I've always got a slight spring in my step when I'm walking towards Fitzrovia. As I plodded around the corner and saw Dickie Fitz down the way, I had a feeling in my gut that this Aussie spot was going to be up there with the best. I might have felt a bit subconscious about my scruffy trainers and Craig David t-shirt but I knew that the electric feel of the area was going to offer a laughter-heavy evening with ace cocktails and stunning dishes.
Unlike most of the casual-dining spots that line Charlotte Street - think burritos and conveyor-belt sushi - Dickie Fitz stands out in the crowd with its black shell and glowing windows. These huge ceiling-to-floor length windows line the entire restaurant and offer the busy passers-by a glimpse at the swanky, sleek decor on the inside. As soon as you step in, it's the mustard yellow seats that first grab your eyes. Though I usually feel a bit sick at any mention of 'mustard yellow', the colour actually went well with the huge, spherical lights, fresh flowers and calm tones to offer a welcoming, warming feeling. And just in case you missed the fine dining vibes of Dickie Fitz, the smooth granite tabletop, crystal clear wine glasses and shining cutlery all but shout about it. In truth, it's quite hard not to buy into everything Dickie Fitz is selling. Rather than a no-nonsense handshake, the warm, airy ambience makes it feel as if you're being greeted with a soft, thigh-on-thigh type hug at the door. Certainly no mean feat.
To get the kookaburra rolling, we dove into a few delicate cocktails. With a helpful nudge from the manager, we settled our sights on the drastically different U Beaut and the Dark N Stormy cocktails (each £10). Infused with green tea, Beefeater Gin, lemon juice and topped with champagne, the U Beaut was smooth and went down with only a slight citrus aftertaste. By contrast, the Dark N Stormy really hit hard. Made using Australian rum, Gosling rum and a healthy pouring of ginger beer, the cocktail came with a thin slice of ginger balanced on the mouth of the glass. Exploding with flavour as soon as it hits the palate, the ginger taste really caught on the back of your throat before spreading up the sides of your mouth. Although the first two sips might make you winch, the cocktail balances well and end up delivering a bit of a moreish taste.
To accompany the headlining meal, we enjoyed a bottle of 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Mullygrubber Wine (£25). Now, I'm clearly not an expert in the world of wines, but the rich, dark fruit flavours of this medium-bodied red are obvious to even the untrained drinker. With a crisp flavour and a potent aftertaste, it went well with both the spicy seafood and meat elements of our meal.
Straight from the off, it's clear that the Sydney-born head chef Matt Robinson has been influenced by his travels to the Far East. After all, many of the dishes on the menu either feature a famous Asian ingredient or just flat-out follow a traditional Asian recipe. Both our starters - the lobster and prawn gyoza (£7.50) and the crispy squid (£7) - fit into this. The gyoza came perfectly steamed and the lobster-prawn innards offered an interesting clash of textures. But it was the crispy squid that stood out for us. Covered with a delicious chilli and sesame seeds coat, each bite had a delicate crunch and really whetted our appetites for the main courses to come. You'll find yourself wondering why every dish isn't covered in sesame seeds and chilli flakes.
Our mains quickly followed our clean starter plates. Sticking with the Australian theme, I chose to tackle the pulled barbecue lamb shoulder (£15.50) while my companion opted for the Australian black angus sirloin steak (£27). To round off our meal - and our stomachs - we ordered a side of the fries (£4) and the truffle mac 'n' cheese (£5.50). The steak was perfectly cooked and seasoned but really shone thanks to a delicious kimchi hollandaise sauce that gave each forkful that little bit extra edge. Not for the first time though, the lamb stole the limelight. It was one of those dishes where every element worked perfectly together. The smokey flavour of the lamb took centre stage but was calmed by the bed of fresh tzatziki and flatbread in was served on. Though people will laugh, I think I may have fallen for those sides. Wow. The fries were thinly sliced and lightly dusted with flavoursome chicken salt, while the breadcrumb-topped mac 'n' cheese was both sweet and savoury at the same time. In my book, you're a damn fool to overlook these gems.
The traditional Mrs Robinson's Lamingtons (£1 each) were an obvious choice to tie off an Aussie-themed meal. Who knew a coconut-coated chocolate and jam cake could be so powerful? Satisfying both those with a sweet-tooth and those just looking to leave with a pleasant taste in their mouth, the dessert really is a jack-of-all-trades.
My gut feeling was right. Dickie Fitz was up there. It's not just the warm atmosphere and elegant feel of the restaurant; it's not just the great cocktails and fine wines on offer; it's not just fresh flavours and Asian-Australian recipes on the menu. Instead, each element of the restaurant works in tandem to create an opulent, easy-going dining experience that doesn't cost an arm and leg. Dickie Fitz, I salute you.