The second instalment of a road trip (more a food odyssey) along the Pacific Highway.
The Aussie seafood legend at Salt Beach
Steve “Snowy” Snow has seen a fish or two in his time. Picked it up, checked its eyes and popped it in a pan. Sounds easy but he does it so very well the fishophiles of this world have followed him across the north coast of NSW with his many-starred establishments. Not that many in number, but a lengthy glorious record in each. In Brunswick Heads, Snowy’s Fins quickly pulled in a crowd. One of their number was John Cornell who finally persuaded Snow to re-open Fins his luxury lodgings the Beach Hotel in Byron Bay. More Good Food hats followed.
Now for a few years at Salt Beach just below Kingscliff, this warmly appointed place is the place to settle for your mouthwatering dip into local waters.
Glass of wine to start. No, make it a bottle; the 2009 Mitchell Riesling from Clare. That could not go wrong with anything briny to come. As expected vibrating with charm, turning goldish, generously fruited, nice hints of the blossoming of age, but still crisp and citrussy.
Let’s go with 3 Pacific and 3 Sydney Rock oysters each. Live, and they are. Lemon juice and pepper only. Pacifics to me a little plumper in appearance and flavour, creamy rich. The Sydney’s a lick more elegant and complex.
For mains, she swerves away from the sea for a Beetroot Egg. She heartily attacks a porcini mushroom risotto in a beetroot case with fennel puree, beetroot reduction and lemon myrtle shard. As a regular seafood lover she declares it one of her best ever diversions.
Not at all unhappy to save half for me, the quid pro quo for her half of my more traditional request, Snowy’s Fish which tonight is Blue Trevally kissed by the heat, plated by the man himself, with riesling and lemon, green beans, cauliflower puree and local kipfler potatoes. Simple but perfect.
Maybe it is our animated enthusiasm or the TML note on our booking but our waitress asks if Snowy can come over for a chat.
Fit, tanned and eternally enthusiastic are words used to describe him many times. Who are we to disagree? He leans into us with some of his philosophies confirming himself to be the happiest of men. Working 10-12 hours with a crew he makes sure are happy as him to be at work. Time off for surfing is a must. He has energy left over to wash off in the waves.
Talking of detail, he sniffs at food piled heavy by chefs as though to prove heaping is worth it. Cream is only for desserts.
But if you believe pure and simple is preferable you’d better believe your ingredients cannot be faulted and do not need cover up. He uses local macadamia oil with a high smoking point which give his fish a firm golden crust with nothing but fresh flavours inside. His lemons come from his own garden down the road.
The story of the Pop-Up
Some time ago, Steve and his wife, manager and sommelier Morgan set up a Fins in Portugal. On their return she suggested bringing some of the Iberian magic back home. So Pequena Portuguese Eating House it was, set up in a small space across the walkway from their main restaurant. In the years since then it has popped up with different faces showcasing menus from around the globe. Izakaya Japanese Street Food, Greek Kitchen. The Butcher’s BBQ. The Local. Raw Bar. Bar Espanol. Pretty well all self explanatory. Most of us missed them but locals and knowledgeable travellers popped in for more and more. It was back to Isakaya when we were last there. (But keep reading)
Our Japanese adventure
Following our seafood frolic at Fins we are easily talked into a revisit the next night to turn Japanese across the walkway. How they fit a handful of Japanese chefs mingling with the Fins fish kitchen is a miracle. But from small spaces big flavours come. With the help of our waitress we sample a couple of sakes. We settle on one to accompany our order. The sashimi tuna is probably the best this side of Tokyo. Served with coconut rice, wakame, quinoa and sesame crunch. Are we raving here! Certainly one of the freshest, fishiest and just-right-firmest in our considerable memory.
We roll our own pancakes with spiced BBQ fish, pickled green papaya and yuzu sauce.
One of our long time faves is agadashi tofu. Served with shitake broth, soba noodles and wakame. here it is generous and tingling with flavours bursting to come out.
What we thought of a modest snack after the night before became a glorious event in itself. Steve and Morgan can have that effect on food.
As we go to press we learn of more culinary attractions from the unstoppable Snow family. Their new pop up is Italian: Tavolina Cucina Italiana.
One glance at the menu will have you reaching for your car keys.
They now also have a venue called Fins at Plantation House at nearby Duranbah a very smart place for functions and weddings. The food will be just fine.
Stunning Silver Service at Port Macquarie
On the return home, somehow Willie Nelson doesn’t seem so appropriate.
But we are not too sad when we meet up with friends who take us to one of their favourites in Port. The Stunned Mullet, right down the smart beachfront end of town under the seriously impressive apartment building is a very finely appointed room. In this secure and contentedly murmuring space of selected timbers including a wall of stenciled wine crate ends, copper, and black steel are architecturally interesting without being intrusive.
Welcomed genuinely by the crisp but casually uniformed staff, we are then in the hands of Lou Perri, a man of meticulous presence, advising and serving.
We feel comfortable, but the best is yet to come.
Nearly foodied out, we skip the entrees.
Straight in to the Burrawang Gaian Chicken with eggplant, carrot puree, asparagus, bacon daikon and baby corn.
Mandagery Creek Venison with fennel and lavender dust, potato puree, beetroot jam, ricotta, curry leaf and parsnip.
And the showpiece Glacier 51 Toothfish with shitake suimono, zucchini, black rice wafer, dill, daikon, enoki crisp and gai lum. A fish when properly prepared presents you with a distinct difference in texture and taste. Startlingly delicious here.
You might have noticed a little oriental influence in those descriptions. Not quite fashionably ‘fusion’ but certainly the richer for these clever combinations. Our compliments.
Lou presents the wine himself. He is the very definition of an aficionado. As an expat in London he discovered there was a world much wider than California. His wine list in this country is now much awarded. We take a bottle of the 2006 Pewsey Vale Contours, surely in Australia’a top ten rieslings.
Lou takes us through other choices from the Coravin he cradles to the table. An expensive little gadget of great engineering precision involving needles and inert gases which preserves opened bottles of good wine in top condition. It allows you something special by the glass others may not be able to offer.
We are intrigued to watch as Lou conjures up the pleasures with his fingertips
If you can stand the torture of not being there, you might want to read through his magnificent list of world selections including by the glass, half and large format bottles.
Probably the most expensive of our many meals but absolutely faultless.
On just one stretch of highway road we must report that we are indeed in good form up and down this country’s tables. A road trip with many open doors. May we keep travelling. It’s a long and winding road that leads to your door … Thanks Paul. On the road again …Thanks Willie.