TA­BLES Mak­ing waves

Chris­tine McCabe vis­its a tiny cafe on the Goolwa water­front

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

HIS year could spell make or break for South Aus­tralia’s ail­ing Coorong and lower lakes sys­tem, a sce­nario not lost on din­ers at the re­cently opened Aqua­caf. Set water­front — for the mo­ment — in the old Mur­ray River port of Goolwa, just past a tiny yacht club be­lieved to be the old­est in Aus­tralia, this jaunty eatery com­mands sweep­ing views of the re­ced­ing wa­ters, flecked here and there with black swans and cruis­ing pel­i­cans.

The lat­est ven­ture of chef Jor­dan Theodoros, Aqua­caf rep­re­sents a dra­matic de­par­ture from the com­plex, fre­quently bril­liant, food he cre­ated at Ade­laide’s Melt­ing Pot. Here the small, sim­ple and largely seafood menu is more in keep­ing with Goolwa’s sta­tus as the first Cit­taslow (slow city) to be named out­side Europe.

And Theodoros’s fans have been quick to fol­low him to the Mur­ray Mouth, for on this sur­pris­ingly grey and chilly sum­mer’s day, with rain threat­en­ing (if only), the tiny, ram­shackle cafe is over­flow­ing. Ta­bles spill from the crowded main room where the open kitchen hisses and clangs to a wooden deck and down again on to a small ter­race.

Su­per-ef­fi­cient and friendly staff move briskly through the es­padrille-shod crowd. No sooner have we sat on the ter­race than the menu and wine list are pro­duced. Mo­ments later we’re quaffing a glass of 2005 El­iza Padth­away sparkling ($8) and watch­ing wind­surfers skirt an omi­nously ex­pand­ing sand­bar.

Spe­cials to­day are lo­cal cock­les or pipis ($23.50), a main­stay of the Goolwa fish­ing in­dus­try. For decades hardy cock­lers have scoured the sands of Ninety Mile Beach, lur­ing th­ese tasty mol­luscs to the sur­face by means of a some­what ec­cen­tric dance dubbed the goolwa or cockle shuf­fle.

Putting aside thoughts of burly fish­er­men do­ing the twist, we tuck into a steam­ing bowl of the pink-tinged shell­fish, cooked sim­ply with peas and pars­ley, a de­li­cious evo­ca­tion of place.

The main menu is short, cheap as chips and de­signed to warm the cock­les of a sum­mer hol­i­day­maker’s heart: sal­ads, fish, baguettes and burg­ers.

But this be­ing a Theodoros op­er­a­tion, things are not en­tirely straight­for­ward. Sal­ads fea­ture the likes of al­monds, ly­chees and sheep’s milk fetta; chips are hand­cut; food is served not on plates but on cheese boards; and fish is en­cased in pas­try to form not a pie but a pasty.

Pasties are a grand South Aus­tralian tra­di­tion with roots in the Yorke Penin­sula’s rich Cor­nish her­itage. On the Fleurieu, how­ever, Theodoros has aban­doned the cop­per min­ers’ meat-and-veg ver­sion for leeks, ched­dar, fresh herbs and mul­loway ($17).

The re­sult is un­ex­pect­edly good: soft, flaky short­crust pas­try en­cas­ing large chunks of ten­der fish, with a lit­tle sharp­ness from the ched­dar and sum­mer fresh­ness from the herbs. The dish is ac­com­pa­nied by a driz­zle of dill and mus­tard dress­ing and pot of house-made tartare.

Mul­loway is a sea­sonal fish much prized by lo­cal an­glers and its pres­ence on the Aqua­caf menu is a re­minder of the rich his­tory of this place, a town of an­glers and boat builders where the coun­try’s old­est steel-railed line (the coast-hug­ging Cockle Train) pow­ers un­der steam to Vic­tor Har­bor.

While mains are served we watch an old wooden pad­dlesteamer take a turn near Hind­marsh Is­land, then tuck into pasties and chow­der ($16.50) — a brim­ming bowl of black mus­sels, cock­les, mul­loway, po­tato and speck — while our rav­en­ous sons make short work of the ex­cel­lent fried squid ($18), lib­er­ally scat­tered with chilli, and an old-fash­ioned burger ($12), hand­made with pork and beef mince and served with caramelised onions, fried

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