down the table-height concrete bar, with high stools facing out the front window. In its five years, Fleet has helped to redefine dining possibilities outside of established hotspots, while celebrating all that is local from the produce right down to the crockery and furniture.
Previously, Astrid McCormack and Josh Lewis worked together at Aaron Turner’s acclaimed Loam on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, with Lewis the sous chef at the time, while McCormack was on wine and front of house duties. (If the name McCormack’s ringing a bell, it’s because her sister, Katie, is co-owner and operator of Melbourne’s Congress, Future Future and Lagotto)
A move north for the pair saw them launch Fleet in 2015, with an ambitious approach to both scale and location. Brunswick Heads may not be far from Byron Bay, but it was well off the dining radar until Lewis and McCormack arrived, and it is somewhat sleepier and a whole lot less glamorous. Nonetheless, Fleet established itself as one of the country’s most acclaimed regional restaurants, with a firm focus on locally sourced and ethically grown and reared produce.
Lewis and McCormack also launched La Casita in early 2019, a casual fire-fuelled Mexican diner that seats even less than Fleet, with 10 seats indoors, but another 30 in the courtyard expands things considerably, weather permitting.
The approach at Fleet is deeply connected from sourcing through to serving, with the domestic scale of the restaurant matching the personal approach at table (or rather, bar). It’s a bit like dining at a friend’s house, just so long as your friends happen to be world-class chefs and drinks gurus. Lewis’ menu is built around an ever-changing selection of small/share plate dishes, with the option to leave the choices to the kitchen across a raft of courses – cheese is an optional extra.
Fleet wears its compact nature as a badge across its offerings with fluidity key. Just as the menu drifts with the available produce, the drinks offering is equally mutable, with star sommelier and restaurant manager Olivia Evans presiding over no more than 23 wines at a time, with most served by the glass. Those wines are best characterised by a lo-fi mindset, but the guiding principle, aside from quality, is enshrined in farming – a sustainable, environmentally sound approach. Outside of wine, Evans will just as easily match Lewis’ dishes to beer, sake and non-alcoholic options.
With dinner bookings in high demand, Fleet eases into service with a “late lunch” interlude from 3:30pm, with the same menu options available for that evening’s service, leaving a more than enough time to catch the sunset on the way home.
COVID-19 conditions: Fleet was closed during the national lockdown, but ran pop-ups and takeaway from their sister venue, Ethel Food Store. Trading has resumed as normal now, though total capacity has been reduced to 10 diners (from 14) in a sitting.