Sydney chef Josh Niland has been praised by diners and fellow chefs alike for his thought-leading waste-free approach to seafood. His flagship Saint Peter and newer ventures Charcoal Fish and Petermen are hits with Sydneysiders, and so too is Fish Butchery, his fishmonger-slash-takeaway shops in Paddington and Waterloo.
Last week he came in at number 32 in The Best Chef Top 100 list, selected by an international panel of food critics, journalists, photographers and other experts. His books The Whole Fish Cookbook, Take One Fish and the recently published Fish Butchery are bestsellers admired by the likes of Yotam Ottolenghi and Nigella Lawson. He’s done guest turns on the last four seasons of Masterchef Australia. And he’s about to move Saint Peter to its new location in the Grand National, Paddington.
If all of that wasn’t enough to keep the father of four busy, he also just opened a restaurant 6500 kilometres from home: Fysh.
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Located in the Singapore Edition, the swish hotel brand created by Ian Schrager (the hotelier, designer and developer who co-founded New York’s legendary Studio 54), Fysh is one of the year’s most hotly anticipated openings in a city that knows its food.
When the restaurant is fully operational, it will seat 154 diners across a main dining room, a leafy conservatory and a courtyard. (Though the hotel is currently welcoming guests, it’s officially “in preview”, with its grand opening slated for January.) The hotel was designed by architect Moshe Safdie, who is also behind two of Singapore’s most recognisable landmarks: Jewel at Changi Airport (famous for the world’s tallest indoor waterfall) and Marina Bay Sands. (Look up in the courtyard to see the Singapore Edition’s own skybridge pool.)
The cavernous room is dominated by a work behind the bar by British painter Christian Furr: a 3x4-metre acrylic and oil painting on canvas that resembles a tapestry, which is a fictional depiction of early settlers arriving in Singapore in the 19th century. Booths line one wall and a communal table sits in the middle of the room.
When it was first announced that Niland would be opening a restaurant in Singapore, it was touted as a “seafood steakhouse”. Two weeks before the opening, Niland told Broadsheet, “Tuna is my cow, my beef”. Now, he calls it a “growing concept" and says, “We’ll get closer to identifying ourselves over the next few months.”
But Niland has always referenced meat, even when working with seafood. He serves fish schnitzels, Wellingtons, charcuterie and sausages, and his shops are called butcheries, not fishmongers.
At Fysh he continues to champion sustainable, humane fishing. “There’s a lot of effort in terms of procurement,” he tells Broadsheet. “I know exactly where it’s from and who it’s from.”
He works with sustainable suppliers like Fins, which sources its produce from across Western Australia. Fish are not just line caught, but land on mattresses instead of hitting the deck, preventing bruising that could shorten their shelf life.
Niland’s waste-free approach is also in full flight at Fysh. The fish eyeball ice-cream and the cod bone flour used to make everything from tuiles to crockery (from third-generation Gembrook potter Sam Gordon) tackle the problem of offcuts. But Niland is also fighting the waste that comes with spoilage. He dries, ages and stores fish, extending the time it can be kept by weeks.
“It can go up to 21 days if I want,” says Niland, explaining that two weeks before the restaurant even opened he received 600 kilograms of fish from Queensland suppliers Heidi and Pavo Walker.
He’s also been getting the kitchen and front of house on board with his approach to fish so that they can share it with guests. “We’re removing all the friction and anxiety that people carry around fish and the connotations of odours and smells and visibility of fish,” he says.
Regular diners at his Sydney establishments will recognise familiar ingredients like Murray cod from Aquna, here dry-aged and served with smoked eel gremolata, and Mooloolaba yellowfin tuna presented like a beef steak with classic condiments, as well as the cheeseburger made from tuna offcuts (on the lunch menu) that is served at Charcoal Fish.
But, in a departure from his typical sea-based focus, Fysh is also plating up meat grown on land (“Not to use the F-word too much,” quips Niland). Quail comes from NSW’s Game Farm (“30 minutes from where I grew up”), and a fellow Aussie, Dave Pynt from Burnt Ends in Singapore, helped him source chicken from a farm in Malaysia. His pasture-fed beef comes from Little Joe in southern Australia.
He brushes off the surprise that some people have expressed about his turn to meat. “Nobody seems to know that I’ve been a chef for 20 years,” he says, laughing. It’s not even his first time opening a hotel restaurant; at the beginning of his career he was on the opening team at Luke Mangan’s Glass Brasserie in the Sydney Hilton.
In Singapore he has the support of a solid team. Head chef Luke Cawsey worked with Niland for three years and has Rockpool and Ursula’s, as well as Villa Frantzen in Bangkok, on his CV. Pastry chef Alex Chong is a local hire. “We’re very spoiled to have Alex Chong,” he says. “You identify talent and you realise how good he is.”
Back in Sydney, Niland also has his hands full. “We’re about to move Saint Peter into its new property in the next two months, so that will be a big undertaking,” he says. In Paddington’s Grand National pub, Niland and wife Julie Niland are opening a boutique hotel with 14 guest rooms upstairs, as well as the new Saint Peter, which is set to open in February.
Before then, he’ll be back in Singapore for the official launch of the restaurant. “I really want to stand out as being something unique and different and something that you will make the effort to come up Cuscaden Road to try,” he says.