The Art of the Exotic Catch
Claim to fame: Seafood like nowhere else
Reason to go: A combination of singular technique and unique ingredients
To look out for: Here’s your chance to finally try shark penises and other off-menu specials.
“Just give me the best thing you pull out of the sea.” Josh Niland’s request to his network of suppliers is a million (nautical) miles from the usual demands of chefs. The idea of perfectly consistent firm, white-fleshed fish that isn’t especially fishy – the dream catch for so many chefs toques today – is completely anathema to this young chef’s sensibility. He prizes quality and freshness above all, no matter that the fish in question might be a meter-long mahi-mahi or tiny Yamba anchovies that require near-surgical skill to fillet. To Niland’s mind, that’s the point of being a chef – taking your skills and using them to make the most of interesting ingredients.
And the ingredients are what Saint Peter is all about. After years cooking at some of the best restaurants in town, Niland decided to strike out and open a place for himself, he didn’t join one of the big groups or a hotel, consequently the eatery’s aesthetic charms are along the lines of simplicity, a move that’s refreshing for Sydney circa now. You’re here for the food. And to get cozy with unusual catches.
There’s plenty of fine fillet on offer; barbecued Shoalhaven blue eye trevalla with corn and seaweed, say, or mulloway, cut from a 15-kilo fish pulled from Bateau Bay and served with green beans and sauce gribiche, not to mention world-beating fish and chips, but it’s when Niland dives into the deep end of the pool that things get really interesting.
He hates waste, so fish offal and offcuts become splashy attractions in themselves. That could mean the meat from the head of a bass grouper pressed into a fine terrine with native succulents and a side of brioche, or John Dory liver sautéed with parsley and served on toasted sourdough to luxurious effect.
And then there’s the weekend brunch, which runs from crab croissants (no, really) to sea urchin crumpets, mussel omelets and scrambled eggs with crayfish.
Throw in pastries of impressive restraint and great technical finesse from Julie Niland (perfectly quivering lemon tart, thrillingly dark kouign amann) and it’s easy to see why the city has embraced this dangerously talented couple, hook, line and sinker.