Petermen Dining is the very latest addition to the Niland's small but mighty food empire. Josh and Julie Niland, the team behind Saint Peter in Paddington, Fish Butchery in Paddington and Charcoal Fish in Rose Bay are venturing into the North Shore with a 70-seater space in St Leonards. The restaurant offers a diverse selection of Australian shellfish, fish and vegetables through its a la carte menu that is designed to cater to groups small and large. So what is Petermen dining like and how does it compare to their other eateries?
We are one of the first to arrive at Petermen Dining, located on Chandos Street in St Leonards and the occasion is our anniversary dinner. It is 5:30pm on a Saturday night and Josh Niland is there standing at the pass watching the restaurant quickly fill in front of his eyes. The Nilands are known for their wildly successful restaurants and shops based around sustainable Australian seafood from restaurant Saint Peter in Paddington, shop Fish Butchery in Paddington and Waterloo to takeaway Charcoal Fish in Rose Bay.
Petermen Dining sees them heading to the North Shore with a larger restaurant concept. "Julie is originally from the North Shore and we have lived on this side for a number of years. We found a fantastic space and knew there was a desire from locals for more diversity in dining options," says Josh. "Petermen is vastly different from Saint Peter. Where Saint Peter seeks to challenge it's guests by showcasing the 'whole fish' in a tasting menu 18 seat offering, Petermen is a 70 seat space that offers a far more diverse selection of shellfish, fish and vegetables because it is a la carte. We wanted groups small and large to enjoy the extraordinary produce we have available here in Australia," explains Josh.
The name is a play on Saint Peter, patron saint of fishers and Petermen was the name given to them in the 1400s. The restaurant dining room is all about art deco curves, gauzy cream curtains and a bar and open kitchen designed by Julie with art works by artist Ken Done. The atmosphere is buzzy, like that of a bistro rather than the reverent hush of fine dining. The menu is broken down into oysters, preserves, starters, mains and sides. Most of the mains are designed to share and are priced for 2 or 4 people. Some come with sides, some not. Our waitress is friendly and recommends some dishes to us.
We start with two mocktails and I love how mocktails have evolved from a lemon, lime and bitters to the concoctions that we are seeing on menus today. While there are 4 cocktails or apertifis there are 7 low or no alcohol options. My choice is the Australiano with Lyre's Italian bitter orange, red plum, lilly pilly and a native citrus tonic that has an appealing sour flavour to it. Mr NQN loves his Garden View mocktail with Lyre's London dry gin, cucumber, dill, verjus, quandong and bubbles that is surprisingly sweet.
Our waitress recommended ordering the bread to soak up the juices from some of the entrees. The thick, fresh slices from Fiore Bead in McMahons Point do the job perfectly especially with the pipies and oils and we find that we don't even really need the cultured butter served in a scallop shell.
The preserving section has half a dozen items and was created as Josh's version of the tinned fish trend. The Flinder's Island scallops are lightly brined and then cooked gently in Bull's kelp oil, so gently that they retain a superbly luscious texture.
One of the hallmarks of Saint Peter was their use of as much of the fish as possible and the bonito is one such dish. Josh explains, "The bonito from South West Rocks is scorched with a hot piece of charcoal then thickly sliced and dressed with a soy that has been infused with the grilled bones of the same fish". Bonito is quite a robustly flavoured fish so it does stand up to the soy but once you dip some bread into the bone soy and oil to really taste the seasoning on its own.
Reportedly the dish that everyone seems to swoon for is the Coorong pipis. They come as a generous 300g serve so plenty for two people with a foamy pipi juice, garlic and white fennel broth. The broth is so good that it should really just come with a spoon because you will want to scoop it up and eat it. In lieu of a spoon (which really we could have easily procured because our waitress is very attentive) we dunk pieces of bread in it to soak it up.
Based on the number of trays of the Tuna Chateaubriand I see whizzing past me I feel for is the chef who is responsible for hand cutting all of the chips and it definitely looks like the most popular dish of the night. I was tossing up between this and the Coral Trout with peppers and chimichurri but these dishes are designed to serve 2 people. The tuna takes place of beef tenderloin and the menu details the provenance of the fish (Heidi and Pav Walker from Mooloolooba in Queensland) and comes as either a serve for 2 or 4 people. The serve for 2 has four round shaped thick centre cut loin fillets of tuna crusted with juniper, coriander and pepper and then roasted as a whole section at a low temperature then finished on the charcoal grill. It is then sprinkled with flaked salt and served with hand cut fries seasoned with kelp salt, bearnaise sauce and Peter Dryden's wild greens and garlic.
It is a beautiful cut of tender, melt in the mouth tuna although the fries could be hotter (I usually ask for fries to be extra hot, like "burn-my-fingers" hot) while I make fast work of the delicious wilted warrigal greens, spinach and purslane seasoned with anchovy, garlic and fermented onions. I do have a slight pang of missing out on the coral trout but then again I rarely order dishes designed for two as I like trying as much as possible. I should have perhaps ordered the tuna cheeseburger, a contender for best cheeseburger in Sydney, from the kid's menu just to satisfy my need for something else.
We were quite full so intended to split on dessert but I was intrigued by the choices. Both desserts we ordered aren't overly sweet and they're light enough to end off a big meal. While Saint Peter has 2 tarts by pastry chef Julie, Petermen has 5 desserts on offer. The most popular dessert in these early days is the verjuice apple tart with lightly burnt, paper-thin apple slices that are laid to resemble fish scales. The tart isn't overly sweet thanks to the verjuice and that's where the creamy, sweet and aromatic grilled vanilla ice cream comes in (note to self: try grilling vanilla at home).
I have always felt like fresh figs taste like coconut so I had to try the three milk cake. This is a take on the traditional Mexican tres leches cake with layers of sponge cake soaked in three milks (condensed, evaporated and St David's dairy milk) with a crème fraiche cheesecake-like filling between each sponge layer and coconut on top. On top there are jammy fresh black figs and on the side a quennelle of coconut, lime and fig leaf ice cream that is refreshingly moreish.
So tell me Dear Reader, do you like share main dishes for two or do you like to order separate dishes to try more? Which dish from the above stands out to you?
This meal was independently paid for.
66 Chandos St, St Leonards NSW 2065
Monday - Dinner from 5.30pm
Tuesday - Closed
Wednesday, Thursday & Friday - Dinner from 5.30pm
Saturday - Lunch from 12pm & Dinner from 5.30pm
Sunday - Brunch from 10am
Phone: (02) 8387 4836