Buy tickets to Josh Niland's Unrestricted Dinner at Maha here.
Sydney chef Josh Niland has a recipe for every part of a fish. Scales are boiled, deep-fried and seasoned to become a crunchy, salty snack. The heart is dried and cured and used as an umami-rich seasoning. Eyes – blended, mixed with tapioca starch, steamed, dried and then deep-fried – are transformed into delicious gourmet prawn chips.
Niland is on a mission to convince Australians that seafood is more than beer-battered fish fillets and barbequed prawns. Now, for the first time, Niland will bring his philosophy to Melbourne. He’ll appear at Shane Delia’s Maha in the CBD – for two nights only – as part of the Unrestricted Dinners series, hosted in partnership with luxury watch and jewellery retailer Kennedy. Each dinner in the series presents a bespoke menu which captures the chef's distinctive style, and features one dish inspired by the theme “Moments in Time”.
“I don't think I've ever done a collab with anybody,” says Niland of his appearance in the series. “Not because I don't want to, but because I've been busy trying to run my own ship. But Shane’s a lovely guy, and I’m really excited to do something with him.”
Starting out in cooking as a teenager in top Sydney restaurants such as Glass Brasserie and Est., Niland runs fish eatery Saint Peter, and Fish Butchery in Paddington with his wife, Julia. The pair offers a premium all-fish menu that hinges on Niland’s signature fin-to-scale philosophy and that celebrates Australian produce and wine.
It was during his time as head chef at Fish Face in Double Bay that Niland realised just how much of a fish was wasted in traditional cooking. It became his mission to use the whole fish – everything from bones to blood.
His unorthodox approach has earned him many admirers: Saint Peter is a 34-seat restaurant that serves 75 customers a night, which makes space an issue. “It’s a great problem to have,” he says – one he solved by opening the Fish Butchery 10 doors up from Saint Peter.
Delia is a massive fan of Niland’s revolutionary approach in the kitchen. Niland is “incredibly talented”, he says. “He’s at such an important stage of his career where he’s discovering new things about himself and the food that he cooks. It’s a privilege to have Josh with us. He’s a brilliant cook.”
At Maha, Niland will showcase what Saint Peter does best. The chef will serve plates of fish charcuterie – his signature ‘fish-ham’ which is smoked and glazed, as well as terrines and pâtés (“Anything we can produce using offal,” he says) – as well as the infamous eye chip, served with sea urchin, and a smoked eel and beetroot jam doughnut.
“We are doing a 20-day-aged, raw, diced tuna dish – it looks like steak tartar,” he says. Also on the menu are sweet and sour bonito, coral trout with eggplant and an offal XO sauce, and a dry-aged barbequed swordfish chop served with a tomato and peach salad.
This pioneering dry-ageing process for fish is similar to hanging meat, which promotes tenderness and flavour. He cuts the scales off a whole fish, guts it, puts a hook through its tail and hangs it in a fan-free, zero-degree cool room, so it doesn’t dry out and become leathery. Where a standard Spanish mackerel has around 70 to 72 per cent moisture content, Niland brings that down to around 39 to 40 per cent. “By removing half the fish’s moisture you’re promoting all of the fish’s natural oils and fat,” Niland says.
The maturation allows new flavours to develop. After 20 days, Niland says Spanish mackerel tastes like mushrooms, yeast and bread. “Kingfish will start to taste more like lemon – it will make your mouth water. It has this kind of natural acidity to it, which is really delicious.”
Delia is confident Niland’s cooking will leave a strong impression on guests lucky enough to snag a seat at the Maha dinners. “There’s nobody like Josh in Melbourne – there’s nobody else like that in Australia,” he says.
The fourth and final event in Kennedy’s Unrestricted Dinner series, featuring guest chef Josh Niland, takes place at Maha on November 12 and 13.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Kennedy, Australia's finest luxury retailer of the world’s most desired watches and jewellery. Kennedy provides a memorable experience for its clients with personalised service and exceptional product knowledge. Find your nearest Kennedy boutique.