I'm glad it's only a three-hour drive to Huskisson; any longer and I might have come to blows with my passenger and regular travelling mate, Dave Moore, of Nicholls.
Two years after our controversial quest to find the best pie between Canberra and the coast (Pie Drive, July 19, 2013), to celebrate the Australia Day long weekend, we're on an equally important mission to uncover the best takeaway fish 'n' chips on the south coast.
Critiquing fish 'n' chips is hardly rocket science: a generous serve of boneless tasty fresh fish served with enough crispy hot chips to have one or two left over to toss to the seagulls ticks all the boxes, doesn't it? However, not long after leaving Canberra at dawn, Dave and I begin to debate other key factors such as cost (we are all on some sort of budget, even on holidays), service (you don't want a bad taste left in your mouth by rude staff) and location (ideally, you want to be near the beach, otherwise you may as well stay in Canberra), and it's only as we approach Nowra that we settle on a ratings algorithm that equally weights our combined scores across four categories: the fish, the chips, the value for money and the overall experience.
With a coast brimming (or should that be breaming?) with so many fish 'n' chip shops, we cannot try them all in 24 hours (our self-imposed time frame) and so I've come armed with a short list of seven takeaways, carefully canvassed from a survey on my Facebook site (see, this is a highly scientific survey) along with suggestions from many of you following my request in last week's column.
First stop is the self-proclaimed "World Famous" Fish 'n' Chips in Owen Street, Huskisson. Various rugby league stars, including NSW State of Origin halfback Mitchell Pearce, have scrawled their endorsements on the walls of this bustling take-away, so it's got to be the real deal, doesn't it? We fight for an unshaded table on the busy footpath, where we endure the blazing sun, hopeful its heat might put the finishing touches on our chips, which, although hand-made, are a tad underdone. Our battered fillet is tasty enough, but we leave somewhat underwhelmed.
"I guess their claim is 'World Famous' and not 'World's Best," muses Dave, still wiping grease from his chin.
One thing is for certain, their marketing is working, for although adjoining cafes are still taking breakfast orders, "World Famous" is already luring (sorry, last fish-related pun, I promise) the masses in.
To combat any appetite effect on our ratings, apart from sharing a minimum serve of fish 'n' chips at each takeaway, Dave and I have agreed to a quick (but appropriately energetic) body surf between stops. Further, to ensure our taste buds are primed for each serve, I have a tub of palate-cleansing lemon sorbet stashed in an esky in the boot.
So, with the first scoop of sorbet still dribbling out of the corner of our mouths, we motor off to Mollymook. After our obligatory body bash between the flags (thankfully, no bronze whalers today), we wander up the Beach Hut Cafe (1/1 Ocean Street). It's been 10 years since my last visit here and in that time, the friendly take-away has been transformed into a beachside behemoth. We have to queue for 20 minutes just to place our order and just as long again among the sweaty throngs for our number to be raucously yelled out. Dave doesn't mind his half of the fish, but I must have got the wrong end of the fillet and am first back to the Yowiemobile for another scoop (actually two) of the sorbet.
Ulladulla is only five minutes' drive up the road, so, with our togs still wet, we renew our hunger by performing a few tumble turns in the Ulladulla Sea Pool. From readers' suggestions, it was touch and go whether we should visit Tigers Famous Fish & Chips (22 Wason Street), the seaside town's longest established takeaway, or Capt 'N' Seafoods in the main drag. However, Dave reveals that Tigers is a family favourite dating back to his childhood and he is keen to check if it still lives up to its reputation. While it doesn't have a glamorous waterfront location, perched on a hill overlooking the harbour, the shaded seats at Tigers catch the sea breeze, which is just what the doctor ordered after a morning already with too much sun. The fish 'n' chips don't set the world on fire, but they're the best we've had so far, and we both leave convinced Tigers will probably end up somewhere middle of the pack (pun intended, but it's not fish-related, so I can get away with it, can't I?).
Next stop is the imaginatively named The Fish Shop at Burrill Lake (107 Princes Highway), which was fanatically nominated by more readers than any other takeaway between Nowra and Eden. Judy Richmond, of Ulladulla, claims, not only does it churn out "the best fish 'n' chips on the south coast, but some say in the whole of Australia." Owned by a former fisherman who insists his fish is among the freshest on the coast, this unassuming hole in the wall is located just metres from the busy Prince Highway. However, most people who fork out for a feed here take it across the bridge to Dolphin Point, which is made-to-order for a summer picnic, with ample tables, grass for the kids to run around on, and crystal clears waters lapping at your feet. Although it's our fourth serve in as many hours, we wolf down both the fish and the moreish chips.
Further south in Batemans Bay, everyone's tip was to beat a path to the third-generation Innes Family Boatshed (1 Clyde Street) and from the moment Dave and I walk into this bay landmark, we get the feeling it's going to deliver. The walls are plastered with historic photos and the family trawler is proudly tied up out the back. Although there is an over-the-water deck, complete with table, we take our newspaper-wrapped (you don't get that in many places any more) package to the adjoining park. Lightly battered and fried in animal fat for a super-crisp finish, the fish hits the spot.
There's a bit more squabbling with Dave over the next candidate, the Pickled Octopus Cafe (93D Trafalgar Road) at Tuross Head. Dave reckons because it is actually "a restaurant with a takeaway function" it should be disqualified. However, my argument that the takeaway area is clearly delineated from the remainder of the eatery is enough to have Dave ordering our sixth serve of fish 'n' chips for the day. The friendly waitress brings our order down to the takeaway tables on the lake's edge. It's worth coming here just to soak up the sunsets, let alone the lip-smacking fish (a standard two pieces, not one like everywhere else we tried) with a generous side of crunchy chips.
With the sun already set, our last planned port of call, Bermagui's Saltwater Cafe, is left until the following day. It's a good thing this pretty seaside village is best known as the location where Billy Connolly filmed The Man Who Sued God, for it's unlikely to be renowned for its fish 'n' chips - well, at least, the ones we tried. Despite its decent chips, the torrents of oil pouring off our battered breakfast leaves this otherwise cheery takeaway floundering (sorry, I couldn't resist that one) near the bottom of our list.
Motoring back up towards the Clyde Mountain, we approach the quaint riverside Cafe Nelligen, owned by Rick Patman. According to Phill Sledge, of Kaleen, "nothing beats sitting on the wharf, toes dangling in the water and tucking into a serve of Rick's fish 'n' chips". I'm tempted to stop, but Dave insists he needs every minute of the next two hours to finish crunching the numbers on the places we've already visited, so we press on. It's a wise decision, for, with seven serves of fish 'n' chips in less than 24 hours, it turns out I've packed on almost two kilograms. And we'd best not mention my cholesterol levels.
1. Pickled Octopus Cafe, Tuross Head. Two pieces of scrumptious fish lightly battered using a secret recipe. Served with a smile, crunchy chips and a lakeside location to die for. At $12.50, it's a clear winner.
2. The Fish Shop, Burrill Lake. Proof looks can be deceiving - this modest roadside shop doesn't only churn out the best chips we tasted, but at $12.40, it also provides the top value for money.
3. Tiger's Famous Fish & Chips, Ulladulla. At $13.70 a serve, plus 40 cents for sauce, it's a tad more expensive than average. However, the fish is fresh and lightly battered and will leave you wanting to return.
Did you know? Each takeaway was visited anonymously and for comparison purposes, "a single standard serve of battered fish 'n' chips" was ordered at all seven contenders.
Earlier this week, I had the honour of accompanying this antique couch when it was wrapped in cotton wool for its journey from Goulburn to the historic village of Collector, located 30 minutes' drive to the north of Canberra.
The whereabouts of the couch, on which Constable Samuel Nelson's body was supposedly placed after he was fatally shot by bushranger John Dunn outside the village's hotel on January 26,1865, had been a mystery to most after it vanished in the second half of last century.
However, following a public plea for information, the couch was discovered to be in the collection of the Zantis family, of Goulburn, who bought it at an auction at Collector's Bushranger Hotel last century. The celebrated couch will feature in a display of bushranging memorabilia as part of the family-friendly Wild Colonial Day in Collector from 10am on Sunday, January 25, to mark the 150th anniversary of Constable Nelson's murder. For details, see facebook.com/Nelson150 or phone 0423 72153.
Cryptic clue: Nine kilometres from a rocky map of Australia.
Last week: Congratulations to Vicki Watson, of Chisholm, who correctly identified last week's photo as the entrance to Currambene Creek and sand bar in Huskisson (Husky) taken from the small park at the corner of Currambene Street and Owen Street. The cryptic clue related to singer Bonnie Tyler's "husky" voice.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am Saturday, January 24, with the correct answer wins a double pass to Dendy cinemas.
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