It was a nice pre-Christmas present from the good folks at The Australian Good Food Guide and Wheeler’s Seafood Restaurant, in Pambula, to receive an invitation to visit the restaurant and review.
The parental units live less than an hour away at the glorious coastal town of Bermagui and a trip to Merimbula is an annual event when I visit for Christmas so I can devour some of my favourite burgers at Dulcie’s Cottage. But this year I had to miss out on Dulcie’s because our trip went the 5mins extra for a seafood feast that I would never have imagined would be this superb.
WHEELER’S SEAFOOD VENUE AND HISTORY:
In one form or another Wheeler’s has been around for over 100yrs. Wheeler’s isn’t just a restaurant, it is also an oyster farm and supplier, an oyster bar, a cafe and a local icon that requires a visit and feast if in the area. Originally founded by Mr and Mrs Pitt Warn in Merimbula in the early 1900’s as an aquaculture business they retired in the 1960s. It was then owned and managed by a couple of people for two decades until Merimbula locals Hugh and Debbie Wheeler bought it in 1982. Now we know where the name came from.
Hugh and Debbie expanded the business adding a fresh seafood shop, offering oyster tours and then expanding into “The Kiosk” – selling delicious fresh oysters prepared a variety of ways as well as fresh fish, prawns and other seafood dishes to enjoy as take-away or at the small outdoor dining area.
The Kiosk proved to be popular with tourists & locals alike and they outgrew the original smaller premises, still located on the property. Plans began to be drawn up and the magnificent new restaurant and shop came to fruition in 2003. The building features recycled bridge timbers and local stonework and offers both indoor and outdoor dining on the expansive timber decking plus a separate take-away dining area and shop.
Demand for Wheeler’s Oysters continues to grow, so Hugh and Debbie are now concentrating on farming full-time and the restaurant is owned and managed by Jacqui Smith, still serving the same quality and freshness that has built the business to what it is today.
If you don’t like seafood Wheeler’s isn’t the place for you but if you do then you are in heaven! They do have a decent vegetarian section, a great kid’s menu and have two non-seafood mains for people who wandered in aimlessly.
Wheeler’s conductor in kitchen making the culinary music is Wade Woolhouse. He has been a commercial chef since he was 16, has worked under many head chefs in Australia and Canada and is inspired by David Arens, Luke Mangan, Marco Pierre White and Heston Blumenthal. His dishes are well sized, artistically presented without being pretentious and technically magnificent. I am an easy restaurant critic to impress, my mum on the other hand…. Let’s just say she thought it was the best restaurant she had eaten at in 2018. She is still gushing about it, as am I.
WHAT WE ORDERED:
Oysters – 3x Kilpatrick (bacon, Worcestershire)
Oysters – 3x Shanghai (soy, ginger, kaffir lime and shallots)
Salt and pepper dusted squid with rocket, Pecorino, shaved fennel,
gremolata and chilli-lime aioli
Seafood tasting plate – char-grilled octopus, citrus parmesan crumbed
sardines, natural oysters, gazpacho white anchovy and tomato salad
Seafood chowder – creamy seafood soup with local fish, prawns, mussels,
scallops, and a sourdough baguette
Atlantic salmon with scallop farce, preserved lemon, sautéed baby potatoes, charred asparagus, confit cherry tomatoes and fennel cream sauce
Surf and turf – Black Angus eye fillet, grilled prawns, thyme rosemary
potato rosti, broccolini, café de Paris butter and a pink pepper jus
Bailey’s creme brulee with raspberry compote and almond biscotti
Affogato with vanilla bean ice cream, espresso, shot of liqueur (multiple choices – I went the Frangelico of course :)) and biscotti
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
The venue is wonderful with plenty of light and not too cold or warm. Our waitress was a champion, she asked mum if she was too hot or cold and if she could do anything to make it more comfortable. The service was efficient and never intrusive and she managed to remember our entire order off the top of her head without stuffing anything up – I couldn’t even remember what they were when editing the photos. There was one mishap where the wrong Capital Brewing Beer was delivered and drank but second beer was correct and they apologised profusely – simple mistake, no points lost.
On a starting side note – we got to try the Capital Brewing Company Ales and we bloody loved them. A damn fine beer – the Coastal Ale was a little hoppy for me but the Trail Ale was the winner – would happily drink both again. Recommend a try if you come across them.
As for the food, it was perfection in every single dish.
The squid was fresh and light, not overly battered or oily from the fry. I could have done with more of them but they were not chewy and fell apart at the bite. The oysters were a marvel and I could have eaten a dozen of them, not something I am overly fond of doing. I rarely eat a raw oyster and mostly prefer them cooked. Their kilpatrick was beautiful and not the heavy bacon and sauce you usually receive. The Shanghai oysters were delicious – soy and ginger, a perfect partnership that went down well with the kaffir lime leaves and shallots. I want these again!
And the tasting plate was a nice way to try a little of a lot. The octopus was tender and easy to eat, the sardines were a table favourite and we fought over the anchovies in the salad, they were so big and lush!
I had the pleasure of devouring the Seafood Chowder. Every since I ate my first chowder at The Drunken Admiral in Hobart a couple of years ago I have to order it whenever I see it. It is hard to beat the ancient chowder from the Admiral but Wheeler’s came incredibly close. It was super creamy and the amount of seafood was abundant and fresh. I did use the seafood baguette to clean the bowl and will eat this again.
Mum devoured the Salmon and we all admitted, it was probably the most technically perfect dish of the day. The salmon was precisely cooked as it should and the fennel cream sauce was face-planting lickable and fabulously flavoured. The cherry tomatoes held little purpose besides a colourful garnish but the potatoes were stacked into a near-perfect rectangle – they are hidden in the pic but we were impressed.
Seafood Farce for the Win!
What was the most impressive however was the scallop farce that replaced the entire skin on the topside of the salmon. We had to ask the waiter what it was. From what I can find, it is blended and finely processed scallops with egg white and cream. This was then placed onto the fish post-cooking and lightly torched. It was like a delicate seafood marshmallow and gets high praise.
Mike (the stepdad) had the dish I was going to order before seeing the chowder, the Surf and Turf. The Black Angus couldn’t have been cooked better, you can thank a 7hr sous vide for that deliciousness. The potato rosti was marvellous, I got a couple of bites, and broccolini is a family favourite, more so when paired with a pink pepper jus. Mike inhaled the prawns as quick as a flash so will take that as a sign they were as good as everything else.
Bailey’s was a great addition to a traditional brûlée and we all enjoyed this one, some nice spun sugar accompanied it but the raspberry compote served no purpose. It was nice but felt out of place.
And finally the Affogato, my dessert porn. It was one of the best of the year, the biscotti made a wonderful addition and mum gave me the best pour photo of the year – click on the pics for larger sizes and look at that splash back!! It was amazing – lucky it was the coffee and not the Frangelico.
WHEELER’S SEAFOOD RESTAURANT is as close to a perfect seafood restaurant as I could have hoped for in 2018. It might be a little out of the way at nearly 7hrs from Sydney but if you find yourself down South then you need to make this marvel a destination stop. Stay local, eat lots of oysters, and drink too much wine while devouring some of the best seafood in NSW.
SCORE BREAKDOWN: 3/3 food, 2/2 service, 1/1 drinks, 1/1 venue & ambience, 1/1 cost, 1/1 toilets & 1/1 bonus
WHEELER’S SEAFOOD DEETS:
PH: 02 6495 6330
162 Arthur Kaine Dr Pambula NSW 2549
PRICING: Medium Priced and Very Reasonable. The most expensive dishes were the Seafood Platter for Two at $100- and the Surf and Turf for $42-.
They operate Standard Hours and Holiday Hours – for their correct hours of operation at the time of your visit please check HERE
TAKEAWAY: Yes – from the takeaway section or oyster bar
LOCAL DELIVERY: No
VEGETARIAN OPTIONS: Yes – a vegetarian section on the menu
GLUTEN FREE OPTIONS: Yes – plenty of options clearly shown on the menu
KID FRIENDLY: Yes
BYO: Wine ONLY – $10 corkage per bottle. Full licensed.
*** Spooning Australia dined as guests of the venue and AGFG ***
For more reviews of South Coast Venues – check them out HERE