I’m always a little bit suspicious of food that has been overly faffed around with.
Molecular gastronomy, 3 Michelin stars and any dish that comes with ‘Snow’ seem to be very long on cleverness and a bit short on love.
A.A. Gill observed in his Sunday Times article “Elizabeth David” in 1994, that all the world’s best Chefs are men, and all the world’s best cooks are women; and far from being a pejorative statement on the distinction between a chef and a cook, what he is referring to is love versus accomplishment. Nurture on a plate versus An Outstanding Achievement Award on a plate. With garlic snow.
So whilst many people might think that Alanna Sapwell of St Peter in Sydney’s deft ability on Masterchef comes under the moniker faffing, I thought it was just this side of showing off and consequently booked a table to celebrate my birthday and upcoming visit to Sydney.
Much has been written about the restaurant’s founder Josh Niland, the man is seriously talented. Much has been written about the name: St Peter, he was a fisherman before he was an apostle. Much has also been written about the pared back, convict-made brick walled restaurant on Oxford street. Diners who want award winning interior design to accompany their dinner seem to be missing the point to me. It all added up to someone who puts food and flavour first.
The menu at St Peter changes daily, sometimes twice daily. The fish is sustainably caught and selected to represent the very best of Australia’s seafood offerings, and the sheer magnitude of the respect for ingredients and abilities of the chefs at St Peter cannot be questioned.
The Berkelo malt bread and home churned butter were delightful; preceding two most accomplished entrees: The Ballina Spanner crab and the Yellowfin Tuna Tartare. The former was delicate morsels of crab, nestled into a pristine and surprisingly furry in places orange shell, accompanied by an intensely flavoured sauce made from the innards and roe, designed to be spooned onto delicate little puftaloons which were pikelet scone hybrids; a more authentic taste of the sea unimaginable.
The 15 day aged tuna from Mooloolaba, nestled in a fan of witlof leaves was rather overpowered by the sour onion, and though I liked the accompanying crispbread; news that it was made with leftover bread pureed and then fried was not met with universal appeal at the table.
The little one was ably catered for with Bermagui Pink Ling fish and chips, the batter crisp and dark (that would be the VB), and hand cut chips, skin on, that actually tasted of potato. As opposed to duck fat and hubris.
The mains arrived and it was explained to us, for the second time, that the fish was cooked under, and to eat from the spot on the outside of the plate inwards if medium rare fish was not to our taste. It was the first hint that a serious dedication to process in the kitchen might be taking the lead against pleasure in the race to my heart; I began to have misgivings.
The Woolongong Mirror Dory, reclining gently on a bed of perfectly roasted globe artichokes, draped in rocket and cress was quietly confident in its own achievements. The black touch of God was evident on the crispy skin, although the black spot on the plate, a guide to the rarer end of the fish was equidistant to the middle, so my instructions to eat from it in one direction seemed a little specious.
The flesh was firm and sweet but the skin was a noisome, triangle of despair. I called the waitress over to ask if I was in fact meant to eat it? She helpfully replied that her husband would wolf it down if he was here. I thought perhaps she might like to give him a call, because I wanted it off my plate and out of my life.
The Bundaberg Spanish Mackerel with Broadbill bacon and broad beans glistened with intent, the ‘slightly under’ thicker part of the fillet evident. The fish, again was cooked to perfection and the potatoes courtesy of Fabrice were satiny, but the much anticipated Broadbill bacon was ruinously salty and the whole dish had the rather unappealing aftertaste of old socks.
The salad of Blood Orange, homemade ricotta with mint oil felt like an act of internal sabotage. With torched skin, delicate slivers of my favourite citrus were arranged like scales over a creamy mound of cheese, dancing in virulent green puddles on the plate, it was our favourite dish of the evening.
We finished with the custard tart, which the little one wanted by way of comparison to my efforts. Unsurprisingly it too was perfect, yet strangely anemic and unsatisfying.
This is a kitchen with vision, celebrating Fish and the extraordinary variety of Australian Seafood in a way that is sensational and rightly lauded as one of the best in the world. The talent in the kitchen ricochets around the bare brick space as if it was the Hadron collider. But, people don’t go to restaurants for the food they go for the emotion that good food evokes in us, the feeling of being nurtured. We ventured home undeniably impressed, but with the gnawing feeling that we were superfluous to requirements, and the kitchen was so busy being clever that it rather forgot we were there, and why.