My friends often joke that my order pattern when eating out is so predictable that they can guess it off the bat to 75-80% accuracy. High on my list of priorities are seafood, followed by something raw, a tartare if available, and vegetables. I have on many occasions ordered the token seafood item at steakhouses. Most of the time, the seafood item is perceived as the “boring” option, unless there’s chicken, to which sorry chicken, you’re it. I do agree that a piece of grey looking fish on a plate isn’t visually appealing let alone whets the imagination. This is where Saint Peter comes in.
Saint Peter is my current happy place in Sydney. This I say with little exaggeration, I’ve spent more time at Saint Peter in the last two weeks than I have in some of the rooms of my apartment. I also don’t mean the suburb with the rock climbing gym, I mean the cosy, unassuming restaurant located in Paddington. If you were to peruse the menu at Saint Peter (which changes daily but carries the same theme), it’s easy to see why I love it there as most of the items fall squarely into my preferences. But that isn’t the point, the point is that, even if you weren’t me, you’d be hard pressed to find anything humdrum about seafood precisely because what Saint Peter offers is so much above and beyond your standard fish fare.
It’s a tricky place to write about because of the aforementioned note that no two daily menus are exactly the same. The proof is on the Instagram, trawl through fish boss Josh Niland’s (@mrniland) feed and you’ll find yourself unintentionally giving yourself an education in how to best prepare a creature from under the sea that you never knew existed. Last week’s delight looked strangely like a kiev to me and I should have trusted my eyes because that’s exactly what it turned out to be, except in the body of a King George whiting. This week it’s a sugarloaf cabbage filled with Wollongong amaebi and Bermagui pink ling liver. I’m serious, look it up. He is to seafood what Wonka is to confectionery and judging by my frequency to his restaurant, his experimental approach to food really does work.
One visit we had the Salad of Tasmanian Octopus, Pambula Sea Urchin and Cucumber. There were no lack of octopieces in this dish and somehow the brine of the sea managed to coat the cucumber tastefully, a vegetable that I normally find completely off putting.
We’ve also had the Sweet & Sour Mooloolaba Swordfish, Beetroot & Radicchio. Don’t let the “bastardised Chinese food” sounding description deter you from ordering this if it crops up again on the menu, it stands to be one of the most memorable swordfish dishes I’ve ever had*.
*I’m usually quite partial to ordering swordfish when available, if you’ve never tried it, I urge you to give it a try the next time you see it on the menu at your local fish and chip shop. Especially if you’re not a fan of hikarimono (shiny scaled, strong flavoured fish) such as mackerel, a well cooked swordfish steak is super light in taste, not fishy at all and has a melt in your mouth texture to its flesh.
The Eden John Dory, Cauliflower Shallots and Ink Sauce was the favourite dish the night we ordered it. Yet another “fish on a plate” yet completely different in appearance, taste and the way it was cooked compared to the swordfish. As delicious as the dory was, we were probably fighting more for the remaining cauliflower florets and I remember seriously contemplating licking the plate for maximum ink sauce consumption.
My most recent visit saw me order the BBQ Shoalhaven Blue Eye Trevalla, Pine Mushrooms and Parsley. I can’t remember ever having mushrooms like this, the waitress tells me they’re from the Blue Mountains. They were earthy in a light way, like freshly turned soil and dewy grass on a Spring morning. No other mushroom would have worked with fish. Having the expertise to source the best seafood and prepare it in a creative way that does justice to the ingredient are skills that cannot be understated. But what really completes an #spfishplate (Niland’s own hashtag) is the fact that the sides are not an afterthought, they are an integral component to the dish.
You’ll find big fish, small fish and no fish dishes alike will please your tastebuds. On one visit we ordered potato scallops for giants. They bore a resemblance to woolly mammoths, being that much bigger than what we’re used to and with an almost rusty golden colour to the batter. Having only recently been inducted into the world of potato scallops (had my first one last year) this has ruined all future fish and chip shop visits for me.
Another time we ordered salt and vinegar onion rings, equally huge with an incredible crunch factor. Some might not like the tang but I didn’t find it too noticeable. I think his technique lies in flavouring the onions beforehand, rather than dousing them in vinegar post-fry, so they still retain their crunchiness.
Two of our final dishes that took the cake were the desserts themselves. This is the Manjari Chocolate Slice with Artichoke Caramel and Soured Cream and it tastes as interesting as it looks.
By the end of this week, I would have had Niland’s famous lemon tart four times now. It is definitely a strong contender for one of the best tarts on the scene with a curd that is as creamy as it is, well, tart. The pastry speaks for itself, being incredibly thin yet able to hold its own without getting soggy from the filling. There was one visit where I felt it wobbled just a tad too much and could have had a couple more minutes to firm up, but flavourwise it was no less delicious. This is just my way of putting my hand up for the volunteer position of quality control girl.
I was part of a conversation recently where each participant lamented our lack of visits to a particularly good restaurant in Sydney, primarily because the menu had literally not changed since our first visit over three years ago. I don’t consider recipe development or menu design to be an easy feat so Saint Peter’s commitment to challenge themselves on the daily is impressive enough as it is. Coupled with the fact that it’s been a very, very long time that I’ve dined out and enjoyed every single dish I ordered immensely, Saint Peter has me, hook line and sinker.
Read my Saint Peter brunch review here.