South Australia: Posh nosh

By Geraldine Johns

Sunset at Coffin Bay, home to Lester Marshall's creatively named oysters. Photo / Tourism South Australia
Sunset at Coffin Bay, home to Lester Marshall's creatively named oysters. Photo / Tourism South Australia

To enjoy the freshest shellfish, one must dress for the occasion. All-in-one waders are a must.

Decked out in our rubbered finery, we Tweedle-Dee our way down to the sea and out to the collection of crates that is the Coffin Bay Oyster Farm. We reach in, grab an unsuspecting shell - and Lester Marshall shucks it on the spot. Talk about picking your own: to eat thus is to know you have never tasted oyster before.

And back to the shore once more we wobble, laden with more supplies, which Marshall will soon serve in a variety of styles at his beachfront home. There will be marron and crayfish and crab, too - all of it just plucked from the water. Food like this brings out the selfish in you.

Marshall the oysterologist lives at the tip of South Australia, near the Eyre Peninsula. Outside his house there's a rope in a tree that swings out to the sea and an upturned wooden cable that serves as an outdoor table. Not another dwelling is in sight.

Nearby is his factory: a vast plant where Marshall and his workers sort 240 oysters a minute - or 5000 dozen a day. He grades them by size and names them accordingly, in ascending scale: Cupid, Valentine, Casanova ("big and naughty, the brute," says Marshall), King.

The King is as big as your hand and would sit happily in a hamburger bun. The grading names have been trademarked.

Marshall wants his molluscs to be recognised as the Barossa Valley of the sea.

"We are celebrating nature's seafood harvest," he says. The point of difference is their flavour, which is another way of saying that they would hold their own against ours.

The insouciant Mr Marshall is among the line-up of people we meet on a five-day food discovery tour of South Australia. It is like a travelling farmers' market at which you are the honorary guest.

Every meal, every wine, every ingredient, is brought, made or grown - or all three - by those now present.

We are covering mammoth distances in minimal time thanks to the provision of a private jet, which ferries us throughout. At night we are tucked up like royalty.

Yesterday we were at Kangaroo Island. It sits at the bottom of the world.

Most of the roads are dust and when you finally reach the end of one of them, you come to the expanse that is the domain of Nick Hannaford. His family owns Life Time Retreats, a holiday destination where you have no choice but to get away from it all.

Roughing it? Hardly. Remote? Definitely. "Room service" here means you get your meal delivered by four-wheel drive.

There are three mini-palaces in which to stay: the stone house, the cliff house and the sky house. I get the sky house, which is at the highest point of the property.

Outside there is nothing but, well, sky. And sea. For all that isolation, there is abundant luxury within.

I have never before parked myself in a Villeroy & Boch bath - which has a room solely dedicated to its presence. A phone call announces the imminent arrival of the 4WD. It will drive me to dinner: a seat at the chef's table - in the Hannaford shearing shed.

They tend to understate things on the island: it has been decked out in a manner most stylish and warm. We gather at the table and meet some of the locals. Dan, who started KI olive oil, has brought his own supplies. So has Andy from Southrock lamb. We drink Cape D'Estaing Winery's finest. Later in the night, Hannaford gets out the dress-up box; Andy his guitar.

Hannaford must be the tallest man I have ever met.

"I'm nearly six foot eight," he says. As if that wasn't quite enough. Tomorrow he will take us for a walk on his beach and we will gather up shellfish and wild greens for him to cook at the water's edge. Think of the composer who writes a classic piece of music and then conducts a world-class orchestra in the best concert hall there is. And then pull up a seat at the table with Jim and Jan Angas.

Here in South Australia, they are the Barons of the Barossa. Jim's forbears (he's sixth-generation) owned a large swathe of the valley; the nearby town is named after them.

In these times, the family still has a prominent land-holding and a stature to match. They take us up to the top of their highest hill to survey their farm. Later I will learn the hill was Mt Edelstone, from where some of the many wines of this region spring. If the weather weren't in the way we would have opened a bottle right on the spot.

Instead we head off to an old stone building within the farm precinct. Inside we take shelter by the coal range, which is all fired up and in the process of producing a range of breads to go with the meats from Angas beasts. That is just for starters.

Inside the main bit of the building, John lights the fire and we feast on both their stories and their foods. The wine (Hutton Vale) is from their grapes. The lamb is all theirs. The asparagus has just been picked. Even the chutneys are the fruits of their very own efforts. It is all so rustic in a thoroughly five-star way.

And so it goes on. Downtown we meet Victoria McClurg from the Barossa Valley Cheese Company. McClurg used to be a winemaker; now she has gone a different whey. There is wine-tasting: from tin sheds to big names galore.

This, then, is but a taste of what they call a flying food safari. It puts a new hue on what you thought was familiar in foods and wines. It grants entree to the very heart of their origin. It achieves an impossible mix: of visiting the locals, living like a king and sometimes forgetting that you are neither.

Geraldine Johns travelled South Australia with Outback Encounter.

- DETOURS


Getting There
Fly there with Air New Zealand Book now

Find out more at Australia.com

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 23 Jul 2014 06:57:55 Processing Time: 506ms