How much do I love oysters? I once ate 60. In one sitting. Plump, briny and full of minerals, surely oysters are the perfect ready-to-eat meal.
We headed to the annual Narooma Oyster Festival earlier this month after an invite by NSW Tourism. The weather was perfect - clear blue skies and an easy five-hour drive down the south coast.
Great Southern Hotel
Great Southern Hotel
We made a pit stop at Berry for lunch. Berry Woodfired Sourdough Bakery was unfortunately closed due to a structural issue with the building, so we headed to the next best thing: the local pub.
I love a good pub and country ones are the best. The blokes at the front bar of the Great Southern Hotel look settled in for the afternoon with schooners of ice cold beer by their side.
Southern beef burger and chips $14
Food is ordered at the counter out the back. It doesn't take long, and we eat at the wooden picnic tables on the verandah. This is classic pub grub - hand-formed beef patties on a burger bun with mandatory slices of tinned beetroot. The steak sambo is reasonably tender, slapped between two slices of toasted sandwich bread and a generous wad of salad. The chips are golden, crunchy and plentiful.
Steak sambo with caramelised onion and chips $14
Our accommodation has been booked at Saltwater B&B, a 100-year-old home that has been renovated into a luxury bed and breakfast by local couple Lyn and Robert. The views of the river are stunning and the landscaped gardens create a lovely sense of peace.
Banana crepes with yoghurt and fruit salad
We were asked what time we would like breakfast, and I'd expected a continental breakfast offering of cereal and fruit salad. Instead we were surprised to see Lyn arrive with a laden tray the next morning, setting the table with cutlery and juices, and lifting the cloches to reveal beautifully plated banana crepes with yoghurt and fruit salad.
"And how would you like your eggs?" she asked. This was only breakfast part one!
Cooked breakfast of poached egg, organic bacon, sausage, mushroom and tomato
We'd only just finished our crepes (delicate, light and sweet with caramelised bananas) when our hot cooked breakfast arrived. The poached egg was perfect, its runny yolk spilling forth like a river of sunshine.
Narooma Oyster Festival
Narooma Oyster Festival
About 10,000 oyster lovers visit the three-day Narooma Oyster Festival each year. There's a huge sense of community, with every mum, dad, grandparent and kid rugged up for a long day out.
Locally made jams
How to use up the backyard chokos? Make choko pineapple passionfruit jam!
Dennis "The Sandman" sculpting dolphins
Shiatsu massage sticks from Japanese Creations
Most interesting find? Shiatsu massage sticks. Stallholder Reiko said her husband made these shiatsu acupressure massage sticks when they ripped up the floorboards of their old kitchen. I was a quick convert - you simply press the pointed tip into your muscle (especially in the back or neck) and hold until the muscle relaxes. These are common in Japan, Reiko explained, and are great to using when you're watching tv!
Reiko also makes purses, belts and jewellery. I picked up a very cute necklace featuring Peko-chan, the tongue-poking girl mascot for Japanese confectionary company Fujiya.
The oyster bar was in full-swing by lunchtime. It's estimated that about 21,000 oysters were shucked and eaten at the oyster bar alone.
Ultimate Oyster Experience
As part of our itinerary, we were booked into the Ultimate Oyster Experience ($50) that provided a private tasting session with a local oyster farmer.
Ewan McAsh from McAsh Oysters
Ewan McAsh is part of the new generation of oyster farmers in the area. He's young, tertiary qualified in marine science, and keen to promote the joy of oysters to all and sundry.
He grows Sydney Rocks on the oyster farm he and his father operate on the Clyde River in Batemans Bay.
We try twelve oysters in total, taking our time to compare the variations between oysters grown in different parts around the region. There are only subtle nuances between each oyster - some a little saltier than others. Over the brief session we learn:
- Sydney rock oysters are extremely hardy and can survive up to two weeks out of the water. If an oyster is not used within this time, they can be placed back in the water to resume growing.
- Live oysters should never be stored in the fridge. The cold temperature will kill them quickly. Store oysters at room temperature in a wet tea towel on the kitchen bench or in the laundry. Keep for up a week (presuming that the time span between oyster farmer, supplier and you has already been about a week).
- The Clyde River has has about 20 oyster farmers who produce 11% of NSW oysters. The north coast supplies 60% of NSW oysters.
- It takes about 2½-3 years for an oyster to mature for eating. Oysters can live up to five years.
Local cheddar cheese
Tandoori chicken cooking in a tandoor oven
Salt and pepper squid on rocket salad with aioli $8
After wandering around the rest of the festival, we dig into salt and pepper squid from Michaels by the Sea. The squid is deliriously tender, dusted simply with seasoned flour and deep-fried. The secret, we're told, is double-frying - the first step to cook the squid, and the second to create a luscious golden crunch.
The Whale Restaurant
The Whale Restaurant
Dinner is at The Whale Restaurant, a rather fancy dining room on the ground floor of the four-star Whale Motor Inn.
Clockwise from top left: Nicola potato and porcini gnocchi, portobello and garlic cream sauce sauce
The restaurant is full tonight, humming with couples and small groups of friends. There's a fair amount of effort put into each dish by the kitchen, but at times I find the plating to be a little awkward and over-complicated. The portions are reassuringly country-sized, however. I'm happy to eat more oysters, savouring mine au naturel, and my blue eyed cod is cooked brilliantly, with the flesh still moist and succulent.
The dessert tasting plate offers plenty of options to explore with our forks. The quince frangipane tart is probably my favourite.
Breakfast the next morning is bircher muesli - I'm not usually a fan of this yoghurt and apple soaked concoction, but Lyn's inclusion of slivered almonds and coconut strands provides a welcome textural contrast.
Hot cooked breakfast
Narooma Bridge Seafoods
We can't leave Narooma without a souvenir, and my favourite souvenirs are edible. We load up on several dozen oysters from Narooma Bridge Seafoods, ready to continue our bivalve feast. I also picked up a jar of fresh oysters in brine - perfect for making a Malaysian-style oyster omelette for supper.
Sacks of live oysters
Wagonga Inlet, Narooma
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Grab Your Fork visited the Narooma Oyster Festival as a guest of Tourism NSW.
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Batemans Bay and the Moruya Country Markets
Bodalla Heritage Fair, Tuross Head and The Big Cheese
Nan Tien Temple and a food tour of Wollongong
The Famous Berry Donut Van and Berry Woodfired Sourdough Bakery
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6/11/2011 04:06:00 a.m.