Foodies are anticipating the start of summer because it means purple sea urchin will be on menus again. love.fish at Barangaroo will be serving the delicacy, otherwise known as uni in Japanese cuisine or the ocean’s butter.
Owner Michelle Grand-Milkovic expects to go through 40 kilos of live urchin a week.
“Always a favourite with tourists, it has really been embraced by local diners too,” she says. “During the winter months, purple urchin is off-season spawning, so we only have red urchin. In December, purple urchin is back. It is considered to be superior in both flavour and texture.”
Fisherman, Greg Finn who hand harvests the NSW sea urchin for love.fish, would choose purple over red urchin.
“Purple urchin harvested on correct algae offers a bright yellow roe, less sweet than red urchin, though offering a slightly creamier texture,” he says.
“They are higher yielding in roe content and are ripe for harvest during summer and autumn through to early winter.
“The harvesting and consumption of purple sea urchin is doing the marine environment a favour.”
Once considered a marine pest, sea urchins are now a delicacy; they are sustainably harvested, with no bycatch which is why it fits in with love.fish’s philosophy of serving sustainable, local seafood. At love.fish, Greg’s catch can be in the restaurant within 8 hours, so fresh the spines are still moving. It’s directly ocean to plate.
Executive chef Michael Milkovic is smart enough to not mess with it.
“We are serving it simply. Freshly shucked and served with lemon, salt and bread to let the salty, sweet and umami flavours shine,” he says.
“We also prepare a unique taramasalata where we use sea urchin in place of the traditional cod roe. It is more subtle and a good introduction to urchin for those who haven’t acquired a taste for it yet and we serve it with rye toast and baby vegetables.”
The summer menu at love.fish is a lighter, brighter version of the restaurant’s offering.
Instead of serving sardines braised in tomato sauce on toast as they would in the cooler months, the Port Lincoln sardines are cured with salt and dressed with a vibrant dill oil.
The consumer appetite for fish goes up at the wrong time of year, so it’s important to look for species that are at their peak.
“Fish-wise it’s tricky, because fish are at their best in winter,” Michelle says.
“It’s the dilemma with seafood. Demand lowers in winter and people want to eat more of it in summer.”
To combat this problem, love.fish talks to its seafood supplier daily about what is coming in, where it’s from, how its caught and what is best to eat right now.
“School prawns are in peak season and they’re the perfect summer snack; sweet, salty, crunchy and perfect with a drink by the harbour,” Michelle says.
“In winter, they’re a bit too large and lose that sweetness you’re looking for.
“At the moment we’ve got a stunning grey mullet from NSW, which is an underutilised local fish and beautiful Corner Inlet garfish from Victoria on our specials menu.”
Customer favourites, some of which have been available for nine years, will always have a place on the menu such as the salt and pepper southern calamari with chorizo powder and wasabi mayo, panko-crumbed salmon hash cakes with baby peas, dill and aioli and the best Brussels sprouts in town – flash fried with caramelised carrot and black bean.
About 75 per cent of what Australians consume is imported seafood. If you buy it retail, the country of origin has to be labelled, but the same rule doesn’t apply to restaurants.
“Chances are if a venue goes to the expense of buying Australian fish, it will be listed on the menu,” Michelle says.
“We have always listed the provenance of all our seafood. After nine years our patrons trust and rely on us to make the right choices for them. We should all choose Australian seafood.”