“One thing I love about fish is the romance of the season,” says Josh Niland, James Beard-winner and one half of the couple behind game-changing all-seafood fine diner Saint Peter and its sister store, Fish Butchery. “There are fish you can enjoy in the spring, but not winter, and others in summer, but not autumn. The problem with seasonality, though, is you can’t offer consistency.”

To solve that problem, Josh and his wife and business partner Julie Niland are celebrating just one native Australian fish at their new casual eatery, Charcoal Fish: the Murray cod. Chosen for its tender flesh, sweet flavour and robustness on a charcoal grill, Murray cod is the ideal fish to help achieve Niland’s vision of extending the idea of the charcoal-chicken shop to fish.

“The ease and accessibility of a charcoal-chicken shop is something that needs to happen in the world of fish,” Niland tells Broadsheet. “As a father of three, being able to take my kids to get a roast chicken and a salad and having it not cost a fortune is massive. I want fish to be accessible in the way chicken is.”

For anyone with a charcoal-chook shop on their high street, the menu at the new Rose Bay diner will feel familiar. Takeaway – and after lockdown, eat-in – options include whole, half and quarter Murray cod fillets with pickles, baps and chips. There’s barbequed cod fillet; bread rolls stuffed with rotisserie cod, gravy, skin and stuffing; cod-collar “wings”; and fish’n’chips.

As charcoal chicken is brined, Niland’s cod is aged for a week. “Ageing conditions the skin so when it goes onto the barbeque, it crackles almost like pork, and the flesh stays tender.”

Using an entire, responsibly sourced fish is also about waste minimisation, a big part of Niland’s philosophy. Cod collars grilled over charcoal and brushed with tamarind and fermented Scotch bonnet sauce are a proxy for hot wings. Gravy is made from heads, frames and fins. Offal is made into charcuterie for retail and the restaurant. And roast potatoes are cooked in the fish’s fat.

Although Charcoal Fish is about bringing fish to the masses, it does sit more on the upscale end of the spectrum than your average roast chook shop. And don’t expect to find sides like roast carrots or scalloped potatoes. Seasonal sides might include grilled leeks and green garlic; grilled bullhorn and Turkish peppers; kohlrabi remoulade; and radicchio with grilled grapes.

Cocktails, such as the Saint Peter Martini (Tanqueray gin, Ketel One vodka, trout roe, banana, sake) and the Charcoal Fish Old Fashioned (rye whisky, Murray cod-fat salted caramel, burnt beetroot skin), are by Re–’s Matt Whiley, and the wine list is all Australian.

Looks-wise, though, it does resemble a charcoal-chicken or fish’n’chip shop. Menu screens hang above the handsome marble-topped counter, where fresh salads and hot sides sit behind glass cases. Stools and counters have been installed behind bi-fold windows to accommodate dine-in customers once lockdown lifts.

The Nilands’ businesses have fared well during lockdown. Saint Peter is doing Mr Niland at Home meal kits and Fish Butchery continues to run as normal. But it’s not business-as-sort of-usual that’s given Niland the confidence to open a new venue right now.

“I believe in this so much. I want people to have more fish in their diets, for the next generation to eat more fish. Eventually I’d love to see Charcoal Fish in different suburbs. I mean, it’s all about a consistently beautiful piece of grilled fish, salad and veg. Who needs anything more for a weekday dinner?”

Charcoal Fish
670 New South Head Road, Rose Bay

Hours
Wed to Sun 12pm–3pm, 5pm–8.30pm

charcoalfish.com
@charcoal.fish
@mrniland

Greater Sydney is currently in lockdown and movement and mask restrictions apply. Residents aren’t able to travel outside their local government area (LGA), or further than five kilometres from their home if leaving their LGA. Masks must be worn in all indoor and outdoor public settings, and hospitality venues are open for takeaway only. Stay up to date on current restrictions here.