In­side Aus­tralia’s first fish butch­ery

Chef Josh Ni­land, of Saint Peter fame, is trans­form­ing the way the world catches, cooks and eats seafood.

Qantas - - QSPIRIT. - Story by ALEXAN­DRA CARL­TON Pho­tog­ra­phy by CHRISTO­PHER PEARCE

When Aus­tralia’s first fam­ily of fish, chef Josh Ni­land and his wife and busi­ness part­ner, Julie, an­nounced plans to open a shop called Fish Butch­ery (fish­butch­ery.com.au) down the road from their suc­cess­ful restau­rant Saint Peter in Syd­ney’s eastern sub­urbs, some peo­ple weren’t happy. “I got all these an­noyed emails from ran­dom peo­ple and even from a few elite food peo­ple,” says Ni­land, a man of quiet pas­sion and unerring po­lite­ness – one of the last peo­ple you’d ex­pect to be the tar­get of an­gry rants. “They said I shouldn’t call it a butch­ery, that it was stupid.” Butch­ers, he says with a smile, are meant to be syn­ony­mous with meat and that’s that.

The haters must be eat­ing their hats be­cause the el­e­gant, nar­row store the Ni­lands opened in April is, with­out doubt, a butch­ery for fish. A seven-me­tre grey mar­ble bench runs its length. Staff haul sides of yel­lowfin tuna and ocean trout onto its cold sur­face to sur­gi­cally de­con­struct the car­casses into fil­lets or chops on the bone. In a re­frig­er­ated glass cab­i­net at the en­trance, chunky fish sausages, sword­fish ba­con and heavy sides of Ber­magui mir­ror dory and Mooloolaba al­ba­core tuna are sus­pended from butch­ers’ hooks.

An­other dis­play case book­ends the mar­ble bench, hous­ing a sin­gle spec­i­men of each type of fish avail­able that day; some whole, oth­ers sculpted into fil­lets. “‘Monger’ lit­er­ally means ‘deal­ing in a spe­cific com­mod­ity’,” ex­plains Ni­land. “We do that but we’re also phys­i­cally labour­ing over the fish. We’re turn­ing it into sausages and ter­rines and pies.” Fish, Ni­land wants the world to un­der­stand, is the new meat. And he’ll butcher it if he wants to.

It’s an idea the 29-year-old chef has been con­sid­er­ing since he per­fected his han­dling of flat­head and floun­der at the now-shut­tered Fish Face in Dou­ble Bay. He wants peo­ple to re­alise that cook­ing fish doesn’t have to be daunt­ing. Fish Butch­ery cus­tomers are en­cour­aged to ask ques­tions – “How do I cook this?”; “If I like snap­per, what other types of fish might I en­joy?” And every spec­i­men can be cut to order for a spe­cific recipe, just like at a reg­u­lar butcher. “We send peo­ple home with a piece of fish and we tell them the best course of ac­tion to cook it, ” says Ni­land. “If they lis­ten and fol­low that to a tee, they come in and say, ‘That was so good!’ If, as a cus­tomer, you find your­self hav­ing a good time with fish, I think you’ll come back.”

But Ni­land has big­ger plans than sim­ply help­ing home cooks over­come their lack of con­fi­dence about fish; he wants to see chefs take a more face-to-fin ap­proach to cook­ing fish, us­ing of­fal such as the liver and roe for cre­ativ­ity’s sake and to re­duce waste. “Fish in the Western world is ex­tremely un­tapped,” he says. “I’m fas­ci­nated that you can do just about any­thing to a fish that you can do to a [land] an­i­mal.”

He’d also like to en­cour­age all of us to eat fewer main­stream species to re­duce over­fish­ing. In other words, he has weight­ier mat­ters to con­sider than spats about the Fish Butch­ery’s name. “My in­ten­tion isn’t just to have a lit­tle fish restau­rant with a fish shop down the road,” he says. “I want to make an im­pact glob­ally. We need to be get­ting into big­ger is­sues.”

A dis­play cab­i­net at the en­trance mim­ics a tra­di­tional butcher’s shop win­dow (above); chef, fish­mon­ger and res­tau­ra­teur Josh Ni­land

Fil­lets are cut to order, as with this Mackay wild bar­ra­mundi (above); cus­tomers are en­cour­aged to try new fish prod­ucts

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