Down to the waterline
You may not have heard of Goolwa in South Australia, but after an indulgent lunch on the beach, you won’t soon forget it.
Laid-back ambiance and seafood straight out of the water, Goolwa’s ‘Kuti Shack’ forgoes pretentious trappings for some of the best seafood South Australia has to offer.
16 December, 2020
So, on just such a whim, we decided to indulge in some wonderfully fresh seafood at a popular new restaurant down on the coast
Adelaide used to be known as the ’20-minute city’ because it only took 20 minutes to get from one side to the other. Things have changed since then, but getting around is still less fraught and certainly quicker than in most other capital cities and visitors are constantly amazed at how quickly the city and suburbs give way to a stunning variety of scenery and countryside.
It’s the sort of place that doesn’t require you to make intricate plans in advance, but rather, lends itself to the more spontaneous travel whims.
So, on just such a whim, we decided to indulge in some wonderfully fresh seafood at a popular new restaurant, the Kuti Shack in Goolwa. Once a thriving river port, Goolwa is just 89 kilometres south of Adelaide, little more than an hour’s drive. Adding to the appeal of this particular drive is the variety of countryside to be traversed, and the stunning roads that challenge keen drivers in events such as the Classic Adelaide tarmac rally and its successor, the Adelaide Rally.
With the Audi e-tron fully charged, it’s an easy cruise up the South Eastern freeway and in just a few minutes we take the turn-off to Stirling, the first of a series of charming Hills villages. Adelaide Hills townships are generally about 10 kilometres apart, a fact dictated by the distance a bullock dray could travel in a single day.
As we head out of Stirling towards Aldgate, the road becomes more interesting and it’s the perfect time to hit the Drive Select button to change out of Comfort mode and into Dynamic. The road snakes through bushland, still green and lush from the spring rains. The Adelaide Hills have long been a refuge for Adelaideans during summer, the ideal escape from the often-stifling heat on the plains.
The next village is Mylor – a further 10km down the road, we pass the site of South Australia’s first gold discoveries near Echunga, and now that we are on the other side of the Hills, the landscape opens out, with horses quietly grazing in paddocks in this highly respected equestrian district. After some more twisting roads, we reach Macclesfield. And yes, it’s 10km past Echunga.
Macclesfield sits on the upper reaches of the Angas River. On the edge of town is the Crystal Lake Sculpture Park, the largest collection of permanent stone sculpture in South Australia. Each of the sculptures has been crafted from Macclesfield and Paris Creek marble, dug out of historic local quarries.
From Macclesfield, the road heads south towards Strathalbyn and suddenly the vista reveals the Coorong and Lake Alexandrina. Strathalbyn is perhaps South Australia’s prettiest town. It’s also an ideal place to take a break for a coffee at one of the small cafes in the many historic buildings.
Once on the other side of the Hills, the landscape opens out, with horses quietly grazing in paddocks
For one hundred years, time simply passed Goolwa by, but today it is a busy regional centre
A more recent attraction in Strathalbyn is Gilbert’s Motor Museum and if you have the time, it’s well worth visiting. In the historic High Street with its many antique shops, Gilbert Motors was, for 117 years, a car dealership, then in 2019, a team of enthusiastic volunteers opened the doors to visitors who enjoy the exhibits and the stories that go with them. Included in the display is the 1928 Buick that sits on the very spot it occupied before being sold from new. Even now, the odometer only shows 17,000 miles.
Continuing south from Strathalbyn towards Goolwa, the road changes character again, with faster, more open terrain. Away to the left, you get glimpses of Lake Alexandrina, while the road is lined on both sides by farms with thousands of sheep and lambs, fields of barley gently waving in the wind and some lovely old farmhouses.
The next township is Currency Creek. Looking at it today, it’s hard to believe that it was once planned as the location for the capital of South Australia. Being just 6km north of Goolwa, it is now the final resting place of numerous riverboat captains. It is also the centre of a thriving wine region that stretches from Port Elliot to Lake Alexandrina.
Just a few minutes drive further on is our ultimate destination, Goolwa, a place where for one hundred years, time simply passed Goolwa by, but today it is a busy regional centre with bustling pubs, a microbrewery and beautiful old buildings dating back to the 1850s.
The river is still plied by a variety of water craft, including the 100-year-old paddle steamer, the Oscar W. Goolwa is also the terminus for Australia’s oldest railway, commissioned in 1854. The much-loved Cockle Train still puffs its way between Goolwa, Middleton, Port Elliot and Victor Harbor.
We quickly find the turn-off along Beach Road to the Kuti Shack and a quick glance at the dashboard reveals that we have comfortably more than 200km before we need to recharge – more than enough to get us back to Adelaide.
Pipis, also known as cockles (‘kuti’ in the native language), have been cooked and eaten on the Fleurieu Peninsula for thousands of years. The local indigenous people, the Ngarrindjeri, were the first to feast on them, cooking them over hot coals or in mud ovens.
The Kuti Shack opened in December 2019, the brainchild of chefs Vanessa Button and Brendan Roach. The building it now occupies had originally been scheduled for demolition, but the success of the Kuti Shack has ensured it will stay right where it is. Meanwhile, the plans for a new restaurant have been shelved, because, as Vanessa explains, “People just love the charm and informality of the Shack.”
Brendan and Vanessa are in a partnership between KutiCo and Goolwa Pipi Co, both of which are 30 percent owned by the Ngarrindjeri people.
Pipis, also known as cockles (‘kuti’ in the native language), have been cooked and eaten on the Fleurieu Peninsula for thousands of years
The Kuti Shack is the kind of laid-back beach hut vibe that could only succeed somewhere like Goolwa
“It’s a showcase for their product,” explains Vanessa. “We want everyone to eat pipis. The previous occupant of the building was Bombora (a restaurant now relocated to a riverside location in Goolwa) but we wanted to do something completely different. Brendan and I had an idea for a unique restaurant, using as much local produce as possible.”
It’s an idea that has caught on in a big way. The Kuti Shack always seems to be full of locals, day trippers and holiday-makers. The menu depends on what’s in season. Brendan tells us that the Coorong mullet season is coming to a close, but Coorong mulloway will replace it on the menu, as will salmon trout, gulf prawns and tuna. In fact, diners munched their way through more than 300kg of bluefin tuna last summer, served sashimi style.
“It’s a tiny kitchen,” laughs Brendan “so everything has to be fresh. We haven’t got room to store it!”
It’s all a learning process. Experimentation with local ingredients includes saltbush and samphire gathered from the surrounding dunes. Pipis in XO sauce is a perennial favourite as are saltbush crusted baby squid and pipi and prawn laksa. Abalini (baby abalone) and warrigal pesto are also hugely popular.
“A lot of these herbs and spices I’d never seen before,” admits Brendan, “but it’s real fun to play and experiment with them.”
The Kuti Shack is the kind of laid-back beach hut vibe that could only succeed somewhere like Goolwa. The food is imaginative and delicious, the wine list impressively local, the service friendly and prompt.
All the signs are that this new arrival will be around for quite some time to come. What a perfect way to while away a summer’s day, so close to the surf you could almost dip your toes in the water.
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