Josh Niland’s collection of prized line-caught delights are a limited catch, delivered with an intensified flavour born of unique dry-ageing and curing techniques.
You won’t find farmed or over-fished species at Sydney chef Josh Niland’s Fish Butchery. Rather, sustainable line-caught specialty gems hand-cut and presented in a central display cabinet that looks like it belongs in a museum: a collection of rare prized artefacts; its sliced and whole fish carefully arranged within their marble and glass cabinet. Possibly an ironic touch, given that much of the world’s fisheries are being desperately depleted of stocks. While in September this year it was confirmed none of Australia’s Commonwealth-managed fisheries were subject to overfishing for the fifth consecutive year, one has to question what the future might hold.
Showcasing the fish respectfully, perfect cuts are aligned within the display: Bermagui Mirror Dory, Mooloolaba Broadbill Swordfish, Hawkesbury Yellowfin Bream, Wollongong Snapper, Shoalhaven Blue Eye Trevalla, a Hervey Bay Shell Scallop, Murrumbidgee Murray Cod, Mackay Wild Barramundi and Mooloolaba MSC (Marine Stewardship Council Certification) Yellowfin Tuna belly and Mooloolaba Albacore. Whole Ulladulla Blue Mackerel and a Mooloolaba King Prawn drive the message home: Fish Butchery puts the spotlight on our local fisheries by choosing to sell only on what’s line caught and sustainable. It’s a refreshing approach and makes for a pleasing sales pitch.
Fish Butchery owner Josh Niland, aged 31, is one of Australia’s most highly respected and awarded young chefs. Getting his start at the age of 17 at Luke Mangan’s Glass Brasserie, Josh continued to perfect his craft at Sydney’s Quay restaurant and within Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck development kitchen in Bray, to name just a few. His Paddington restaurant, Saint Peter was recently awarded Top 3 place in the Financial Review’s Australia’s Top 100 Restaurants – 2018, and Josh himself was awarded Australia’s Top Chef in the same awards programme. While his training was born of his clever knack to mix with and announce his enthusiasm for cooking to chefs at the helm of some of Sydney’s biggest restaurants, Josh himself carries an air of individualism that inspires others. On the day we visit Fish Butchery, Duncan Welgemoed, chef of Adelaide’s Africola restaurant, dropped in to tour the premises and learn a few tricks; as we did. The key to this being Josh’s methods in dry-ageing fish, a technique that he’s perfected and is now famous for.
Josh explains that ‘fish with a high fat content works the best, as dry-ageing intensifies the flavour, value adding to a lesser valued fish like albacore tuna.’ As the flesh dries it compresses and squeezes the fat. We see it literally oozing from the grain of the albacore flesh. The albacore is enormous, hanging on a butcher’s hook inside a 0-2 degree Celsius static refrigerator – no fans, brining, or ice in sight. Here air can circulate freely around the fish without any residual moisture coming into contact with it. Josh explains that handling fish this way can add up to 12 days to its shelf life.
As well as fish cut to order and handed to the customer with advice on how best to cook it; Josh takes his dry-aged products a step further, producing cured and smoked fish. We take a seat at the butchery’s side table to sample the rich and complex offerings: broadbill swordfish bacon, smoked albacore and cured ocean trout. Each of these delights have a beautifully intensified colour and flavour and can be sliced to order and enjoyed on the spot. And while we highly recommend the experience, Fish Butchery also proudly delivers what could be described as Australia’s finest serve of fish and chips. No matter your preference, you’re assured of a great eating experience.
Unassuming, calm and much admired, Josh Niland with his ability to create, focus and deliver has spawned an urban treasure that significantly adds to Australia’s revolutionary food culture. Fish Butchery is a food icon that, thankfully in limited scale, shares rarities of the ocean that might one day otherwise be extinct. It could be considered an inspiring time capsule that is designed to be enjoyed right now. We strongly suggest you do.