Some kind of magic happened in the kitchen of the now-defunct Fish Face under the guidance of owner/chef Steve Hodges. Every chef I’ve seen who came through that kitchen, treats seafood with the utmost respect. Six years on, I can still remember the taste of Zac Sykes’ (now at North Bondi Fish) bouillabaisse at the (also obsolete) Capital Grill. I suspect I will remember Josh Niland’s Nelson Bay Broadbill ($36) for equally as long.
The swordfish arrives nude, lewd and well seasoned - looking every bit like a raw fillet of fish. It's presented on a golden bed of Zuni Café-style pickle, turned yellow by turmeric, and nicely pungent with mustard powder and seeds. It'll wipe any memory of dry, chewy swordfish out of your head – and I'll bet you’ve never had it cooked on only one side before.
Somewhat cruelly though, you may not be able to eat it, because the menu here changes daily, starting with an early morning text indicating what the fisherman have retrieved. Don’t despair though – all fishes Niland touches turn to gold – using a combination of great produce, excellent technique and a static cool room (no air) that doesn’t dry out the fish. He'll even get you loving liver, perhaps as Kiama John Dory Liver on Toast ($16). Presented on toast, still pink in the centre against a parsley garnish, this liver is rich and buttery, yet also mild and fractionally sweet - rather like the fish itself.
Housed in the site of the former Toko sushi train, Saint Peter is narrow and kept quite bare - bricks and sandstone are the only adornments. The wall-long banquette has tables so close you’re forced to get intimate with your neighbours. That’s not always a bad thing – after bonding over an awkward need-to-visit-the-bathroom table tango, our neighbours shared their Salt & Vinegar Onion Rings ($10). They’re super-crunchy and tangy with vinegar, transporting me straight back to childhood memories of paper-wrapped fish and chips. I’ll order my own bowl next time.
We start our meal with tiny blue pearls of Shark Bay scampi caviar sitting on a Bells Island Rock Oyster ($4.50/each, $18.50/with caviar). It’s my first taste of the vividly blue caviar, and it feels like I'm swallowing ocean. I’m not convinced it’s worth the spend until I try a second oyster plain, which allows me to see what the caviar was doing to heighten the oyster’s sea-like characteristics. Swirling the 2015 Ministry of Clouds Chardonnay ($15/glass) from Tasmania around my mouth, I wish I could do my first oyster over, so as to appreciate it better.
Wine is also a strong suit here, with an interesting all-Aussie list advanced by knowledgeable floor staff. The 2015 Mac Forbes ‘EB20’ Chenin Blanc ($85/bottle) is elegant with enough power to punch through some of the more full flavoured dishes, like Salt & Vinegar Ulladulla Blue Mackerel and White Cucumber ($14). With lots of ripe white peach, this may not be your typical chenin blanc, but for a first crack at the varietal, it's terrific! Be sure to mop up the tasty light green pool of oil with Berkelo Malt Sourdough ($4.50/each).
Fairy Meadow Albacore ($20) is another surprise. This pale tuna is usually passed over by diners in favour of the deeper hued Yellowfin, but with fig leaves, and sweet and sour beetroots, it scrubs up a treat.
Opened at the table for an element of drama, Grilled Tasmanian Half Shell Scallops ($6) are bathed with a shellfish dressing.
Eden Wild Kingfish ($39) is grilled and served gloriously pink – another simple treatment – against a tangle of young leeks and Saint Peter chutney.
Even a side of Witlof ($14) with apricots, macadamia and vanilla seems pitched to accentuate the simple goodness of a handful of high quality ingredients.
There’s something about the singular focus of this restaurant – you won't find meat or vegetarian dishes - that really appeals to me. Fish sometimes gets lost for me on menus where I’m blessed with too options, and even when I do choose fish, all too often I head for the obvious hits. Saint Peter is definitely somewhere you could come to make good on your intention to eat more healthy, sustainable fish.
362 Oxford Street, Paddington
Ph: (02) 8937 2530