Lots of restaurants have live seafood on display, suggesting that the chefs pluck them fresh from their tanks to order. Whether or not this is true depends on the venue; some rely mostly on frozen seafood and reserve their tanks for show.

But at Fishing Season, what you see is what you get. With a $1.7 million freshwater tank that’s topped up with Murray cod daily, every fish on the menu is served within minutes of being caught. And, in a concept that’s new to Melbourne, diners even have the option to catch their meal themselves.

Owner James Li says the ethos behind his “catch and cook” method is to educate diners on where their food comes from and the effort it takes to source it. “Most restaurants only have the dining experience, but no one knows how to get the food,” Li tells Broadsheet. “I want customers to understand the fisherman’s life.”

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Making this goal a reality in the heart of the CBD was no easy feat. Two years prior to opening the restaurant, Li purchased a fish farm in Bangholme, Victoria, that supplies his own venue and many other live seafood restaurants around Melbourne’s inner city. He then spent around a year renovating the restaurant space to include a nearly 90,000-litre fish tank and eight tables custom-fitted with stone steam pots.

The dining experience begins downstairs, where customers can suit up in a protective coat, grab a fishing net, and have a crack at catching a cod. If you fail to snag one yourself – it’s far harder than it looks – the staff can help, and will still show you your live catch before it hits the table.

From there, you head upstairs to the jade-coloured dining room, where a dedicated host guides you through the seafood sets, starting at $145 for two people. The centrepiece of each table is a high-pressure steamer with a granite bowl and a dome-shaped straw lid – a cooking device famous in China’s Yunnan province for maintaining the fish’s texture, flavour and nutrition.

The whole cod is placed in the pot along with jujube, shallots, mushrooms and clarified chicken stock, then left to steam until the broth turns a milky white. No oil, salt or MSG are used, allowing the fish’s natural flavour to shine.

Additional seafood, including prawns, crab, scallops and abalone, can also be added to the pot, followed by vegetables and thin slices of Wagyu – left till the very end, so they don’t taint the delicate, subtly sweet soup. Some sets also include deep-fried fish skin with salted egg and springy noodles made from fish mince, in accordance with Li’s low-waste approach to fish butchery.

Rounding out the menu is a list of beer, wine and tiki-style cocktails, plus sweets like deep-fried durian balls and sticky rice with brown sugar.

Given the immersive, personalised nature of the dining experience, a visit to Fishing Season can be an hours-long occasion, so make sure to set aside some time. And it’s worth reserving a spot ahead – the eight-table eatery books up fast.

Fishing Season
260–262 Russell Street, Melbourne
0478 799 381

Mon & Tues 12pm–3pm, 6pm–11pm
Wed & Thurs 6pm–11pm
Fri & Sat 12pm–3pm, 6pm–11pm