Down a dirt track off the Princes Highway between Millingandi and Pambula there’s a gourmet treat, perched on the edge of Lake Merimbula.
The Oyster Barn is the retail outlet for Merimbula Gourmet Oysters, and they’ve become a favourite for locals and visitors ‘in the know’. I’d previously visited with a group and it had felt like a hidden gem, but arriving on a brisk but sunny Saturday over the Easter long weekend I arrived with a friend around midday to discover that there were an awful lot of people in the know on that particular day.
But despite the busy atmosphere we found ourselves a place to perch at the bar on the deck among the mangroves, looking out over the oyster farms on the lake.
The emphasis of the blackboard menu is always firmly on the Sydney rock oysters farmed by Merimbula Gourmet Oysters but there are generally a few different seafood dishes available as well, depending on the market. On this day they were offering halved Narooma crayfish, scallops on the shell, a prawn and salad roll and cooked prawns sold by weight.
The oysters can be served hot or cold, with six garnishes and toppings to choose from. We decided to avoid decisions altogether and grabbed the mixed dozen so we could try a little bit of everything. We also picked three scallops and a prawn roll to share.
When ordering we were warned that there was a wait on food, which was fair enough considering the number of people waiting. But in the end it was only around 20 minutes, and we were perfectly happy to watch the crabs and fish in the shallows under the mangroves. There was a mix of families, couples and groups of friends enjoying the view and we enviously eyed the nearby table who had remembered to BYO a bottle of rose.
Of the cold toppings our favourite was the Japanese sesame and soy, which was delicate enough not to overwhelm the natural flavour but added to the plump creaminess of the oyster. The old-school oysters mornay and Kilpatrick will satisfy lovers of cooked oysters. We enjoyed them well enough but decided that we prefer our oysters cold.
We chose to have the local half shell scallops topped with wakame (seaweed) and kewpie mayo: the seaweed added a lovely texture and the mayo complemented the firm, sweet scallop flesh nicely.
The prawn roll was lovely: crusty baguette, fresh salad and beautiful prawns. I would have liked a few more prawns considering the size of the roll, but for $14 it was a generous enough serving. The food is served on recyclable plates and fairly simple in presentation. The team have found a good niche of delicious, fresh flavours that are achievable to serve quickly with limited space and facilities.
A small, handwritten sign stuck on the window announced jars of smoked oysters and, on a whim, we grabbed one to take with us. Smoked oysters can be an acquired taste, but we are big fans. Opening it up as a snack with sourdough later that evening we found ourselves regretting that we hadn’t bought more! They’d packed a surprisingly generous number of oysters into the small jar, and topped it with oil which took on the smokey flavour. Long after the final oyster was eaten we were still using bits of bread to mop up the last of the tasty oil.
The Oyster Barn is a delightful place to visit, whether you like your oysters natural, mignonette or Kilpatrick!
The Oyster Barn is located at Merimbula Gourmet Oysters, 49 Oyster Track, Millingandi, NSW.
Seating is only available outside, so dress for the weather. No reservations.
Current opening hours are Wednesday and Thursday from 10 am until 2 pm, Friday from 10 am to 3 pm, and Saturdays from 11 am to 3 pm. Closed Sunday – Tuesday.
Follow The Oyster Barn on Facebook to keep up to date with their seasonal opening hours.