Hungry Hinch

The Raw Deal

Levee Food Co
27 Seaport Boulevard
Launceston, Tasmania

The culinary memory invoked by the dinner menu here had been cobwebbing in the Hinch brain for decades. Close to fifty years.
 
Something from way back in the early 1960s when this impoverished young journalist, a recent arrival from across the ditch in New Zealand, was sharing a Sydney apartment with umpteen other impoverished young bachelors.
 
There was a Police Rounds reporter nicknamed ‘Itchy Jim’. A budding real estate developer (from Tasmania) who went on to be a multi-millionaire, and a boat bum who’d just come back from sailing around Fiji.
 
We needed a heap of guys to share the rent because it was a pretty snazzy apartment opposite the Cruising Yacht Club in Sydney’s Rushcutter’s Bay.
 
Our weekend world revolved around going to the pub, talking about the slight chance of getting laid, visiting the Laundromat and the weekly trip to the butcher and the supermarket.
 
The suave millionaire-in-the-making was too busy making deals to join in those activities and was the only one who could afford to eat out.
 
The weekly grocery shopping excursion was a double challenge. Nobody could agree on what we should buy or how much we needed. The butcher’s shop was easy:  lamb chops, sausages and some chopped steak for stew.

Every week the ruddy-faced butcher would cheerfully pass on his take on world events plus his Saturday motto: ‘Remember…. if you don’t eat, you don’t shit and if you don’t shit, you die.’
 
Our biggest planning problem was The Boat Bum. He’d work erratic hours, come home spattered in tar and marine paint, and eat one thing.
 
The problem was that if there were ten slices of bread in the bin he would eat ten slices of bread. If there were four cans of baked beans in the cupboard he’d eat four cans of baked beans. Three pints of milk in the fridge? He’d drink all three.
 
He had another habit that he had picked up in Fiji. (I suspect among other things he picked up in Fiji).
 
One day there was a huge plate of grey stuff in the fridge. I asked ‘Itchy Jim’ what it was. ‘The Boat Bum’s cooking some fish’. It was still there next day although it had turned white. ‘It’s still cooking’.
 
That’s when I learned about ‘cooking’  raw fish in lemon juice.

Now, I was not long out of New Zealand where our family cooking habits made even the Poms look like gourmets. Not only was everything cooked – it was cooked until there was no hint that it had ever been raw.
 
On Sundays, roast vegetables were spread out around the leg of roast lamb, put in the oven at the same time, and cooked for a couple of hours. And Mum boiled the bejeesus out of everything. I thought cabbage started out grey until I left Kiwiland.
 
So eating fish, even if supposedly ‘cooked’ with lemon juice, was a no-no. How we change.  These days, in any ‘What would your Last Supper be?’ quiz I would have to include raw tuna sashimi and, appropriately named, Coffin Bay oysters.

I didn’t try The Boat Bum’s Fiji fish recipe. But the memory gates flooded open when I dined recently at the Levee Food Co. There on the menu was marinated Trevalla. ‘Thinly sliced fresh ‘Blue Eye’ marinated in our own vinaigrette for a minimum of seven days and served cold with dressed greens and ‘Jack Bread’.

Now even The Boat Bum would only leave it in the fridge for a couple of days. Seven days minimum? After three days they say it goes off –like visiting relatives.

Still, I had to give it a try.  And it was beautiful. Firm, white, tender, chilled, perfectly ‘cooked’ fish.

To go with it I had another cold dish: ‘Ho Chi prawns’ which were farmed prawns tossed with glass noodles and a Thai dressing served with crunchy fried shallots. Couldn’t fault that either.

The rest of the menu looked cheerful, especially Tasmanian Scallops and a huge list of pizzas, but sadly my dining partner at this business meal (not Mrs. Nosebag) would only have a green salad.

I said it took me back fifty years. So did the prices. The bill for a big plate of marinated fish, plus the prawns, the green salad and two glasses of juice: Forty bucks!

Footnote: The address is ‘Seaport Boulevard’. But the new Restaurant Row sits on a pier jutting out on to an estuary a long way from the sea. The tide was out the night we were there and the boats were all stranded high and wet in the mud. The Boat Bum would have chuckled.

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