It looks nothing like any other fish shop in South Australia. Two vast drying cabinets laden with whole fish and strings of seafood sausages dominate the rear wall. An artful arrangement of whole fresh fish fills an ice chest at the front counter. An attendant serves as your seafood concierge, enquiring what fish you require and how you’d like to cook it – or whether you’d like it cooked in-store. They offer smart alternatives to various fish varieties, tempt you to sample dry-aged delicacies from the rear cabinet, or even to stay in the store and eat an extraordinary array of seafood cooked to order from the Argentinean-style wood-fired grill.
This is Angler, a thoroughly modern, sustainable and ethical fish shop, established by chef Sam Prance-Smith early this year in the main street of Stirling.
The Adelaide Hills may seem an unlikely destination for such a highly specialised seafood vendor but Prance Smith says that’s exactly the point. He grew up in Stirling and cooked at Star of Greece in Port Willunga before travelling the world to work in kitchens from Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in the UK to Cutler & Co and Attica in Melbourne. Upon returning home, he realised that a superior fish shop that focused on educating customers about sustainable seafood choices and providing restaurant-quality preparation would be unique in the Adelaide Hills. With support from his aunt, Amanda Prance, he transformed the former Barossa Fine Foods shop in Stirling into an elegant, contemporary seafood emporium that has swiftly attracted a large and loyal local customer base.
The chef admits this approach proved much smarter than opening a specialist fish restaurant – especially when COVID-19 restrictions hit only two months after Angler opened. Instead of being forced to close its doors, Angler’s takeaway orders boomed, enabling this ambitious new business to flourish.
Prance-Smith’s goal is to provide customers with the unexpected – and ensure it’s delicious. His ingenious “carp bacon” – dry-aged, smoked fillet grilled over Redgum and mallee coals – joins an unusual array of cured fish treats such as licorice-cured sashimi trout. Surprises abound: minced carp burgers, smoked-then-grilled prawn and green ant sausages, fried prawn dumplings and snook red curry. Trimmings are repurposed, with prawn shells in the stock for prawn and carrot soup, and fish scales turned into crisps.
If you decide to eat in, and perch on the few stools in shop’s front window, there are grilled Moreton Bay bugs (sourced from Spencer Gulf), pan-fried scallops, and the classic fare of King George whiting fillets or Coorong mullet in crisp beer batter with irresistible hand-cut, twice-cooked chips.
Angler provides such diverse options thanks to ready supplies from Fair Fish SA, a grassroots cooperative that is providing an alternative business model for local fishermen. Fair Fish began by making direct sales to the restaurant trade from their boats, selling their daily catch via a mobile app rather than trying to catch prescribed orders. This system circumvents bycatch issues, where unpopular fish caught in nets get thrown back to the sea. It also means a more diverse array of fish species are being promoted in SA – and sold at more modest prices.
The public now has access to Fair Fish, after COVID-19 restrictions disrupted restaurant orders. A virtual shopfront located on the Fair Fish website is updated daily with the available catch, allowing customers to select specific fish species, pay for it online and schedule home delivery. Online subscribers can also purchase a $40 Seasonality Box that contains a mix of both popular species and secondary species.
Helping this idea to gain traction among consumers is Same Dish, New Fish – a new fish recipe campaign devised by Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) that promotes consumption of less familiar fish and seafood species.
PIRSA is concerned that most fishing activity remains focused on a small number of popular species, placing increased pressure on fishing stocks.
PIRSA aims to popularise a more diverse array of species among consumers with an information and education campaign based on recipes devised by Callum Hann. The popular Masterchef Australia contestant and proprietor of Sprout Cooking School at Hilton has been a PIRSA ambassador for many years and says being involved in the new campaign has taught him much about the versatility of many less popular fish species – such as snook, leather jacket and tommy ruff.
“My brief was to present familiar recipes that would be easy to replicate by most consumers – pies, burgers, risotto, curries – but using less known species as the hero ingredient,” says Hann.
The campaign will cover seven recipes – promoted with how-to-cook videos and recipe cards. “It aims to make people more confident in the kitchen by making these different fish instantly recognisable to people,” says Hann. “With confidence, home cooks will be more open to using different cuts of fish and they’ll learn that most fish are very adaptable across many recipes.”
The task to convince more people to eat more types of fish remains a significant challenge, with statistics showing that consumers are becoming much fussier about choosing whether to buy and cook seafood.
Research commissioned by the Marine Stewardship Council (conducted by independent insights and strategy consultancy firm GlobeScan) shows 26 per cent of Australians are eating less seafood than five years ago – including a 40 per cent drop among the 18–24 year demographic.
A quarter of survey respondents avoid purchasing seafood because they say choosing is too complicated, while 88 per cent say they want better information so they can confidently buy sustainable seafood.
This continues to grow as a primary concern among consumers, as 75 per cent of survey respondents say supermarkets should remove all unsustainable fish and seafood products of their shelves, and 78 per cent say restaurants should take all unsustainable fish and seafood products off their menus.
“Customers demand and deserve to know more about the fish they purchase, and that’s why we provide specific details, right down to the name of the fisherman who caught them,” says Prance Smith. “We have the technology, so now we have the responsibility to do this.”
Shop 5/11 Mount Barker Rd, Stirling
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