SEAFOOD SWEEP

Jane Cornes sam­ples taste of the trop­ics in WA’s fa­mous pearling port of Broome

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

DUSK has fallen on an­other pic­ture-per­fect Broome day, and the town’s favourite eat­ing places are do­ing a brisk post­sun­set trade. Broome’s growth as a tourist des­ti­na­tion has been im­pres­sive since the 1980s, when Bri­tish peer Lord Alis­tair McAlpine saw po­ten­tial in a scruffy, red-dirt set­tle­ment over­look­ing the spearmint wa­ters of Roe­buck Bay and spent tens of mil­lions of dol­lars re­al­is­ing his vi­sion to de­velop it.

McAlpine’s won­der­ful zoo, with its walk­ways and huge aviary, has long since been carved up and sold off as res­i­den­tial lots for those af­ter the pres­ti­gious Cable Beach post­code.

The zoo’s ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing has sur­vived and now houses the Old Zoo Cafe, its pretty deck bounded by the req­ui­site palm trees and koi-filled stream.

The town is un­der­go­ing an evo­lu­tion­ary process much like the one in West­ern Aus­tralia’s Mar­garet River 15 years ago.

There the ex­pan­sion of tourism and, with it, in­creas­ing num­bers of ed­u­cated palates es­tab­lished a sound com­mer­cial base on which good eat­ing places could sur­vive and flour­ish.

In Broome, a sim­i­lar process has en­cour­aged the emer­gence of and ever-in­creas­ing in­ter­est in lo­cal pro­duce, and the will­ing­ness of chefs to de­velop their skills, de­spite a tran­sient work­force that keeps ser­vice at the lower end of ac­cept­able.

Out at Twelve Mile, the land sur­ren­ders to pin­dan scrub, and Broome’s mar­ket gar­den­ers grow man­goes, paw­paw and other culi­nary ex­ot­ica, much of which finds its way into the town’s best restau­rants. Mango wine is avail­able, as is fresh galan­gal and or­ganic pak choy.

Not that the dap­per north­west town­ship can com­pete with Noosa just yet. De­spite the growth, Broome is still very much a fron­tier town. Any­thing that can­not be grown here is freighted in from Perth and con­se­quently very ex­pen­sive.

Restau­rant staffing can also be a prob­lem. Nancy Gib­son, a well-known chef who has owned sev­eral of the town’s best restau­rants, says she has trained new wait­ers only to have them sud­denly move on. She has since left the restau­rant trade but di­rects me to Mil­ton Comino of Roe­buck Seafoods, the source of lo­cal fish, a pas­sion of Gib­son’s when she was a restau­ra­teur.

Comino, a for­mer cray­fish­er­man with a crusty sense of hu­mour, op­er­ates two fish­ing ves­sels and sells the town’s only lo­cally caught fish.

At Comino’s mod­est re­tail out­let, at 953 Port Drive, be­side Broome Wharf, the trop­i­cal species glis­ten­ing in the cold cabi­net — bar­ra­mundi, dhu­fish, gold­band snap­per — were caught just hours ago. Comino also sells less well-known species such as queen­fish, black dhu­fish and bluenose salmon.

‘‘ We catch them each morn­ing and fil­let them out the back. You don’t get much fresher than that,’’ he says with a touch of pride.

Noodle­fish, at 6 Ham­mer­s­ley St, of­fers what chef and owner Ste­fan Mitchell calls ‘‘ kerb­side din­ing’’. Noodle­fish serves the most con­sis­tently in­ter­est­ing and wellex­e­cuted mod­ern Asian fare I’ve tasted in the state. Mitchell sources all his fresh fish from Comino and es­pe­cially likes threadfin salmon, which he grills and serves with a spicy green paw paw salad.

Other high­lights here are the twice­cooked sichuan duck and grilled east-coast fish triple tail with salsa verde.

Good din­ing Broome-style does not trans­late into fine din­ing. Guests at Noodle­fish of­ten strug­gle with in­ad­e­quate ser­vice, drink their wine from wa­ter tum­blers and sit so close to the road that pass­ing traf­fic can drown out con­ver­sa­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Mitchell, this is just how it is in Broome.

Next door at Aarli Bar, on the cor­ner of Fred­er­ick and Hamer­s­ley streets, din­ers sit be­neath the but­ter­milk blos­soms of a spread­ing frangi­pani tree, screened from pass­ing traf­fic by palms, cro­tons and other ex­otic green­ery.

Whole lo­cal fish are a spe­cialty (chef/ owner Nick Wendland is an­other Comino fan) and a good range of tapas-style share plates (fat field mush­rooms ooz­ing gar­licky but­ter, crunchy green beans with oregano and fetta, fe­lafels with minted yo­ghurt) are on of­fer. Break­fast here is the best in town. As a bonus, a range of sprouted-grain, spelt and wholegrain breads baked by Gib­son are some­times on sale in the court­yard on Satur­day morn­ings.

One of the plea­sures of the town’s din­ing is its lack of pre­ten­tious­ness. At Cafe Carlotta, in Jones Place, Old Broome, own­ers Mic What­ley and Char­lotte Brown live up­stairs from their large court­yard din­ing area. There is no busier place to eat in Broome. The lo­cals clearly rel­ish the laid­back at­mos­phere and the way What­ley and Brown en­gage with their pa­trons. It feels like be­ing one of the fam­ily.

There is a wood-fired oven, and at least one house-made pasta is al­ways on of­fer. Cafe Carlotta also has a liquor li­cence.

And there’s al­ways nearby Cable Beach’s 22km ex­panse of pale sand to beckon those who’d rather pick up a cool white wine from the town’s well-stocked bot­tle shop, watch the camel rid­ers pass and toast the Kim­ber­ley sun­set in true Broome style. www.broomewa.com www.broomevis­i­tor­centre.com.au

Nice slice: An ex­otic fruit plate, above left; the best break­fasts are at Aarli Bar, top; Noodle­fish boasts mod Asian fare, above right

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