Julie and Josh Niland, the power couple behind Sydney's all-fish restaurant Saint Peter and its scale-to-fin retail store Fish Butchery, are set to open a new fish-and-chip shop celebrating a single fish species.
Charcoal Fish in Rose Bay, in Sydney's eastern suburbs, combines two very Australian takeaway experiences: the charcoal chicken shop, and the fish and chippery. The centrepieces of the kitchen are the rotisserie and charcoal grill, while the menu will predominantly serve one type of fish: the Aquna Murray cod, a variety of the native freshwater fish, farmed in open ponds on the Murray-Darling Basin in Griffith. (Commercial fishing of Murray cod is currently banned in the Murray-Darling.)
This particular breed of fish is prized, says Josh, for its clean, sweet-tasting flesh. "There's a stigma around Murray cod. It's sometimes referred to as having a muddy taste." As the fish nose their way through the bottom of the estuary waters they absorb geosmin, a chemical compound present in organic matter in the water, resulting in that unmistakable earthy scent. But the farmed Aquna Murray cod are a different kettle of fish, says the chef and author of the James Beard award-winning The Whole Fish Cookbook. "They're elevated off the base of the water, suspended in nets, and [this results] in a distinct sweet, bone-white flesh."
As per the chicken shop experience, the chargrilled Murray cod comes by the quarter, half or whole fish, filleted, butterflied, and served with pickles, baps and chips. The fish and chips, meanwhile, equals battered Murray cod on the bone with pickles, yoghurt tartare and chips. Just don't expect to pay less than $30 for the experience.
"Fish and chips, for us, carries the worst food cost amongst all our dishes," says Josh. The batter, for example, is loaded with vodka (the high alcohol content results in a crisper coating), and there's the high labour cost associated with breaking down the whole fish, and scrubbing and slicing the potatoes.
"We're trying to say that fish shouldn't be seen as a commodity. It's about appreciating the very valuable asset we have, as it's not going to be around forever," says Josh. "If I were to serve $15 fish and chips, the next person will sell $14 fish and chips, and so on. Anybody can cook cheap fish."
And the Nilands' all-in-even-the-fin DNA remains. They're aiming to use up to 92 per cent of the cod throughout the menu: rotisseried cod flesh will be stuffed into bread rolls with fish-skin crackling and gravy made from the heads, frames and fins; fish collars will be turned into "wings" and served with a tamarind hot sauce. The fish fat, meanwhile, will be used to roast potatoes and in that famous Murray cod fat caramel ice-cream, while offal will be re-routed to Fish Butchery and Saint Peter to be turned into fish charcuterie. The gills and gall bladder will be the only discarded parts of the animal. "Gills are void of any flavour, and gall bladder is as offensive as it sounds," says Josh.
The shop will predominantly operate on a takeaway model, with about 14 counter stools for dine-in customers. And though he's yet to announce its head chef, Josh and Fish Butchery manager Rebecca Lara will oversee the culinary direction of Charcoal Fish.
"This isn't Saint Peter takeaway," says Niland. "At Fish Butchery and Saint Peter, we've been celebrating diversity in fish species since we've opened [...] But by being diverse and dynamic with just the one species, hopefully consumers will interact with fish more meaningfully rather than just cutting the fillets off."
Charcoal Fish is set to open in late June 2021.
670 New South Head Rd, Rose Bay, NSW
670 New South Head Rd, Rose Bay, NSW