I’ve fallen in love with the sea again, that mother of all things salty and succulent. It’s a slow burn, this love affair, our household gently veering towards pescatarianism.
Little do we know, as we wind our way up the lush hills of Terranora, past new housing estates and country manors, gazing often at the expansive view across the plains, that we’re about to discover a new love. At the newly-refurbished Pavilions Marketplace, The Inky Squid Fish & Chippery is beached on the mountaintop, a few steps from sea views.
Owner/partners Jessica Price and chef Ben Jones are well known in the area. Former owners of a large restaurant in the Riverview Hotel, Murwillumbah, overlooking the river, the pair moved on following the sale of the hotel, Jessica to start a family and work as a hospitality trainer, Ben to cook at Gwinganna and then Taverna as part of the start-up crew. All high-end, so why a fish shop?
“We live so close to the ocean, yet we found it hard to buy great seafood when we went out,” Jess says, “so the product drove the concept.”
The Inky Squid opened in April 2018, a cute little shop with ‘fish scale’ tiles and large timber bi-folds looking out on a communal dining pavilion (presently under construction). With simple clean lines, yet classy and visually pleasing, the fit-out is a smart move in an age of ‘overkill’.
Having the dual role of selling freshly prepared seafood-based meals as well as fresh seafood to go, it’s Jess’s friendly service and Ben’s connection to suppliers that are essential to the shop.
Ben can’t speak highly enough of Northern Rivers Seafood, Ballina, who text through each night’s catch, delivered in time for start of trade each day. From dory bites and panko-crumbed prawns through to grilled goldband snapper, there’s a range of fish to choose from, the cabinet full of the night’s catch of blue eye trevalla, flathead, whiting or jewfish, premium fresh Cone Bay barra as well as freshly cooked bugs and prawns; sparklingly fresh Aussie seafood to take home by the piece or for Ben to cook ‘your way’. Using a mix of cholesterol-free cottonseed and sunflower oil, Ben gives due respect to the fish (and also to GF and celiac diners whose meals are cooked in a separate fryer).
Making as much as he can in house, such as his own lemon pepper and mint, coconut and soy dressing for the tempura oysters (or grilled fish), Ben sources everything else locally from artisanal producers: fruit and veg from the Tweed Valley Fruit Exchange (what’s nicer than fish with fresh salad?), Byron Bay Mozzarella Co’s haloumi drizzled with Tropical Fruit World’s lemon myrtle syrup ($12)…
…chicken from Jack Sprat’s Butchery, Tweed, spiced up with harissa and served with cumin-yoghurt on a burger, and whole egg organic mayo and tartare served with seafood and local non-alcoholic bushfood-infused Sobah beer on tap. Top stuff!
My love song today, however, is to seaweed. More than just flotsam washed up on the seashore, seaweed is more nutritionally dense than any land-grown vegetable, a treasure chest of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals…and who would have thought it could be so delicious!
Of course, many of us already know wakame (seaweed salad) from dining at sushi outlets, but when the lemon pepper squid arrive in their recyclable box, they’re bedded down with wakame’s ugly older sister…Tasmanian dulse leaf.
Honestly? It’s Ben’s ‘pièce de resistance’. Set against the softly yielding squid, the sheets of fried seaweed crack, brittle to the bite, their salty goodness speaking loudly of their mother, the sea.
And, in that moment, I know that we will travel up that hill again, through rain or shine, just to enjoy that unique dish.
Yes, the fish is sensational. But the seaweed’s a revelation. Salut, chef!
Shop 5, 2-14 Henry Lawson Drive, Terranora, NSW Ph: 0467 069 012
Open: Tues – Sun 11.30am – 7pm