Thursday, August 15, 2013


Whole Moreton Bay Bugs

Everglades, Upper Reaches of the Noosa River

Moreton Bay Bugs in Garlic Butter

My unexpected, unprepared for first experience at en masse fish and chips’ cooking may have been a lesson quickly learned; one that was akin to jumping from the frying pan into the hot oil - to steal a slice of poetic license – but with time ticking away rapidly, and the shop’s opening time drawing closer by every passing minute, I was faced with no other choice than to jump, head first, into the fray, come what may; and worry about it all after the fact!  Time was of the essence.  

 It may have been a case of the blind leading the blind, but somehow Jill and I made our way through without too many casualties, other than that concrete block of potato chips!  It was a lesson well-learned; and after that, I had no further problems preparing fish and chips for the masses.  Jill refused, as was her individual right, to step through the doors of the shop again for fear of a possible future nervous breakdown!

Because the restaurant was the centre of our attention, our aim and reason for being there was to get "The Belle" back into the black so we could start paying off the many debts the owner had incurred.  The fish and chips outlet was put on the back-burner to a degree.  I grabbed the fish by the tail, and took over its operation.  The shop was open two hours during the middle of the day to catch the passing lunch trade.  It's doors closed again at 2 pm; and the fryers turned off; and then it was re-opened for business again at 4 pm until 6 pm.  The restaurant opened to the public at 6.30 pm. 

The locals soon got to know the shop's operating hours, so everything began to fall into a satisfactory place. 

Originally, when we first took over "The Belle", the restaurant didn’t open for lunches other than the Sunday lunch cruises.  However, I decided to train Ken, our chef’s brother and our kitchen-hand in the art of fish and chip cooking to free up my own time. Ken’s introduction to the fish and chips’ shop was much calmer than my own. Even though, Ken travelled at a snail’s pace, he was conscientious and he quickly cottoned onto his newly-added task.  His wages were increased accordingly, of course; so did is speed!  His increase in wages was incentive enough in itself for a young surfer lad!

Ken was happy in his new role. I think being handed the responsibility and his understanding we believed in him - that he could do the job - boosted his confidence. He handled himself and the shop with aplomb. 

Also, Ken had somebody to keep him company.  Every morning and afternoon shortly before opening the shop as he organised and arranged his ingredients, utensils, switched on the hotplate and deep-fryers etc., like clockwork, a pelican arrived.  The pelican would perch itself on a mooring posts attached to the jetty just to the rear of the shop. And there, the beautiful bird would patiently wait, knowing a free feed would soon fill his bill.

Once Ken was confidently at ease in his new role, the restaurant again had my full attention.  Randall and I decided we’d open "The Belle" one day during the week for lunch.

Wednesday was our day of choice. We wanted to capture the local trade as well as the tourists. Locals are the bread and butter, or, perhaps, the full cup of milk; tourists are the cream on the top; that was our belief, anyway. I still believe it to be true.  The locals are always “there”; tourists are transient.  In saying that, I don’t mean that tourists are of less importance. 

For fear of drowning myself here and being in need of a lifeboat or life-jacket…I shall move on…

Because we’d operated our own real estate agency we knew a lot of people in different walks of life and businesses in the Noosa area and its surrounds. Word passed around fairly swiftly that we were managing the restaurant.  The tom-tom drums had started to do their job; and soon, those who previously had been hesitant to frequent "The Belle" before our arrival on the scene because of the crazy behaviour of the owner and his equally crazy daughter began again to bravely walk the plank onto the floating/cruising restaurant.

Like busy bees we and the staff buzzed around doing what needed to be done to be ready when the door opened and service began.  We all had our jobs; we knew what we had to do.  The tables were always re-set the night before after the evening guests had left.  There is nothing worse than arriving to a mess the morning after, whether it is the kitchen, the dining area or the cocktail bar. To face a mess the next day is far worse than being greeted by an unmade bed.  At least, a quilt or doona can be pulled up to cover the untidy sheets beneath, but that is impossible to do in a restaurant. No matter how busy the night and how tired one felt, the restaurant had to be cleaned, tidied and tables re-set before leaving for home.

During the day I helped our chef Phil in the kitchen.  We’d put our heads together and composed the menu as I wrote earlier.  While he attended to his own mise en place, I had my corner of the kitchen wherein I made seafood chowder, a staple on the menu because we were primarily a seafood restaurant.  When purchasing our seafood supplies from the local seafood wholesaler, I’d buy fish carcasses for making of the stock to be used in the preparation of the chowder. I did prepare various other soups, to satisfy the non-fishy diners. There was always a choice of two soups on the menu.  Also, we had a couple of meat and chicken dishes on our bill of fare to cater for those who perhaps were allergic to seafood, or for those not in the mood for fish, Moreton Bay Bugs or prawns on any given night or day; but our menu consisted mostly of seafood dishes. 

When strawberries were in season and supplies were prolific I made fresh strawberry ice cream generously loaded with whole or halved strawberries for one of the dessert choices; no ice cream maker was abused during the making thereof! I prepared all of the desserts, taking the load off our chef; allowing him to concentrate on most of the entrees and main meals.  Once Jill began her shift, she became the chef’s right hand.

Because I enjoyed cooking and willingly wanted to learn as much as I could about restaurant cooking a lot of my time during the day was spent assisting in the preparation.  The rest of the time I acted as hostess, greeting guests on their arrival and attending to their needs throughout service; and I waited tables; all of which I enjoyed.  I loved the whole “restaurant experience” from top to bottom, and back again.

As I mentioned previously, Randall tended the bar and all chores pertaining to the bar. He was very efficient at being in charge of the bar as he had managed a bar in New York’s Upper East Side before returning to Australia.  He also competently looked after the financial side of the business; again, he was very good when it came to figures, book-keeping, accounts etc. et al; the latter were jobs I had absolutely no interest in at all.

Briefly, during the warmer months of the year in the upper reaches of the Noosa River, an area fondly known as “The Everglades”, freshwater bass ran (or swam) through the tranquil tannin-stained water.  The tea colour is caused by the Paperbark trees that grow prolifically along the banks of  the river. 

The area, with its mirrored reflections of melaleucas on the calm water, and its silence broken only by bird sounds makes visitors to The Everglades respectful of their surrounds.  Boat motors are switched off; voices are lowered.

And because of the brief appearance of the bass, for a short time only we presented their beautiful white fillets on similarly white plates to our diner..  The bass was always popular with the diners.

We didn’t personally catch the bass; we bought our fresh stock from a local supplier, shortly after it was caught. 

However, there were times we did catch fish from “The Belle”.  Sometimes during quiet moments Randall and/or Phil tossed a baited line out through one of the restaurant or galley’s windows; and sometimes they got lucky!  I can’t say the same for the fish!

Often, a weird noise emanated from the kitchen (a weirder noise than the usual ones that flowed out of that busy environment inhabited by a few insane people – I was one of them, of course)!  The unusual sounds that raised curious interest would be thumping and thrashing coming from one of the stainless steel sinks. It would be proof that a fish had been caught and hauled onto the boat through whatever window the baited line had been cast.

One Wednesday, moments before we opened the door to the lunch time trade, Phil hauled on board through a kitchen window, a little estuary Black-spotted Rock cod; it was of legal size, but only just! The fish was doing a lively dance in the sink as our first customer arrived.  The entrance door to the restaurant was nearby to the kitchen.  Our guest was a man who intended dining alone. 

As I greeted him at the door, I noticed he raised his eyebrows in a quizzical way.  The flapping noise coming from the kitchen was the reason for his querulous look. 

With a wide smile across my face, I explained the situation to our first guest; and after doing so, I asked him, if perhaps, he would like the freshest fish meal he’d had in many a long day for his lunch.  He didn’t hesitate in answering  a resounding “Yes!”   The chef cleaned and filleted the fish; and that gentleman felt like a king as he enjoyed his very fresh lunch.  He thanked me profusely upon leaving.

I’d willingly lay a bet our diner never forgot his lunch on the “Laguna Belle” that fine, sunny Wednesday.  And I‘d also bet he was not only grateful he’d dined alone that day, but he was also very thankful he was the first person to set foot on board “The Belle” at noon.  It meant he had the freshly-landed fish all to himself! 

It was very easy to excuse the gloating look upon his face! He looked like the cat that not only drank the milk and cream – but the fish, too!

Seafood Chowder: Cut 500g green prawns (retain shells and heads for stock), 250g sea scallops and 250g skinned fish fillets into bite-sized pieces; place them in a bowl with 250g crabmeat. In a heavy-bottomed pot, melt 125g butter; add 1 cup diced carrots, ½ diced onions, 1c diced celery, 1c diced  potatoes, and 1/2c frozen or fresh corn kernels; sauté over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are barely cooked, stirring occasionally. Add 1/4c plain flour; reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. Add 4 cups seafood stock; bring to a boil. Add the seafood; reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 7 to 10 minutes, until the fish is just cooked. Add 1-1/2tbs heavy cream, if desired, and 2tbs finely-chopped parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread.

Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream: Wash and hull about 40 strawberries; puree into a blender. You should end up with about 2 cups worth.  In bowl, add puree, ¾ cup condensed milk, ¾ cup cream, 1/4 cup evaporated milk and 3 to 4 cups sugar.  Adjust sugar to your taste. Mix gently with hand blender until well incorporated.  Pour mixture into a freezer bowl; freeze 1 hour. After 1 hour, remove from freezer and blend gently in a mixer; freeze again for 1 hour; repeat this exercise two more times. After the third time, before freezing add some halved, quartered or whole strawberries, depending on size; and depending on how many you reckon is a fair quantity, without going to crazy; mix well; freeze for 7-8 hours


  1. Lucky, lucky guest.
    My father was a fly fisherman and we followed him along the river bank with a fry pan. When he caught was when we ate - and rainbow trout served less than twenty minutes after being caught is WONDERFUL.
    I love hearing about your busy, busy past. Thank you.

  2. In days of yore the man in a van used to come from Port Seton at a time when fishing boats still operated along the coats of the Firth of Forth. His fish must have been (mostly) caught overnight. Not that I noticed or cared in those days.

  3. Hi EC...I agree with you...there's nothing quite as good as freshly caught fish, freshly has a taste of its own. Store bought just doesn't come near it.

    I'm glad you're enjoy my ramblings. Thanks. :)

  4. G'Day Adullamite...we have a couple of guys who come up here to the mountain to sell "fresh" seafood; but I' bet a million dollars that none of it is caught overnight! That's how sure I am! lol

  5. I bet that gentleman still smiles at the thought of that meal. Best fish I ever had was freshly caught trout several years ago, and I can still practically taste it in my memory. Which reminds me, we're having fresh catfish for dinner.

  6. Yep, I bet he does, too, Dexter. It's funny how some things just like that meal of fresh fish remains with us long, long after the event. I've a couple or so such memories of my own.

    Thanks for calling by. :)

  7. That sounds like a hell of an adventure! I love reading your stories.

  8. Hey there, RC! I'm glad you enjoy my stories.

    I often hope that I'm not boring people with my ramblings....I don't embellish - the tales are as they happened.

    Thanks for calling by. :)

  9. I'll bet that fresh fish was truly divine. And I would have loved your ice cream.

    Restaurant work sounds demanding, but fun in some ways. I agree that the clean up before leaving would be essential.

  10. Hey there, Lynn...yes...the adrenaline certainly flows during service time in a restaurant...the pressure's on!

  11. Such a fascinating post!

    Those Moreton Bay Bugs look positively delicious :)

  12. G'Day's it going over there across The Ditch? :)

    I love Moreton Bay Bugs...I treated myself to some as part of my Christmas lunch last year...between putting up those pics and writing about fish and chips, I'm going through cravings here! I can only blame myself!! lol

  13. "Because the restaurant was the centre of our attention, our aim and reason for being there was to get "The Belle" back into the red so we could start paying off the many debts the owner had incurred."

    Um, you-all are really serious about being different down there--aren't you? For to be in the red up here is to be heavily in debt while the goal is to get into the black! (LOL?)

    In any event, 'tis was another wonderful account. You really should look into self-publishing a book on the Amazon Kindle platform. It should not cost you anything but your time, and I would be honored to help you in anyway I can.

  14. Jerry...thanks for pointing out my typo...I've gone in and rectified my error. I meant to type "black", not "red". Ta. I hate making typos! lol I really do; so I appreciate you pointing it out to me.

    I'm glad you are enjoying my stories; and I thank you, also, for your offer of assistance re self-publishing etc. I keep threatening that I'll write a book one day, perhaps...

    Nice to see you as always.

  15. Freshly caught fish eh..?. I have only once had the privilege - in Bali where I saw my lunch swimming about in a tub prior to the action. As EC said - Lucky Kucky Guest!!!

  16. Lucky Lucky Guest (Ahh typos!!!)

  17. Welcome to my blog, Christine. Thanks dropping in...please don't be a stranger.

    Wow! I can't imagine not having had the many opportunities to have fresh seafood as I've had throughout my life...but, of course, it depends on so many factors, doesn't it?

    I'm glad to see someone else hates making typos as I do myself! ;)

  18. Hi Lee,

    Love the story of the chief fishing out the window.

    My dad loved to fish. I remember one fishing trip where I woke to fresh cooked trout, caught just a few minutes earlier. Best breakfast I ever had. :)


  19. G'day Janice. It's ages since I've been fishing. I have rods and fishing tackle away to my nephew. I used to love fishing, but I don't get the opportunity to do it now...and I miss that delicious freshly-caught fish!

  20. Hi there Lee,

    I'm lucky enough to own a cruising restaurant and bar on the Noosa River! Not as old as the Laguna Belle, the Daintree Lady was built and launched in Cairns in 1986 and some crazy fool sailed her down to Noosa sometime after the collapse of Ansett and the tourist flow to the Daintree.

    She runs under the business name Noosa Cruiser now, for obvious reasons, though when I first bought her in 2007, we still had people enquire over Daintree River cruises! I love to regale our dining passengers with stories, history and gossip about the Noosa River as we cruise along. I found your blog whilst searching for stories about the Laguna Belle and was really hoping for some photos of the entire boat, from the shore or the river. Yours was the first full description of how it looked that I've had - so thank you!

    Any chance you could send me any photos, please? You're a prolific writer, so I haven't had time to scour everywhere to see if you've already posted some online, but links to any existing online photos instead would also be great.

    Many thanks in anticipation,

    Ian -