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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Narooma Oyster Festival

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.

Porch swing

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

Saltwater B&B

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.

Oyster sampling

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

Local entertainment

Tandoori chicken cooking in a tandoor oven

Deep-frying squid

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 
with white truffle and chive oil $17; Local oysters shucked to order $3.50 each;
Fish of the day (blue eyed cod);
Slow cooked pork belly, braised pork neck and fennel boudin, pumpkin puree $32

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.

Warm apple and hazelnut pudding, rhubarb sorbet, vanilla cloud, granny smith cloud $17
Dessert tasting plate $22

The dessert tasting plate offers plenty of options to explore with our forks. The quince frangipane tart is probably my favourite.

Bircher muesli

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

View Larger Map

Grab Your Fork visited the Narooma Oyster Festival as a guest of Tourism NSW.

Great Southern Hotel Bistro
95 Queen Street, Berry
Tel: +61 (02) 4464 1009

Bistro opening hours:
Monday to Friday 11am-2.30pm and 5.30pm-8.30pm
Saturday and Sunday 11am-3.30pm and 5pm-8.30pm

1a Water Crescent (corner of Riverview Road), Wagonga Inlet, Narooma
Tel: +61 (02) 4476 2468

Reiko Healy, Bega
Tel: +61 (02) 6492 0638

Budd Island, Batemans Bay
Tel: +61 (02) 4472 7565

104 Wagonga Street (Princes Highway), Narooma
Tel: +61 (02) 4476 2411

Narooma Bridge Seafoods
Princes Highway, Narooma
(just before the start of Narooma Bridge, coming from the north)
Tel: +61 (02) 4476 1586

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
18 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 6/11/2011 04:06:00 am


  • At 6/11/2011 4:16 am, Blogger  birdie to be said…

    Great post! I love your pictures. Looks like a blast & everything looks delish!

  • At 6/11/2011 8:58 am, Blogger missklicious said…

    All the food looks amazing! And 60 oysters in one sitting?! That's crazy!

  • At 6/11/2011 9:07 am, Anonymous chopinandmysaucepan said…

    Interesting facts about the oysters and I'm now tempted to buy some lives ones and shuck them myself to taste the salty brine of the sea which we never get when buying them shucked.

    It was lovely meeting you in person last Tuesday night!

  • At 6/11/2011 11:01 am, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    River of sunshine, love it. 60 oysters? Gosh, I can only admire that

  • At 6/11/2011 3:20 pm, Blogger Tina said…

    ooh, yummy. I can't do that many oysters but my brother once did something like 8 dozen naturals in a sitting!

  • At 6/11/2011 9:25 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I've never heard of this festival, sounds great. Your accommodation looks quite good too. 60 oysters is quite impressive! The Oyster shucker at J Sheekey once told me a customer ate 75 oysters! I never thought I would get anywhere near that but you did, woah, respect.

  • At 6/11/2011 9:36 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    *closes eyes and dreams of a place that is warm, sunny, and filled to the brim with natural oysters*

    *opens eyes and sees muesli and soy milk on the table and thermal socks on feet*

    Oh, Helen...

  • At 6/11/2011 11:37 pm, Anonymous foodie cravings said…

    Omg I have never seen so many oysters before! Looked like a nice getaway.

  • At 6/12/2011 8:56 am, Blogger muppy said…

    This looks fantastic, i really love oysters! (and narooma)

  • At 6/12/2011 2:08 pm, Blogger Dolly said…

    god that dog has a straight back..

    mh oysters.. unfornately im not really use to eating it raw.. only cooked ones >.M

  • At 6/12/2011 4:11 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Wow! Lucky you! I LOVE oysters too!! I was so surprised to hear how hardy Sydney Rock oysters are...

  • At 6/12/2011 11:59 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    60?!?!?! omgs that's awesome you so hardcore yo

  • At 6/13/2011 10:58 am, Blogger Jasmin said…

    Wow. Those oysters look amazing. I'm not the biggest fan of natural oysters and I'm very much partial to Lemon Tree Passage Oysters, because it's my hometown.

    But those burgers at the pub make me smile. My favourite thing about leaving the city and taking a road trip are the old school burgers you can find in takeaway shops and pubs on the road.

    I feel the need to head off for one now though.

  • At 6/13/2011 12:53 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    60 oysters in one sitting??!! Hats off! :)

  • At 6/13/2011 1:04 pm, Anonymous jenius said…

    Wow, 60 oysters?!?! I love love love oysters but 60 is just so full on! Very impressed ;)

  • At 6/14/2011 10:58 am, Anonymous Nic@diningwithastud said…

    Glad you had a great time. Love the massager! Anything I can do for relief of back pain whilst watching tv is a plus for me lol.

  • At 6/14/2011 4:20 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Oh my! My heart stopped there for a moment when I saw all those oysters.


  • At 6/14/2011 10:28 pm, Blogger shaz said…

    We've just returned from down that way and the weather is the exact opposite now to what you were lucky enough to experience :) I have yet to attend the Oyster Festival, must make sure we're down there for the next one considering my in-laws live near the Clyde River!


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