A new take at Fish Face

By Catherine Norwood

Chef Josh Niland with fresh John Dory – the cold room is beneath the tiny Fish Face restaurant and reached by taking the stairs down into the laneway.
Photos: Michelle Mossop

Sydney’s popular Fish Face restaurant has returned to its roots with Fish and Chips by Fish Face, a new take on Australia’s favourite takeaway. Order fish and chips here and you will not be walking away with a greasy battered fillet of indeterminate origin.

The fish and chippery maintains the reputation for excellence that Fish Face has developed under the direction of owner–chef Steve Hodges over the past 10 years, while the restaurant itself relocates from Darlinghurst to Double Bay, opening in November.

Chef Josh Niland, who worked with Steve Hodges several years ago after finishing his apprenticeship so that he could “learn how to cook fish”, will also be joining the new venture.

Still passionate about fish, Josh Niland has returned as a partner in the business and will take on the role of executive chef, overseeing all of Fish Face’s operations, including Fish Face Original and Fish Face Dining – two restaurants in one at the new Double Bay location.

Part of the new operation will retain the Darlinghurst cafe-style ambiance, with seating increased from 30 to 50. Added to this will be a bar and waiting area, separating Fish Face Original from the new Fish Face Dining, which will offer a more up-market dining experience, and room for another 50 diners. Each element of the business will offer a different dining experience, but all based on exceptional-quality sustainable seafood.

Sydney chef Josh Niland making vodka batter fried Pink Ling – the most popular dish at Fish Face, his small but perfectly formed restaurant in Darlinghurst. Crumbed shark clasper.

Josh Niland says he believes that fish has always played second fiddle in the general media to more glamorous, ‘user-friendly’ proteins such as pork, beef and poultry, but that is something he hopes will change.

“Cooking at Fish Face gives me the opportunity to educate not only myself and my kitchen team about the correct ways to cook, store and process fish but also the general public when they come and dine.

“I love fish for its fragility and vast array of species available to us in Australia. I am very passionate about Australian produce, especially wild Australian fish. We are so lucky as a country to have access to some of the world’s greatest marine life.”

Based at the fish and chippery for the time being, Josh Niland starts work at 10am, six days a week, to begin the preparation of fish for the evening rush. “I believe that when you buy a fish you buy all of it – the head, guts and scales – all still intact,” he says. “Water and direct contact of ice should be avoided at all costs throughout the whole process of cutting, scaling, gutting and storing.”

There are always at least eight species on the menu at Fish and Chips by Fish Face, and often a dozen or more. There are also four different cooking techniques, each matched to the fish on offer, to optimise the dining experience.

“Buying a fish whole gives you so many options: cooking the fish with the skin on, cooking it whole, searing the liver, salting its roe sacks, poaching its head, frying its scales, fish stocks and sauces, making salts out of the skin … the list goes on.

“When you have the best quality fish available it not only inspires you to handle and cook it with care and precision but to also ensure that what accompanies it is of an equally high standard. This is why so much testing was invested in our vodka, honey and beer batter and why I strive to have carefully considered garnishes chosen to match the flavour profile of each fish.”

When it comes to the fish and chips menu, he says that on the traditional takeaway nights, Friday and Saturday, they ensure the well-recognised and popular species such as John Dory and snapper are available. But earlier in the week there are opportunities to experiment with different, less well-known species and to try something new, with the support of Fish Face’s many dedicated regulars.

“When we get a new species we cook it in as many different ways as we can think of to find the best method for that fish. And often we will send out a piece of something new for our customers to try.

We’ve converted so many people to trying new species, whether it’s Ocean Perch, or Pink Ling, one of the different dory species or Shovelnose Ray, known locally as Shovelnose Shark.

“I love arriving at Fish Face every day and seeing what has been delivered, whether it’s Pink Ling from the market or our friend George giving us an excited phone call, saying ‘I’ve got some beautiful Blue-Eyes today … interested?’”

Appetite for Excellence

Josh Niland was a national finalist in the 2013 Appetite for Excellence program, and travelled to South Australia as part of the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation’s education program, which provides a first-hand understanding of Australia’s primary industries.

The six-day tour of South Australia started in Adelaide, heading out through the Adelaide Hills, then the Fleurieu Peninsula, the Coorong, and finished in the Barossa Valley. The highlight of the visit for Josh Niland was going fishing on the Coorong with local fisher Glen Hill.

This provided him with an insight into one of Australia’s most sustainable fisheries – and to taste fish as fresh as you can possibly get. 


Citrus dressing

By Josh Niland

This dressing is best served with raw fish dishes: John Dory, live scallops, Dusky Flathead and wild kingfish would all be excellent choices. Serve dressing at room temperature.

This dressing is best served with raw fish dishes: John Dory, live scallops, Dusky Flathead and wild kingfish would all be excellent choices. Serve dressing at room temperature.

Ingredients

  • 75ml lemon juice
  • 75ml lime juice
  • 100ml white soy
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 finger limes, pearls    
  • 1 pomelo segment
  • 2 lemons, zest and diced segments
  • 2 limes, zest and diced segments
  • 250ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 150ml grape seed oil

Instructions

  1. To prepare the base for the dressing start by adding the juice and zest from the lemons and limes to a bowl then mixing the white soy and sugar in to dissolve.
  2. Add diced segments of lemon, lime, and pomelo and finger lime pearls.
  3. After an hour, once the dressing has had a chance to develop, adjust with more sugar or white soy.
  4. Add the oils on top of the base and stir before spooning the dressing over the dish.