The 10 best seafood dishes in Australia, according to fish expert John Susman

The 10 best seafood dishes in Australia, according to fish expert John Susman
11/01/2018 Design Collision

The 10 best seafood dishes in Australia, according to fish expert John Susman

Article by: Necia Wilden
Source: Financial Review, 11 January 2018.

Some people get a kick from foie gras. Others will travel far for a sniff of truffle. But – with apologies to Cole Porter – I get a kick … out of uni.

And sashimi. And caviar. And oysters. And the whole damn seafood songbook, especially in the summertime. And especially now, when chefs around Australia seem to be catching on to the idea that seafood – and not just the upscale species – is the ultimate luxury food.

Hardcore Japanese, lobsters POA and grandiose seafood platters aside, it hasn’t always been that way. For whatever reason, until the price of fish started to soar (hello, lobster, prawns, King George whiting, flathead and co), we tended to take our ocean bounty somewhat for granted.

Not any longer.

“I think it’s an exciting time for seafood in Australia,” says the country’s leading seafood savant, John Susman, of the Sydney-based marketing agency Fishtales. “Probably the most exciting time I’ve seen in the 30 years I’ve been in the business.”

Susman cites three main drivers behind this sea change. First, he says chefs are making greater efforts to understand, source and serve fish of provenance, leading to a better appreciation of wild-caught seafood.

Second, a new generation of fish farmers is delivering world’s best quality in our aquaculture products, from the world’s first sashimi-grade barramundi from Humpty Doo Barramundi in the Northern Territory to Australia’s Oyster Coast appellation program and beyond.

Third, sustainability has become less of a cliché and more of an operating mandate as the nose-to-scale approach to cooking fish led by Josh Niland of Sydney’s Saint Peter leads to a renaissance of in-house butchery of whole fish and a greater willingness by chefs – and diners – to venture beyond the old tuna-salmon-snapper hegemony in favour of species for too long left on the shelf.

“We’re finally seeing a real celebration of what is caught and grown here,” Susman says.

And you can’t help but notice the difference on the plate. My top three seafood dishes of summer so far? Sea urchin roe, spanner crab & avocado at Fujisaki, in Barangaroo, Sydney; Coorong mullet with miso and green mango at fermentAsian in the Barossa Valley; and raw snapper with salted turnips and fish eggs at Longsong, Melbourne. Not a cliché among them.

To celebrate seafood’s new wave, Susman names 10 of his best-in-class dishes (in no particular order) from restaurants around the country.

1. Saint Peter, Sydney

Josh Niland’s extraordinary talent shines brightest when his dishes are simplest – grilled fish with a roasted vegetable and a lick of yoghurt, say. While the hipsters obsess over the ears, noses and throats that constitute Niland’s nose-to-scale approach, Susman says he is still the biggest fan of Saint Peter’s simple, classic and perfect dishes. 362 Oxford Street, Paddington. Tel: (02) 8937 2530. saintpeter.com.au

2. The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay, Sydney

Chef Colin Barker has spent over a decade chasing down the best oyster farmers in Australia and every day presents eight to 10 of the finest, from Moreton Bay to Albany and everywhere in between. Perfectly curated, perfectly handled, beautifully presented – the oyster platter here is one of the best in the world. 123 Ferry Road, Glebe. Tel: (02) 9518 9011. boathouse.net.au

3. Rockpool Bar & Grill, Perth

It might seem odd to nominate a steakhouse, but it speaks to Neil Perry’s passion for the briny stuff: all of the Rockpool Bar & Grill restaurants invest significant time and effort in sourcing the absolute best seafood available. In Perth, you can’t go past a simple piece of grilled coral trout. Likewise, in Melbourne, the whole roasted Corners Inlet rock flathead will remind you why RB&G is one of the great truly produce-driven restaurants. Crown Perth, Burswood. Tel: (08) 6252 1900. rockpoolbarandgrill.com.au/perth

4. Bacash, Melbourne

The deep-fried King George Whiting with tartare and pommes dauphine at owner and executive chef Michael Bacash’s restaurant could make a grown man cry. The fish is selected, handled and cooked in a way that makes the whiting scream, “I am the best eating fish in Australia.” 175 Domain Road, South Yarra. Tel: 9866 3566. bacash.com.au

5. Masuya, Sydney

Asking chef Toshi Oie for the omakase selection at the sushi counter of this Osaka-style sushi den ensures a piscatorial journey of wonder, from glimmering local squid – barely dead, sliced razor thin and served with the fermented gut of an older brother – to a range of tuna including aged local bigeye and yellowfin and the prized belly of a 200kg northern bluefin from Spain. In short – a range of the absolute best from the fish markets, where chef Toshi goes every morning (unlike certain other chefs who only see the markets if they’re being trailed by a TV camera). Basement level, 12-14 O’Connell Street. Tel: (02) 9235 2717. masuyainternational.com.au/en/masuya/

6. Ottoman, Canberra

Go while Parliament is sitting and there are sure to be seafood degustation options; perhaps Clarence River prawns, live NSW lobster, Port Phillip calamari, South Coast garfish – leave it to chef Serif Kaya and you’ll have one of the best simple seafood feasts in Australia. 9 Broughton Street, Barton. Tel: (02) 6273 6111. ottomancuisine.com.au

7. Kisumé, Melbourne

For “round-eye” sushi done with style, flair and chablis, it’s pretty hard to go past Chris Lucas’ Flinders Lane temple to mod Jap. The barbecued freshwater eel is quite a revelation, as is the charcoal double toro sushi. 175 Flinders Lane. Tel: (03) 9671 4888. kisume.com.au

8. Hellenika, Gold Coast

Restaurateur Simon Gloftis designs seafood dishes we want to eat all summer. His seafood restaurant Fish House, in Burleigh, set the benchmark in the Sunshine State for simple, beautifully cooked seafood. At Hellenika, while not strictly a seafood restaurant, Gloftis draws on his Greek heritage to hero a range of well-sourced produce, handling it with the care of someone who has true respect for seafood in their DNA. Don’t miss the lemony fish soup. 2235 Gold Coast Highway, Nobby Beach. Tel: (07) 5572 8009. hellenika.com.au

9. French Saloon, Melbourne

Ian Curley, described by Susman as “the grumpiest chef in the land”, presents the greatest caviar selection in the country, starring the best of domestic (Yarra Valley salmon roe) and imported (the beautiful Rossini-curated Sturgeon caviars). These are served on ice with mother-of-pearl spoons, blini and crème fraiche. Luxury, pure and simple. First floor, 46 Hardware Lane. Tel: (03) 9600 2142. frenchsaloon.com

10. Quay, Sydney

“The 16-course full enchilada is not normally my thing,” says Susman but the seafood offered by Peter Gilmore at Quay is always as unique as it is spectacular: the dish of fan-shelled razor clam with pig jowl and sea cucumber crackling will make you proud to be Australian. Overseas Passenger Terminal, The Rocks. Tel: (02) 9251 5600. quay.com.au