What a pearler

It’s oys­ters and more at beau­ti­ful Narooma

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - GRA­HAM ER­BACHER

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

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