Set back from the road out of Pambula heading towards the sparkling waters of Merimbula Beach, Wheeler’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar is a seafood paradise on the Sapphire Coast in far south NSW.
With its trio of pitched roofs peeping through the gumtrees that line Arthur Kaine Drive, Wheeler’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar seems almost shy of the attention.
It started over 100 years ago as a simple oyster farm on a lake that, back then, nobody would have heard of in a region whose closest big neighbour, Canberra, was just being founded.
But in the last 40 years, from when Hugh and Debbie Wheeler took up the reins, Wheeler’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar has grown to become the pearl in a coastline famous for its seafood and Sydney rock oysters.
In fact, the Sapphire Coast Oyster Trail, which stretches for 100km right down to the Victorian border, is home to the most prized oysters in the world.
It’s important to note though that just because they’re doing it well doesn’t mean that Wheeler’s Restaurant has lost any of the heart and honesty of its humble beginnings.
Check out our quick video on our time at Wheeler’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar:
Dinner from the source— Wheeler’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar
We come in through the seafood shop, which is just closing for the day. Here you can buy your fresh fish and seafood, as well as shucked and unopened oysters—from Wheeler’s Oyster Farm of course.
This also operates as the kiosk that was around when the Wheelers bought the company in ’82. You can get your fish and chips fix here with the option of eating in at the bench seats by the chillers or taking it home—or even down to the lake shore not far from here.
But we’re here for the bells and whistles, and approach the maitre d’ desk.
We’re welcomed by the lovely smiling face of Jacqui Smith, close friend of the Wheelers’ and the owner of Wheeler’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar since 2013.
Jacqui seats us in the spacious dining area on the terrace and we look about us.
As the three pitched roofs we saw from the road suggested, this is a big venue. It’s winter at the moment, but with heaters and retractable roof, we’re toasty, and the vibe of the place is friendly and relaxed.
There’s a mix of families, couples and enough space for groups—one of which is hosting a fun surprise birthday party tonight.
Our meal at Wheeler’s
Obviously, we have to try the oysters here, which are fresh the Wheelers’ farm on Merimbula Lake. The dozen come natural and are superb. Creamy yet with a fine mineral quality, all they need is a touch of lemon or a dash of the house-made sparkling mignonette with its tiny diced pieces of shallot.
The mignonette reminds us to try a trick we just learnt from Broadwater Oysters on Pambula Lake and we add a touch of Christina’s Champagne to an oyster too.
Mains come shortly after our oysters have all gone.
Christina’s pan-roasted Humpty Doo barramundi is crisp on the edges yet beautifully tender inside. The deep orange spiced cauliflower puree, grilled spring onion and shellfish aioli balance the dish, add colour and show the kitchen’s skill all at once.
Head Chef Leon Poi (you see him flick us a nod in the video) is at work tonight and his skills and passion are clear to see on the plate.
My seafood bouillabaisse is remarkable. It’s a giant bowl of black mussels, clams, fish, tiger prawns and squid in a rich, thick shellfish bisque. Never again will I say that soup isn’t a whole meal!
The dish also comes with two big garlic crostini. And although the bouillabaisse with all its trimmings is excellent, the crusty garlic bread soaked in the soup is absolutely delicious. And no wonder. Bringing all the seafood flavours that come from such a long slow reduction together with texture, garlic and butter is always going to be a winner!
We leave Wheeler’s Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar with a feeling of deep satisfaction, warmed though with not just the great food, but the wholesome notion that only heartfelt hospitality can give.
Our walk back to the car is just slow enough for us to admire the foodie gifts and local produce on the shelves of the seafood shop, and to remind ourselves to come back tomorrow morning for some souvenirs.