More on our weekend in the Fleurieu which now seems like a distant dream … but a short digression first. I’m unclear on blogging protocol for referring to my husband. I suspect it depends on how much of the blogger’s personal life they want to unveil. Some discretion seems in order to me, so I’ve decided to refer to him from now on as “he who must be fed” (an apt title, plus there’s no chance he’d be obeyed).
But back to the weekend. Christmas just past, he who must be fed and I agreed that rather than buy spectacular pressies for each other (as if), we’d spend the money on a future B&B splurge instead. Which meant when the time came to plan, we were free to peruse a slighter higher class of digs than we’d normally confine ourselves to (or in, as the case may be).
Given our partiality to the Fleurieu, this led to the discovery of Birks Harbour Boathouse & Birks River Retreats on the river at Goolwa. I’d been to Goolwa many times but never previously stumbled upon this little oasis.
Described (and justly so) as luxury accommodation, it comprises three separate retreats. The Boathouse is situated right on the historic Birks Harbour Marina, so if you’re a boatie, after a day of sailing you could just tie up to your mooring and pop inside for a nice lie down.
The Riverview Retreat is across the road from the marina in the grounds of the main building. It’s a two level contemporary unit at one end of the house with private balconies looking out over the river on one side and the garden on the other. The third option, which was the one we chose, is the Garden Retreat.
It’s so spacious one couple could easily lose themselves in it, but ideal for two couples, boasting two king size bedrooms with ensuites, a spacious living and dining area and beautifully appointed kitchen with another meals area. The owners, being wooden boat enthusiasts and also no doubt influenced by the environment, have fitted the place out with nautical flair. They’ve done this with loving care and have cleverly unearthed some treasures, including many unique maritime artefacts. Everywhere you look there is something to engage the eye and the curiosity.
If the interior is stunning, the garden is magnificent. Also extensive, it features stone terraces, a fountain, a swimming pool and many majestic trees. Most of the trees are around 100 years old and were planted by the original owner, Napier Birks, son of Charles Birks, who founded the iconic Charles Birks & Co department store in Rundle Street, Adelaide in 1876 (which later merged with David Jones). Napier Birks built two stone houses and the marina as his summer retreat in 1900 on the site now occupied by the retreats . The houses directly overlook the river and are wonderfully secluded and tranquil thanks to the long border of Norfolk pines fronting the property. The house next door to the Birks River Retreat was the original gardener’s cottage, purchased along with the marina by Wendy and Phil Watson in 2001, who now also manage the retreat and care for the grounds. The gardener’s cottage, as Wendy said, remains true to its name.
That the property is still there is an interesting story. In fact it survived a very close call with the jackhammer. When the original summer house came up for sale in 2007, it attracted considerable interest from a developer with visions of demolition and multiple holiday units in mind. This would have been a travesty but thanks to some friends of the Watsons, who stepped in bought the house, it was saved. It’s since been elegantly and authentically restored and is a credit to everyone involved. The original aged timbers and floorboards, graceful bay windows and serene ambience combine to make you feel you’re stepping back into a different, more gracious era. Staying there is the ultimate indulgence.
Eating out of course is a mandatory part of a B&B weekend and on the Saturday night we visited the Flying Fish Café. Situated on the seafront overlooking Horseshoe Bay at Pt Elliot, the café inhabits the site of the old beach kiosk first opened in the 1960s. In 1997 it was upgraded into a café offering seaside dining and takeaway. In 2001 it stepped up further in the world when a new owner renovated it and turned it into a somewhat more self-conscious eatery catering to foodies from near and far. In its current incarnation it combines some of all three previous lives, incorporating a stylish restaurant looking over the sea and a deck selling what’s described as gourmet fish and chips. Whether that’s because they come in cones or because they’re otherwise gourmandised I’m not sure.
Not having moved in time with the changing lives of the Flying Fish, I’d assumed it was still pretty much a takeaway for beachcombers. A search of the local restaurants on offer however revealed that it was much more than that and provided a Saturday night dinner quite classy enough for us. Once seated in the dining room with that sweeping panorama of the ocean before you, watching the sun slip down over Horseshoe Bay, the waves breaking on the sand just feet away, and taking your first sip of a chilled Sauvignon Blanc, you start to feel things couldn’t get a lot better. In that receptive frame of mind we’d have been happy to accept fish and chips pretty much as served up on the deck, maybe even in a cone. We were in for a surprise however, as the food was impressive.
I should add that if you’re looking for cutting edge cuisine and plated works of abstract expressionism, you won’t find them here. It’s your fairly standard seafood menu with Coopers Sparkling Ale battered King George whiting playing the starring role. A long way from swordfish carpaccio perhaps, but for me vastly preferable. The restaurant promotes itself as focusing on South Australian seafood and the South Australian scallops we had as entrée were evidence of the best SA has to offer. They were stunning – oven baked, with a sauce that complemented them perfectly – a blend of Dijon mustard and honey with a squeeze of lime. If we hadn’t ordered mains, a couple more plates of those scallops alone would have satisfied me.
Whether it was the Coopers Sparkling Ale batter or the fish, the fish and chips main courses that followed were faultless. Crisp, golden batter encasing fresh succulent flakes makes for a total delight of crunch and melt in your mouth freshness. The portions were generous and served with the traditional salad garnish plus a separate container of tartare sauce of a creaminess far too rich and piquant to have come from a jar. The waitress later settled our debate on the matter and confirmed they do indeed make it themselves.
Having set out for a pleasant meal, we left feeling we had dined superbly well. Not only was the food fresh and flavourful, the service was friendly and attentive without being intrusive and the view is to die for.
Our Fleurieu weekend proved that the best laid plans sometimes do pay off. Just think. If we hadn’t been all frugal at Christmastime and bought only twice as much food and booze as we needed instead of three times as much, we’d never have been able to afford this weekend of extravagance and unbridled indulgence. Financial planning? Bring it on I say.
by Anne Green