Josh Niland runs the ground-breaking Saint Peter in Sydney
Josh Niland runs the ground-breaking Saint Peter, his Sydney restaurant that serves only fish and seafood from local Australian waters, as well as dessert limited to tarts.
We chat to this dynamic and obsessive chef about his narrow focus, fish offal and his obsession with tarts.
What made you decide to open a restaurant so focused on seafood? And why Australian only?
A few reasons, firstly the fragility of the product itself from fishing to cooking and every step of that process fascinated me. The general over-use of certain species of fish and the wastage were problematic. There was also nothing else out there that I felt was capturing all of that and I wanted to create a restaurant where you could enjoy fish more than once every now and then, a kind of weekly eatery. Between Saint Peter and Fish Butchery we wanted to get people thinking beyond the fillet.
Also it’s not Australia only it could work anywhere in the world. However it is important to use line-caught fish from local coastal waters.
You are known for dry aging fish in your fish butchery – what sorts of fish do you use, and what dishes do you make out of them?
All oily fish that are pretty compact and dense work well, such as Spanish mackerel, yellow fin tuna and bonito. Ageing is purposefully done to give a more meaty and savoury flavour to the fish. When you start to think of fish as meat it brings a broader range of recipes and opens up more savoury ingredients such as chestnuts and mushrooms and hard herbs and a really broad spectrum beyond the lemony acidic normal.
At the butchery you can buy the fish but also fish sausages and bacon and other sauces and stocks and cooking utensils like our fish weight.
Did it take a lot of experimenting to get the dry aging just right?
Yes, oh yes, there was actually a long journey of trial and error.
How would you describe your cooking style?
My approach is quite technical but it is also simple. We want to change how we treat and eat fish, so it’s all about cooking the best way we can within those guidelines. To constantly evolve the best ways to make the flavour of the fish and our dishes pop, to simply make the best tasting dishes we can make. I am certainly more technical and detailed in how I approach that end game.
You sometimes use fish offal – please tell us what sort of dishes you make out of it?
I actually use it a lot. If you are eating meat/ protein then it deserves to be respected. Waste is not only unethical it is not sustainable as a business. One of my favourites is liver on toast and also our milk mortadella. We make salty, crunchy eye chips, smoked heart and spleen in XO sauce, our own garum and tripe, but from fish stomach.
For dessert, you serve only tarts and cheeses – why did you decide to keep it so simple?
Because doing the simple stuff consistently well, to the point of obsession with those tarts, is what we are about. It’s also pretty nostalgic, I don’t know the lemon tart just felt right. We now also have a chocolate and fish fat caramel slice which is so delicious and a vanilla cheesecake with BBQ plums and mahi roe biscuit which is pretty tasty.
And why tarts in particular?
Because they are so hard. I worked in the development kitchen at The Fat Duck and the treacle tart was deceivingly difficult. There is so much work that goes into the balance, the consistency and the constant tweaking. It’s not easy, but a good piece of fish and a good tart, well, it might be simple but it’s the Rolls Royce of simple, so it makes it worth doing.
You made the shortlist for the Ethical Thinking category of the new World Restaurant Awards – what do you think of these new awards? Will they give Michelin and the Hats a run for their money?
I don’t think any award depletes another. We are always honoured to be recognised, whether it’s industry led, customer led, Australia wide or internationally. However big or small the recognition may appear from the outside, I can tell you it is always received with the same excitement inside.
It was also great fun to go to Paris and be standing side by side with chefs whose work and journeys I have watched and admired my entire career.
Thank you, Chef Josh, and we have no doubt that chefs are watching and admiring your own culinary journey as well. Find here his new recipe.
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