When an oyster hater met the King of Oysters
Does Perth’s most famous oyster shucker Jerry Fraser know I’m an oyster hater? Even if he suspects I’d rather just photograph those slippery suckers than slurp one down, he greets me with a big grin. “Hello, Lady with the Camera! You’re back!” It’s the second time I’ve found myself at Jerry’s oyster bar at Print Hall in Brookfield Place, Perth. I never properly introduced myself but he remembered me. Aw, shucks!
I don’t like oysters. Whenever I admit this in the company of oyster lovers, it’s almost like confessing a shameful secret. There’s an expectation that a mature, discerning food lover will appreciate fresh oysters, as he or she should good wine, properly roasted coffee beans, single origin chocolate and a properly ripened smelly cheese. Just as it is for wine, coffee, chocolate and cheese, there’s such passion and prestige in the production, preparation, presentation and tasting of oysters.
I’ve given it a lot of thought over the years. More than anything, it’s their texture I find repugnant. Natural or dressed (I’m referring to the oysters), I don’t enjoy that slippery yet firm chewiness, nor their intensely sea-salty taste. To me, they’re the mutant love children of boogers and slugs abandoned at sea and best left there.
Every year or so, I try an oyster again just to check whether I still dislike them. So far, no change. Whether dressed in mignonette, plopped into a boozy shooter or topped with buttery herbs and breadcrumbs and grilled Rockefeller, I haven’t eaten an oyster I liked. Friends eager for me to join the oyster appreciation club usually suggest Kirkpatrick as the gateway to conversion. After all, bacon makes everything better. Correction – almost everything. To this oyster hater, oysters Kilpatrick are a waste of bacon. And so I continue to have this black mark on my food lover credentials.
The first time I met Jerry, my oyster-loving sweetheart Jac and I were in the city and I took her to see Perth’s King of Oysters, currently Print Hall’s shucker-in-residence. I felt like an impostor as we all chatted like old friends united by an assumed love for oysters.
Despite my attitude towards oysters, I can’t help being drawn to the charismatic character at the oyster bar. Jerry talks as he shucks. There’s a twinkle in his eye and his oyster knife blade is perpetually twisting but barely visible. Shucking looks easy in those expert hands. He’s likened his job to a cross between a hairdresser and a marine biologist – he’s a master of art of conversation as well as oyster whispering. He’s travelled all around Australia and the world in the name of oyster shucking and has lots of stories to share. And he never gets tired of seeing that moment of pleasure when a customer eats an oyster.
Tonight, four blokes sit at the bar like blackjack players waiting for the next hand. For the oyster fancier, there’s a choice between Albany rock oysters and South Australian Pacific oysters from Coffin Bay. The ‘players’ at the bar vote on which they prefer: “Rocks” or “Pacifics” – it’s evenly split. But they all agree on one thing: “Shuck us another one, Jerry!”
If Jerry’s shucking, it’s best to pull up a stool at the bar for the full Print Hall oyster experience. But if you sit elsewhere, your order will still be skilfully shucked, laid gently on crushed ice and garnished by the King.
That first time we met Jerry, Jac and I went upstairs afterwards to The Apple Daily Bar and Eating House where we grabbed drinks and a quick bite. The Apple Daily’s menu features South-East Asian street-style dishes designed for sharing and includes Jerry’s oysters (AU$4 per oyster) with lime and the Vietnamese dipping sauce, nuoc cham. Jac ordered half a dozen oysters – two Albany and four South Australian Pacific, shucked and delivered to our table by Jerry himself. She’d have voted “Pacific” in the boys’ oyster bar poll, preferring the plumper, meatier Pacific oysters to the more petite Albany Rocks.
Jac is always on the lookout for oysters whenever we dine out. We’ll be off on holiday in New Zealand soon and her gleeful plan is, in her own words, “to eat until I’m pooping oysters”.
For now, not even one of the nicest blokes in town can change my mind about oysters. I’ll let you know if my oyster status changes, and if it does, you’ll see me at Jerry’s oyster bar, knocking them back to make up for lost time.
What about you – are you an oyster fan? Why/why not?
Luckily for me, there are not just oysters buried in ice at Jerry’s oyster bar – with a new seafood menu available at Print Hall’s Main Bar, a chilled, fresh seafood feast awaits if you’re hungry enough: Jerry’s oysters, of course, with Western rock lobster (crayfish), Blue Ridge marron from near Manjimup, Cambinata yabbies grown in the tiny wheatbelt town of Kukerin, blue manna crabs, and tiger prawns. Add house made cocktail sauces and dressings, lemon and lime and Small Print artisanal sourdough bread and you’ve got yourself a seafood platter you might need a bib for. But of course, at this bar, oysters are the rock stars.
You’ll find Jerry Fraser at his oyster bar at Print Hall’s Main Bar and other venues/events around Perth. Jerry provides weekly updates of his whereabouts at his Facebook page.
Print Hall Bar and Dining Room
125 St Georges Tce, Perth
Telephone: (08) 6282 0000
Monday to Friday: 11.30am – 12midnight
Saturday: 4pm to 12midnight (Dining Room open for dinner only)
Public holidays: Closed
All-day Oyster Frenzy at Print Hall on Tuesdays
$18 a half dozen
$30 a dozen
$50 for 2 dozen
We didn’t have a full meal at The Apple Daily Bar & Eating House that night. I’ve eaten dinner there on another occasion sitting right inside the restaurant where it’s too dark for photos in the evening – from that, my top picks are the tamarind spare ribs with green papaya salad, bang bang chicken (served cold) with beansprouts and vermicelli salad and the absolute best thing in a bowl I’ve eaten for a long time, the Mae Roong fried red pork curry with pineapple (order steamed rice to go with). No bookings are taken for the Apple Daily Bar & Eating House. The service was really impressive, among the best we’ve experienced in Perth.
Coming up on the blog: the Brookfield Place Progressive Dinner, with the dessert course at Print Hall. Hopefully, there’s a Print Hall seafood platter in my near future.