What a pearler
It’s oysters and more at beautiful Narooma
The world can be divided into three: people who love oysters; those who loathe them; and others who tolerate the molluscs as long as their taste and texture are smothered by cheese sauce and bacon.
That’s grossly unfair to category three, I know, and what’s not to like about “enhancers” such as a squeeze of lemon, a grind of black pepper or a vinaigrette with chopped shallots? But for a person bottle-fed on oysters (you remember those narrow bottles; the verb “to shuck” was not in polite family use at the time), this is the most “authentic” experience — I have arrived by seaplane from Rose Bay in Sydney at Wagonga Inlet in Narooma, on the NSW south coast; my group walks along the jetty to The Quarterdeck restaurant and is greeted with oysters, bountiful supplies of them, farmed metres away, harvested minutes before and shucked as we wait. Tilt head, place shell near lips, close eyes, down the hatch.
It is the eve of the Narooma Oyster Festival and our seaplane has brought a few culinary kingpins from Sydney including Colin Barker, chef at The Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay, who will conduct a cooking demonstration, and John Susman, chair of oyster judges at Sydney Royal Fine Food Show, who will supervise the shucking competition. We pull in at Nowra to collect chef Dave Campbell who brings on board our first oysters and a glass of bubbly from his Wharf Rd Restaurant, and provides commentary as we continue on the 370km journey down the splendid coastline.
There is much to be learned about oysters this weekend: the art of eating them, and other produce and wines they’re best paired with; and the science of how they are farmed and what influences their flavours. We sample three types: Sydney rock (always get my vote); Pacific (often too large and chewy for my liking, but the festival offerings are changing my opinion); and Angasi, a rare, flat-shelled native variety with a meaty taste.
Represented at the festival are farmers from what is now branding itself Australia’s Oyster Coast, from the Shoalhaven at Nowra to Wonboyn Lake, south of Eden.
Australia’s Oyster Coast is also the name of a company, with leading growers as shareholders, that selects premium product from the region and markets it to restaurants around Australia and exports to the world. Its selling line is “from the purest Australian waters”.
This clean, green recipe is behind the success of other farming ventures in the Eurobodalla. On festival eve chef Matthew Hoar has prepared a menu highlighting local produce at the restaurant in The Whale Motor Inn. Local oyster farmer David Maidment is shucking away merrily and festival chief Niels Bendixsen is still working on details for to tomorrow. Our meal is a delight; yes please to Eden mus mussels and Bumbo Road leek vichyssoise. Som Some of the fellow diners and growers are from famili families who have been in the game for generations, but many have come here in search of a better life aw away from the cities and worked hard at new enter terprises. They face a Catch-22: the area is not we well serviced by good roads, which would enha hance their businesses but also challenge their quiF qu quieter Festival lifestyle.day is fine but cloudy. I have watched
dawn from my balcony at the Whale overlooking the inlet and coast, licking the cream, feline-like, from the top of a bo bottle of Tilba Real Dairy Jersey milk. Sublime. Before the festival we are off to Montague Island after a tour of the town, which has long been my pick of south coast destinations. Its Kinema has screened films since 1928, making it the fourth oldest screen in Australia. I’m no golfer, but can’t imagine a more inspiring course than Narooma’s with its sweeping ocean views.
Montague is only 10km offshore but as we board Narooma Charters’ Dreamtime we are prepared for an exhilarating crossing. As we dock at this granite island with historic lighthouse, I think of the Famous Five’s Kirrin, but this place has a far more romantic (and real) past.
It was the first Australian sanctuary to be placed under the care of the National Trust, in 1953, and is looked after by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, which supervises all tours. Free of predators, the island is the perfect wildlife breeding ground, including for fur seals, little penguins, crested terns and shearwaters. The lighthouse was built in 1881 (it bears a Victoria Regina inscription) from granite quarried only metres away, a site that also provided rock for Sydney’s GPO. A spiral staircase opens to an observation deck revealing a spectacular panorama, west to the mainland and Mount Gulaga and in all other directions the wild ocean. A great getaway: stay in one of the lighthouse keeper’s cottages.
The festival is fun and the crowd is loving the produce, music and cooking demos and cheering on participants in the shucking competition as if it’s a footy grand final. A local tells me, “In Narooma we have to suck a lemon every day just to take the smile off our faces.”
Save a squeeze for my last oyster, please. • destinationnsw.com.au • narooma.org.au • whalemotorinn.com
Graham Erbacher was a guest of Destination NSW.
Narooma boatsheds, top; golf course with ocean views, above; Montague Island, above right; local oysters, below; diving with seals off Montague Island, bottom