Australia’s Oyster Coast

Australia’s Oyster Coast farmers operate across eight estuaries from the Shoalhaven River to Wonboyn Lake on the pristine south coast of New South Wales. A group of passionate artisans, they are committed to growing oysters of the highest quality in estuaries so well-managed they can be eaten straight out of the water.

Australia's Oyster Coast

Three different species, each with different characteristics influenced by the water in which they live, are being produced. Going from left-to-right in the photo, the Sydney Rock is a native oyster with a firm, creamy texture and incredible flavour. Highly prized by top restaurants, it can only be found along the South Eastern coastline of Australia. Next comes the Angasi, another native oyster which is rarer than its Sydney cousin and recognised by its flat shell and stronger flavour. The Pacific Oyster is significantly bigger than the other two. Introduced into Australia from Japan, it’s the mostly widely-consumed oyster in the world. Fast-growing and plump with a clean, salty flavour.

Australia’s Oyster Coast has partnered with a number of restaurants and wineries to sell their products in Australia. To place an order contact: sales@australiasoystercoast.com

They have also started exporting to a number of countries in Asia, including China, Hong Kong and Singapore and plan to expand to other countries in the region in the near future. They are also developing a domestic tourism trail along Australia’s Oyster Coast, with lease tours, restaurants, accommodation, sea planes and kayaks. This is still under development, but will take on greater importance once direct air flights between Canberra and Singapore commence.

Each of the three oysters requires a slightly different opening technique. You need a special knife and it’s also a big plus to have a family member who knows what they’re doing. Our son-in-law Sacha is our oyster expert. An Australian of Chilean origin Sacha has eaten more oysters than I’ve had hot dinners and says the only way to eat them is plain, or with a squeeze of lemon juice.

For those who like something a bit different I made this simple Asian sauce from Jamie Oliver.

Australia's Oyster Coast1 piece of peeled fresh ginger the size of a small walnut, grated
6 Tbs rice wine vinegar
1 small red chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
1 Tbs finely chopped coriander
1 tsp sugar

Shake in a jar with a lid.

The Artisan restaurant Canberra

The Weekend Australian’s recent supplement “Hot 50 Restaurants” only mentioned one restaurant in Canberra – The Artisan in Narrabundah.  It’s apparently been open for a couple of years, but as we hadn’t heard of it we decided to give it a try last Thursday evening with a couple of friends.

The long narrow restaurant with a bar running down one side was almost full when we arrived.  We found the simple decor, soft lighting and neutral colours very welcoming. Owners David Black and Sam McGeechan describe their style as classical French, but having lived in Paris for four years and spent a couple of weeks there most summers I think it leans more towards modern Australian.

Our waiter was friendly, efficient, but non-intrusive – the way a good waiter should be.  I once sat next to André Cointreau at a lunch in Paris.  He started off with the Cordon Bleu in Paris and now owns over 40 cooking schools around the world, including in Sydney.  He surprised me when he said that the centre of his culinary world used to be Paris, but now it’s Australia, because Australian chefs are more flexible.  He said “If you say to a French chef, let’s make a tandoori pizza or maybe add some ginger to a classic french cassoulet he will say Ah non, ce n’est pas possible!”  But if you ask an Australian chef he will say why not, let’s give it a try.  If it works that’s great and if it doesn’t you have lost nothing.  He then went on to say that his only criticism of Australian restaurants was over-friendly waiters who want to tell you their life story and become your best friend over dinner.  While I think this situation has improved since – we’re going back 10 years – I have come across the sort of waiters he was describing!!

Each dish at the Artisan has two wine suggestions you can order by the glass, so we decided to follow that route.  I began with maple-brushed pork belly braised with pear cider and served with witlof and hazelnuts.  It was crispy on top but meltingly juicy underneath, just as pork belly should be.  My husband had the pan-seared scallops with cauliflower purée, basil oil and crisp spec. When I ask for a taste and get the tiniest of mouthfuls I know something is really good!  Jane had the oysters, which she said were excellent and Peter had the orange and fennel glazed duck confit with leek, parsnips and beetroot.  Our waiter cleared away four very empty plates.

The presention of each dish is five star and as our main courses were placed on the table we took a moment to admire each other’s plates.  I had a  fillet steak with butter and port jus, cooked to perfection as I like it, medium-rare, and served with a potato soufflé and tiny green beans tied into a bundle with a piece of crispy pancetta. Matthew had coq au vin with jerusalem artichokes, shallots and silverbeet.  We have jerusalem artichokes in our veggie garden and as soon as I saw them on the menu I knew what he would order.  Peter had the pan-fried snapper served with potatoes, fennel, watercress and sauce gribiche and Jane had the spanner crab and saffron tortellini with lobster and chive beure blanc, which the Weekend Australian described as “must eat”, so she did and she wasn’t disappointed.

We decided to share two desserts between four and chose the bitter chocolate tart with mandarin sorbet and blackberry jam-filled doughnuts with crème chantilly and macadamias.  The tart hit the spot for the chocolate fans and the tiny crisp doughnuts, which were an unusual find on a restaurant menu were delicious.  They took me back to school days when a local bakery delivered jam doughnuts to be sold at play time every Tuesday and Thursday.  They were home-made, crispy and filled with real raspberry jam.  If you didn’t have any money, you simply had to beg, borrow or steal.

We were being abstemious (it being a week night) and only had one glass of wine each and we didn’t stay for coffee.  The bill came to about $70 a head, including a tip.

When four people order different starters and mains and everyone is full of praise you know you’ve found somewhere good.  We will definitely be going back.

The Sarojin in Khao Lak Thailand

For a luxurious, romantic holiday in Thailand, the Sarojin in Khao Lak is hard to beat.  Located an hour and a half’s drive north of Phuket airport, it only has 56 rooms and a no children under 10 policy, making it a popular destination for honeymooners and couples who want to feel thoroughly relaxed and spoilt for a few days.

Highly recommended by numerous posts on Trip Advisor and similar sites, the Sarojin, with its 2:1 staff-guest ratio, more than lived up to our expectations during the six nights we spent there. We were there in the low season, when it rains a bit most days and when, consequently, prices are more moderate.  The rain really didn’t bother us as most of it fell at night.  We stayed in one of the garden room bungalows which each has a private pool.  The spacious accommodation includes a bedroom, office/bar area and bathroom which has a huge overhead shower and an equally large oval bathtub which was full of floating frangipane when we arrived.

The main swimming pool is surrounded by wooden sun beds with umbrellas so you can be in the shade if you prefer.  As guests arrive one of the smiling Sarojin staff brings a towel and a glass of water and shortly afterwards a complimentary fruit punch arrives.  The pool is just the right temperature and after a swim it’s a perfect spot for reading, dozing, contemplating the peaceful tropical garden and listening to the birds.

A la carte breakfast with sparkling wine is included in the room rate and can be enjoyed as late as you like – even as a very late brunch, which was our preference.  Rooms are furnished with very comfortable king size beds, a choice of top quality pillows, cable TV and the quietest air conditioning I have ever experienced.  Fresh fruit and bottled water are provided daily and there’s a well-stocked mini bar, free wifi, a gym and everything else you would expect to find in a good hotel or resort. Indeed, you know a place is seriously good when the only criticism we could think of was that the map of Khao Lak they gave us at the front desk was somewhat out of date!

The town of Khao Lak is a 15 minute drive away and the resort supplies a fairly regular shuttle bus, for a small fee. It’s small and relatively quiet – the way Phuket used to be 20 or 30 years ago.  There’s no need to leave the resort at all if you don’t want to. Meals served in the Sarojin’s two restaurants are five star and they have an award winning spa.  Theme nights such as the seafood BBQ on the beach most Saturdays are very special.  However, Khao Lak offers numerous dining and massage options for those on a tighter budget or wanting a change of scenery.  We particularly liked Smile restaurant, run by a very friendly Frenchman called Frank, which we also found on Trip Advisor.

Day trips to nearby islands, elephant and monkey parks can be arranged by the Sarojin or by Frank, a Jack of all Trades. When we told him we had just spent 6 weeks in Europe and were now travelling with two suitcases full of dirty washing he offered to arrange for it to be laundered by one of his many local contacts!  We politely declined, especially as a swimsuit, a pair of shorts and some thongs are all you need in the tropics.

South African born Dawid is the General Manager and if you should have any problems he’s never far away.  We didn’t, but he checked in with us regularly during our stay, to make sure everything was hunky dory.

This resort ticks all the boxes and we will definitely be back.  In fact we did contemplate emailing our son to say “Please look after the dog for another six months.  Back in time for Christmas.”

The River at Moruya

Just spent a very pleasant weekend at Tuross Heads on the south coast with friends who own a house there.  Lots of walking, eating and relaxing.

Saturday evening we went to The River at the nearby coastal town of Moruya where we enjoyed an excellent meal.

Two of us had the Salmon Carpaccio with Red Capsicum Puree and Parmesan Wafers, followed by the fish of the day – Pan-fried Ling served on Pea Puree, garnished with some pickled ribbons of carrot and white radish and a deep fried, lightly-battered Zucchini Flower, which had been stuffed with a prawn mixture.  Both were delicious.  The salmon wasn’t thinly sliced as carpaccio usually is, but the slices melted in the mouth and the bright red puree made a perfect accompaniment.  The zucchini flower was to die for – I wish there had been two!  Crispy and light.  Back in Canberra I see we have some zucchini flowers on our plant in the garden, so I am planning to stuff some this week!

The third guest had Cauliflower Risotto followed by a pork dish and the fourth had half a dozen local oysters followed by a veal dish.  There were no complaints.