Sydney seafood restaurant Saint Peter has been shortlisted in the inaugural World Restaurant Awards, joining an impressive roster of international restaurants from France, Italy, Japan and Peru.
Saint Peter has been nominated in the awards' Ethical Thinking category, which recognises establishments making positives changes to food sustainability, community engagement or staff welfare. Head chef, co-owner and Gourmet Traveller's 2019 Chef of the Year Josh Niland insists the nomination is an acknowledgement of the whole team from Saint Peter and its sister shopfront, Fish Butchery. "It's a nomination for all of us," he says. "We are all pretty happy. I think the judges have understood what we do."
Since opening the restaurant in Paddington in Sydney's eastern suburbs in 2016, Niland has become Australia's culinary poster-boy for sustainable seafood. In three years, he's introduced us to lesser-known fish species rarely seen on restaurant tables (Maray! Moonfish!), adopted a scale-to-tail approach that embraces almost every part of the fish (yes to eyes, throats, bones and livers; no to gall bladders), and convinced us that sea urchin is acceptable at brunch.
Behind the scenes, Niland eschews the industry's cruel-to-be-kind treatment of kitchen staff. At his MAD Mondays talk in Sydney last year (a local spin-off of René Redzepi's food symposium), Niland revealed that he prefers to "keep things human". At one point this meant making the decision to employ more staff to ensure his employees had a better quality of life, the chef making up the costs by doubling down on reducing food waste. "People at Saint Peter have hobbies beyond eating and drinking themselves silly and sleeping all day," he said.
Saint Peter – which was also longlisted in the Original Thinking category – is facing some stiff competition in the Ethical Thinking cohort; it's joined by Copenhagen's Noma (champions of foraged seaweeds and experimental ferments) and Brighton's Silo (a zero-waste restaurant where staff make their own flour, butter and almond milk). For Niland, it's an honour to be on the shortlist. "It's a rollcall of our heroes," he says.
Australian chef and Thai-cuisine expert David Thompson, meanwhile, is the only other local still in the running for an award; he made the shortlist for the world's best Tattoo-Free Chef. Thompson finds himself pitted against fellow tatt-less industry veterans Clare Smyth and Alain Ducasse.Several Australian restaurants were acknowledged in the first round of nominations. Orana (Adelaide) and Attica (Melbourne) made the Ethical Thinking longlist, while Matilda (Melbourne) and Sydney's Poly and Lankan Filling Station made the first round for Arrival of the Year. Other local restaurants included on the longlists were Sydney's Firedoor (Atmosphere of the Year), Belles Hot Chicken (House Special, for their fiery fried chook), and Brae in Birregurra and Hobart's Franklin (Off-Map Destination).
This is the first year of The World Restaurant Awards, which appears to be billing itself as a more inclusive and progressive alternative to The World's 50 Best Restaurants awards. Co-founded by London food writer and editor Joe Warwick and Italian journalist and culinary impresario Andrea Petrini (and in partnership with international events company IMG), the judging panel comprises 50 men and 50 women from 36 different countries, and includes personalities such as David Chang, Massimo Bottura and Elena Arzak. The winners will be announced in an awards ceremony held in Paris in February.