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A Long Time in the Making

By Joel Bevilacqua on January 8, 2020 in Food

The stand-out dish, sesame crusted tuna, by John Hoggett.

A prophetic photo from 1990 shows good friends Rhys Ward and John Hoggett, both aged 12, in fancy dress at the Waverley College Book Day. Rhys is dressed as a chef, and the pint-sized John, a waiter. 30 years later, the childhood friends have just opened a ripping little beachside bar and grill in Clovelly.
Reel Food & Drink is the duo’s first venture into the industry. The restaurant is nestled amongst the colourful terrace houses at the beach end of Burnie Street. I visited during opening week but it already felt as if the place had been a mainstay for years. We stepped straight off the footpath into a breezy, high-ceilinged room full of life. Tables will soon be added to another raised room, as will some outdoor seating, which will be prime position during these long summer days.
It should come as no surprise that seafood is Reel’s specialty. If the name doesn’t give it away, there’s an old-school lifesaving ring adorning a pacific blue wall and oars hanging from another. Not much has changed since 1990; Rhys still towers over John and is the main man in the kitchen. Formally of Sydney Cove Oyster Bar, Ward cooks what he likes and is evidentially a man of good taste. There’s something to suit everyone on the menu, a mix of seafood taste plates, grill classics and a rotation of daily specials, depending on what’s been biting.
A stand-out dish is the sesame crusted tuna. Seared on the outside and raw in the middle, this yellowfin tuna comes with wasabi mayo, pickled ginger, wakame seaweed and a soy and ginger dressing. One bite and it becomes instantly clear Ward is no longer playing dress-ups. Other sensational taste plates on offer include the succulent fish tacos and sizzling garlic prawns in olive oil, served with crusty bread. Mains include the classic hearty beef burger and a grass-fed rib-eye with onion jam, as well as crispy skin Atlantic salmon. To give you some idea of what may be on offer on the daily specials menu, our meal’s crescendo came in the form of a giant Queensland spanner crab cooked in ginger. The ginger was an interesting twist, adding a bit of flavour without overpowering the crab. At Hoggett’s request, we made a real mess of it and washed it down with a few beers.
“Reel” isn’t just a nod to the food on offer though. Real food and real people is also the restaurant’s mantra. Manager Hoggett is a great guy who makes you feel right at home and there’s an overall sense of candidness about the place. Burnie Park is on the same street and kids are welcome. Each meal on the kid’s menu comes with a complimentary bowl of ice-cream with topping.
There is a lot to love about Ward and Hoggett’s unpretentious, understated approach. All the dark-timber furniture in the world and pretty Instagram photos can’t make up for great food and service, and Reel has both of these.
There is one thing that has changed since Ward and Hoggett were kids however. Back in 1990, the pair fell just short of first place in the Waverley College Book Day dress up competition, narrowly beaten by the Marshmallow Man. Flash-forward to today and the childhood mates have an undeniable winner in Reel Food & Drink.

Reel Food & Drink
48 Burnie Street, Clovelly
Instagram @reelfoodanddrink
Open 1pm-late daily, closed Tuesdays
Prices Skewers (2) $12, Tacos (2) $12, Sesame crusted tuna $16, Beef burger $18, Atlantic salmon $22, Kid’s meals $10
Cards Master, Visa, AMEX
Licensed Yes