Memories of Port Lincoln

This is probably going to sound weird but do you have moments when the content of your fridge or pantry brings you back some place else? It happens to me quite often, thanks to the pile of food items I always buy when we travel: jars of jams and pickles, logs of salamis, boxes of chocolate, bottles of wine…I am notorious for stuffing our luggage with local produce in the hope to recreate a dish or an experience back home.

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So last week, both my fridge and Facebook reminded me that, exactly a year ago Terry and I were in Port Lincoln, South Australia. It was primarily a business trip, as we were looking at buying a boat to become involved in a Fishing Charter business. I won’t go into the business details, this is not what this blog is about, but let’s just say that the boat’s previous owner, Ron, was heavily involved in the tuna fishing industry and while he had built this vessel for his own use as a cruiser, he insisted the craftsmanship be up to commercial standards so she could also be used for fishing. Terry fell in love with the engine room (as mechanics and engineers do) and didn’t take long to decide she would be the perfect addition to the existing fleet of Sydney Premium Charters ( ok, this will be the one and only plug to our business!) Him and Ron turned out to come from the same no-nonsense, triple back-up, practical school of boat building and got along great from the start, so much so that when Ron heard I would join Terry to prepare for the delivery trip to Sydney, he kindly offered to host us at his place. There is nothing like old fashioned country town hospitality, and Ron certainly was a gentleman introducing us to some of his family and friends, recounting the history of tuna fishing and boat building on the Eyre Peninsula, and most importantly in my books, sharing his knowledge of local restaurants, producers and wineries generously so that I could wander on a culinary adventure of my own while Terry busied himself on the boat.

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The first thought that comes to mind about Port Lincoln is seafood. This is the town lifeblood, you get a glimpse of it from the air, as the small plane from Adelaide flies over dozens of fish ponds scattered a few miles off town in the Spencer Gulf. Wait to land then drive around the harbour and discover the staggering number of fishing boats: the Eyre Peninsula is home to the largest commercial fleeting fleet in the Southern Hemisphere! Oysters, mussels, calamari, prawns, kingfish, snapper and the highly prized southern bluefin tuna and King George Whiting…all can be found in these cold southern waters and for a seafood lover like me, this place is heaven. And I already wished I was staying longer than the 4 days originally planned.

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Let’s get one thing clear: I didn’t go swimming with seals ( water was cold), cage diving with the great white shark ( are you crazy?) or boarded a charter tour operator ( when I knew I would deliver our own boat a few days later). I was there for the food… and a little sight seeing, while driving from one eating place to the next.

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Lets start with dinner at Del Giorno’s, on Port Lincoln’s esplanade. We met the owners Kris and Debra the night before, at a BBQ organised by Ron’s son, and were keen to have a taste of the local produce. Kris is Port Lincoln born and bred, actively promoting the Eyre Peninsula’s hospitality industry and committed to its local community. All the produce featured on the restaurant’s menu are sourced in the region, and if you ask, Kris will be able to tell a story about each producer. Terry and I decided to order simple entrees, wanting to taste the raw ingredients: plain oysters from Coffin Bay (just up the road!) for him, sashimi of farmed bluefin tuna and Hiramasa kingfish for me. The oysters were fresh and briny, hardly needing the house made cocktail sauce they were served with, while the sashimi was succulent dipped in soy sauce and wasabi.

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For main course, Terry could not go past the crumbed King George whiting and chips and I dove into the mussel pot (being the only mussel lover in the family, I hardly ever cook them at home!). Delighted with our meal, I could not wait for the next day of eating!

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After a morning of pottering on the boat, I left Terry and Ron onboard and took off destined for Coffin Bay, 45km away. The plan was to grab a late seafood lunch and take the scenic Oyster Walk. That was before I missed the turn off to Coffin Bay and ended up on the road to Kellidie Bay, directly opposite. There is not much on these roads, and just as I was questioning the wisdom to drive on my own in the middle of nowhere, I spotted a sign on the side of the road for an Antique shop/Pig Farm. How intriguing! Welcome to Minniribie Farm, owned and run by antique dealer Warren Smith who moved from Adelaide about 10 years ago to set up a store for antiques and collectibles. He introduced a small litter of Berkshire pigs a few years later, because he figured that “if things went bad and people stopped buying records or antiques, they would still be buying meat”. I was kindly shown around the paddock, where now 300 pigs and over 50 piglets happily roam free range, fed with a diet of vegetables, hormones and antibiotics free.

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Back in the antique shed, a fridge full of pork sits alongside racks of comic books and old vinyl records. A few steps away, a small cafe serves pancakes, burgers and pies ( all pork of course!) with a deck overlooking distant Kellidie Bay. Somehow I was really glad I took that wrong turn! Though I was too late for lunch and the kitchen was closed, sold on the idea of superior tasting meat, I stocked up on frozen packs of pork legs, bacon, and pies intending to fill up the boats freezer.

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I made my way back to Port Lincoln just in time for dinner, some nice crumbed King George whiting prepared by Ron ( knowing a fisherman has its perks..).

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After hearing of my missing out on a visit to Coffin Bay, Ron suggested I join a behind-the- scenes guided tour of the Fresh Fish Place in town instead. This is a big local business which includes a factory direct retail outlet, factory tours and tastings as well as a Seafood cooking school. While the cooking school was not an option at such short notice, I put my name down for a tour while being told that a minimum of 4 people was required for it to go ahead. Unfortunately no one else booked that day so the tour was cancelled, which didn’t stop me from driving to the retail shop and spoil my disappointed self with local produce and quirky giftware.

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While in a provisioning mood, I left my mark at the liquor shop, stocking up on local drops Boston Bay and Lincoln Estates wines. Between time spent on boat errands and food excursions, I never managed a visit at any of the local wineries, so I figured that if I could not make it to the cellar doors I would have them come to me and organise my own wine tasting onboard. Anything labelled “Sashimi”, “Great White” . “Blacklip” or “Diamond Sea” has to be worth a try, no? You should have seen Terry and Ron’s faces when I returned to the boat and loaded boxes of wine, cold and frozen seafood…most to ship back to Sydney, but also some for dinner: Coffin Bay oysters and smoked squids washed with a chilled glass of local Sauvignon Blanc.

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The next day was supposed to be my last and I had plans to finalise the provisioning with home cooked dishes and local delicacies like pickled seafood or organic vegetables. Except our delivery crew withdrew leaving Terry on his own to drive the boat to Sydney. A quick brainstorming session ensued, followed by a last minute change of plans, and I was on the plane back home to tend to the kids and the dog for a couple of days, long enough to fill up the house fridge and cook lunches/dinners for 5 days. Then it was back to Port Lincoln, hoping Terry had stocked up the galley to my liking, but he hadn’t. In his defence, he had been busy ensuring the boat was ship shape for the 5 days passage to Sydney, and given the choice between boat safety and culinary treats, he would chose boat safety any day! He did take the time to shop for food though, as he proudly showed me the ready to eat packages of lasagna, curries, yoghurt and cheeses. I sighed.

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Then I smiled, suggesting we have one last diner out before the 4am departure the next day. So it was, that our final Port Lincoln feast was at the Marina Hotel , a short walk away, for one more taste of the Eyre Peninsula. Being a saturday night, the place was packed with locals, evidently a favourite with great views over the marina and Boston island beyond. Never feeling culinary adventurous on the eve of an ocean crossing, we stuck to simple menu choices: starting with a tasting plate to share, then creamy garlic prawns for Terry and soft shell crabs for me. Ok it sounds not so simple, but the beauty of it was in the freshness of the seafood and the restraint in the seasoning ( no heavy hand with the garlic or chili ).

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A few hours later, a knock on the hull woke us up: it was Ron, who had decided to join us for part of the delivery trip, at least until we cleared South Australian waters. Much appreciated help, since he knows this coast like the back of his hand. And just like that, the week came to an end with a departure in the dark alongside other fishing trawlers, and the start of a new adventure: from Port Lincoln to Port Hacking.

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