TABLES On a deep-sea journey
Christine McCabe discovers a seafood cafe with a taste for the exotic on South Australia’s remote Eyre Peninsula
THREE hundred kilometres is a long way to drive for lunch, only to discover you should have made a reservation. Mocean Cafe Restaurant, set above the long town jetty in far-flung Streaky Bay on South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula, is buzzing. It’s midweek and we’re a long way from anywhere, yet this is a crowd large enough to make even a Sydney restaurateur smile.
Restaurants are pretty thin on the ground in this remote corner of Australia; the last we spied was at Coffin Bay about 260km back down the road and it was closed. Which wouldn’t be a problem if I didn’t have two adolescent sons in tow. The choruses of ‘‘ are we there yet?’’ and ‘‘ I’m starving’’ are reaching a crescendo as we cruise into Streaky, a remarkably pretty little town set on a broad bay fluttering with whitecapped waves.
We’re lucky to nab the last table in Mocean, joining a happy throng of holidaying families, local business folk and mums doing coffee and cake.
The luncheon menu is designed with all-day dining in mind and includes melts, yeeros and tapas plates as well as seafood and steak, while the dinner options are more grown up, with greater emphasis on an imaginative use of the Eyre Peninsula’s outstanding seafood.
We begin with a plate of local oysters, farmed by former wheat farmer Tom Evans in the bay we can see through the window, one of many people on this peninsula to make the move into aquaculture. Given the chilly weather, we decide to order the meaty molluscs kilpatrick ($15 a half-dozen, $21 a dozen). This oldfashioned dish is handled very well. The oysters are plump, sweet and spanking fresh, and the sauce is not the least bit overpowering, just sharp enough to warm the cockles.
Mocean’s decor celebrates its remote locale. The exterior is daubed with a colourful mural (an art form we’ve noticed in several towns on the peninsula); indoors, wooden floors, a high-pitched ceiling lined with hessian sacking and a jaunty bar clad in corrugated iron celebrate the Aussie rural vernacular.
Restaurant proprietors Margii Caldwell and her partner, Mocean chef Hardy Weyrauch, have a penchant for remote bush restaurants, having for the past six years been based at the Prairie Hotel in Parachilna in the Flinders Ranges.
They moved to the coast six months ago and,
Docked at the bay: Chef Hardy Weyrauch has plans for feral food of the sea at Mocean Cafe Restaurant bringing his expertise in feral and bush food with him, Weyrauch has dastardly plans to challenge the tastebuds of a local populace almost weary of the pleasures of dirt-cheap seafood, with scary sounding dishes such as stingray with sea parsley.
‘‘ Our menus are almost totally seafood oriented in the summer,’’ says Caldwell. ‘‘ But we need to include a variety of dishes. The locals don’t always want to eat fish when they go out; they catch that themselves.’’
Lucky them. Son No 2 is itching to drop a line but, unfortunately, the town jetty appears in danger of being swamped by a large swell (not surprisingly, the restaurant’s broad deck is completely deserted), so it’s back to the menu where beer-battered, line-caught King George whiting ($18) seems a good choice. And it is served with an excellent homemade tartare sauce.
The hot tapas plate ($16) includes generous serves of grilled chorizo and spinach and mushroom frittata, together with marinated mini ribs, olives, pesto and toasted ciabatta. Likewise the duck sausages ($14) are enormous, served on a great pile of sweet potato mash with a drizzle of blood plum glaze. Just the thing on a winter’s day and probably even better washed down with a glass of shiraz.
Unfortunately, though, we have another 100km to drive for dinner, so I’ll have to make do with simply reading the small wine list, which features a nice selection of South Australian reds and whites (including several by the glass). The Bundaleer shiraz ($6.50 a glass) is a reminder of Caldwell and Weyrauch’s