Josh Niland

There are seafood cooks, and then there’s Josh Niland, the hugely influential, forward-thinking chef behind Sydney fish restaurant Saint Peter. From sea urchin crumpets to “charcuterie” made from liver, belly and other fish off-cuts, Saint Peter’s bold menu reimagines the possibilities and potential of fish cookery. Little wonder Jamie Oliver has hailed Niland as “one of the most impressive chefs of a generation.”

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“I Don’t Think Australia Gets Enough Credit”

I think in general, dining in Australia feels a lot more relaxed than other countries, but I also feel that our quality of chefs exceeds most parts of the world. Our cooking is equally as technical as that of Copenhagen or New York. In my opinion, I don’t think Australia gets enough credit for the standard that we have. We’re really spoilt for the access to quality across every sector, whether it’s casual or high-end dining

A Sydney Institution

Sean’s Panaroma is and always has been an inspiration to me. I think Sean Moran is one of the best chefs in the country. To be as consistent as he’s been and as unwavering in his approach as he’s been is a very unique trait. The restaurant is blessed in the sense that it’s in front of one of the most famous beaches in the world; you catch glimpses of the sand, the water, the lifesaving club. It’s iconic and it’s very Sydney. I think there are so many venues with a fantastic location like this, yet very few of them can operate with such grace and finesse as Sean’s, and do it well for 25 years. Sean cooks food that he would personally want to sit down and eat. It’s almost like, to a degree, putting Fergus Henderson’s restaurant St. John on the beach. And if Fergus decided to wear board shorts for the day. It’s that same kind of generosity and spirit. The food is unfussy. It’s food that Sean’s growing on his own property in the Blue Mountains. He rears chickens, grows beautiful tomatoes and stone fruits. He sprinkles native ingredients throughout the cooking without the agenda of being trendy. You’ll sit down in the restaurant and see flowering broad beans in little vases on every table and know that it’s broad bean season. If you happen to have the pleasure of eating there on a day when Sean is in, it’s magical. He’ll come out and give you a cuddle. He’ll make sure that your experience is memorable from the very beginning to the very end, and I’ve had more memorable experiences there than I’ve had anywhere else in the world.

Sean’s Panaroma. Photography: Courtesy of Enzo Amato

Pub Food From A Fine Dining Chef

I’m a friend of chef Nick Hill, but I’m also a big fan of what he’s doing at The Old Fitzroy. It’s a pub, but Nick’s pedigree is fine dining, so technically the man can cook you anything from a 35-course fine dining menu down to a beautiful roast chicken. He’s a rare chef. He’s bringing the acumen of fine dining – taking the best techniques and completely removing all the fuss – and then applying it to a kind of modern refinement of pub culture. Nick is paving a path that I think is going to inspire a lot of young chefs: chefs who are potentially leaving elitist kitchens at age 27 or 28 and want to show the world what they can do. What Nick is doing is showing them that it’s okay if that means you’re going to be running a pub. That you can express yourself just as much as you could in a six million-dollar fit-out.  

“Anything He Cooks Is The Most Delicious Thing Anyone’s Had, Ever”

My wife Julie and I really enjoy going to the bar at Momofuku Seiobo. Chef Paul Carmichael is a phenomenon. Anything he cooks is the most delicious thing anyone’s had, ever. The bar is such a nice entry point to Momofuku. The full dining experience [tasting menu in the main dining room] is, of course, wonderful, but I love the flexibility of jumping onto a stool at the bar, ordering from the a la carte menu and doing whatever you like. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure experience, and a great option if you can’t commit to the hours needed for the tasting menu. Julie and I also love sushi. Sushi E is fantastic. Dan Hong has been captain of the ship up there, kind of pulling the strings, and I think it’s only getting stronger.

Nostalgic Australian Dishes

If industry friends are visiting Sydney from outside of Australia, I would definitely take them to Bennelong. It’s iconic to Sydney. It’s such a wonderful venue to have inside the most iconic building in the country [Sydney Opera House]. Chef Rob Cockerill is cooking really nostalgic dishes but with such a high level of skill. Dishes like the buckwheat pikelets and the sausage roll bring a lot of good humour to international guests and are, to us Australians, a time to reminisce. It’s great to see Rob doing what he loves and able to express himself creatively. That dining room would be such a beast to tackle, and personally, it would take me a really long time to do so. But Rob has really found his footing. There’s a strong identity in his cooking.  

Where To Eat In Chinatown

I love the grilled chicken and sticky rice at the original Chat Thai in Haymarket. It’s amazing. [Owners] Amy Chanta and Palisa Anderson have done a wonderful thing for Sydney. The cooking is very consistent and now that Palisa has her own farm, the quality of the produce is just fantastic. Very rarely do you experience anything less than absolutely delicious. It’s in Chinatown, which I think is a great place for visitors to see. Other great spots in Chinatown are Mamak for its roti and obviously Golden Century for anything, because it’s all awesome.

Vegetables Cooked With Care In A Wood-Fired Oven

What Ester does is really beautiful. I’ve always been a huge fan of chef-owner Matt Lindsay, and I think his food has only become more and more refined. His standards are so high. And he’s such a lovely man. He’s very generous and very kind. I think Ester is really the benchmark for refined casual dining in Australia. There are few other restaurants that do it as well as Ester. It kind of redefines what we should be celebrating as a high standard of dining in Sydney. Ester has all its bases covered: the service is excellent, the vibe and the music are always good, the food is delicious, and the wine program is fantastic. The menu very much brings vegetables to the forefront. The same standards that apply to the most expensive cuts of meat go into the vegetable preparations. It kind of recontextualises what vegetables can be. One of Matt’s dishes that hasn’t budged from the menu is the whole fire-roasted cauliflower. There are touches of French cookery to the menu in terms of the techniques and sauces, but because they’re working with fire, there’s this kind of “dark-around-the-edges” tone to everything. I like that kind of imperfection: that it’s not just about warming things up in a plastic bag [sous-vide] and then giving it colour. It would look perfect but would it be really, really delicious? Not really. What’s surprising at Ester is that the desserts are on equal footing to the main menu. I think the desserts are some of the best in Sydney.

Unique Sydney Smallgoods

LP’s Quality Meats is another huge favourite of mine. I’ve always taken a lot of inspiration from chef Luke Powell. I think the focus and attention he pays to meat is similar to the way I work with fish. The set-up he has and how focused he is on wholesale products is very inspiring. His mortadella, his salamis, the beautiful hams – they’re all such a treat. [Editor’s Note: LP Quality meats is closing February 2020 and will reopen as a smallgoods wholesaler available to the public Saturdays and Sundays].

The Sydney Chefs To Watch

I think Ibrahim Kasif at Stanbuli is a chef who doesn’t get talked about enough. His food is beautiful. It’s traditional Middle Eastern food but not trendy by any means. Everything is so delicious and super consistent. I just find it so nourishing and so honest. It’s an emotive experience. Ibrahim is a special chef. He’s an extremely talented chef. I really like him. The delivery on the floor is just as good, too. It’s a really well-run business. Jacqui Challinor is another really special chef. She’s been at Nomad since day one. Not only is Jacqui’s food delicious and visually beautiful, but she’s also an extremely good manager [Jacqui has recently been appointed executive chef as Nomad prepares to open a second location in Melbourne]. Jacqui really is a phenomenal chef and I don’t think she gets the credit that she should. Ciccia Bella is an exciting and dynamic new Italian restaurant. Anything with chef Mitch Orr behind it’s going to be really exciting. I love Mitch. His food is absolutely delicious.

A New Breed Of Neighbourhood Restaurant

Arthur is a small, beautiful suburban restaurant in Surry Hills. It’s owned by chef Tristan Rosier and his partner, so it’s a similar situation to what Julien and I are doing at Saint Peter [Josh’s wife Julie runs the floor]. I think anybody who goes out on their own deserves every bit of attention that they get, because of how bloody hard it is. Because of how focused and how dedicated you have to be. Because of how much you have to sacrifice and how much of yourself you have to give to the business. It’s not easy and they’re doing a brilliant job. Tristan is a good, honest chef cooking modern Australian cuisine with creativity and finesse. I hope Arthur gets heavy traffic from the locals and is celebrated like it deserves to be.

One Of Australia’s Most Important Chefs

We’re going outside of Sydney now, but I think Hugh Allen at Vue de Monde in Melbourne is a really important chef in Australia. I think he’s going to be one of the most significant chefs in the country one day. He’s going to be a superstar. It’s so ridiculous to think that he’s only 24 years old. The food that Vue de Monde is turning out right now is world-class. I’m shocked at how talented he is. And not only for the food on the plate, but also that he’s leading a kitchen at such a young age. I was 22 when I was running the Woods and I felt completely out of my depth. I look at him and just see a complete air of confidence. He’s just so sharp. I was really floored by him.

A Primer On Australian Fish And Seafood

I would be happy to cook any of our beautiful fish species for somebody visiting from overseas and be very confident that they would be blown away, but King George whiting and coral trout in particular would be the two that I would be running quickly to get in front of a stove to cook for them. Coral trout is probably one of the most iconic fish in the water and what we get from Ben and Coralie Collison [Collison Reef Fish, Bowen, Queensland] is unrivalled in regard to flavour and quality. Each fish is individually line-caught, brain-spiked and then sent straight to the Fish Butchery within 12 hours of coming out of the water. I think King George whiting that’s been crumbed and pan-fried is just a transformative experience. I still believe we’ve got the best oysters in the world. Any of our rock oysters from the south coast will blow anybody out of the water, especially Tathra oysters by Gary Rodley and Steve Feletti’s Moonlight oysters: they’re the two important ones that I’d love to show off to visitors. When our sea urchin is in season, it’s just fantastic. Spanner crabs would also be something I would want to flaunt because they’re just so unique. And Donnybrook marron from Western Australia is definitely worth showing off. It’s a beautiful, delicious crayfish.

Selected Works: The Whole Fish Cookbook: New ways to cook, eat and think (2019)

Profile Photograph: Courtesy of Jason Loucas.

Guide Last Updated March 2020

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