A white plate is carried from the kitchen to a table at the front of the long, narrow restaurant. On it is a spanner-crab shell, resting on a block of salt. The shell has been emptied of flesh and scrubbed clean – by toothbrush. Inside there’s a pile of hand-picked crab meat above a pool of bright, coral-coloured sauce, made from the innards of the head of the same crab. Briny, creamy and rich, it tastes and smells of the ocean.
That’s what chef-patron Josh Niland wants.
“It’s all about singular focus, the best way that we can possibly do it,” he says.
His Oxford Street restaurant, a former sushi train, opened for its first brunch service last Saturday. Niland’s menus change daily, determined by which vegetables and (all-Australian) fish are available from his “guys” on any given morning. His vegetable guys are Chris and Julian Parisi at Waterside; Tim Johnston from the Blue Mountains; and Outback Pride for natives. His seafood guy is Tony Wearne, a buyer for Nicholas Seafood.
“My brief is [Wearne] sends me a text every morning and he says, ‘This is awesome’, and I cook it,” says Niland.
That might be a smoked ocean trout rillette, pink, buttery and topped with thin radish “scales”. Or a whole, butterflied Spencer Gulf herring, crispy-skinned and served with the head on and the bones removed. The menu will always feature a tart with either artichoke-based caramel and chocolate, or a simple lemon one, and bread by Brookvale’s Berkelo Bakery. Brunch will include sardines on toast, sea-urchin crumpets and Australian oysters.
He’s keeping it simple with the beverages, with an Australian-only wine list and filter coffee from Artificer. In the kitchen it’s just Niland and his sous chef Alana Sapwell (who has, according to Niland, worked at “everywhere that’s awesome” in Brisbane) and his 20-year-old apprentice, Ollie Penmit.
From the small, open kitchen, the trio overlook a minimalist restaurant. It fits 34 people, all seated along the wall-long banquette or at any of the few single tables. The space references its former lives, with exposed original convict bricks and Australian sandstone revealed after layers of drywall and false ceilings were removed in the renovation.
“By no means am I saying I’m the first guy to do it, [but] this is something that I’ve wanted to do for a really long time,” says Niland of the full-fish concept. “I think there are enough people out there fascinated by somebody doing something other than putting fish in a pan.”
362 Oxford St, Paddington
(02) 8937 2530
Wed to Fri 5.30pm–10pm
Sat 10am–3pm, 5.30pm–10pm
Sun 10am–3pm, 5.30pm–9pm