Not too far off the Princes Highway near Nowra, at the end of a dusty driveway littered with shells, is an oyster farm and a rustic shack owned by Jim Wild. It might not be polished, but don’t be too quick to judge. If anything, the no-frills dining space on the riverbank is evidence that Wild and wife Robyn concentrate all their efforts on growing top-notch oysters.
Over the past 32 years, Jim Wild’s Oyster Service has become much more than just a detour for those driving along the south coast; it’s a destination in itself. “We have people from all over the world come here and eat our oysters,” says Wild. Visit and you’ll not only taste some of the best damn oysters going around, they’ll be opened for you at lightening speed by the 1984 Galway Oyster Shucking Champion himself. After dominating Australian oyster-opening competitions in the ‘80s, Wild travelled to Ireland where he opened 30 oysters in two minutes and 31 seconds, claiming the title of fastest oyster opener in the world. If you’re not convinced, peek through the window above the sink to witness the knife work for yourself.
“The secret is knowing where to hit the oyster. A lot of people go in through the hinge, but I go through the flare end,” explains Wild. “There’s a muscle on the left-hand side, so just push the knife down, then work it to the left and cut the muscle. Once you’ve done that it just opens up and there’s your oyster.”
If you’re feeling confident (or prefer takeaway) you can buy your oysters unopened. Otherwise, order them freshly shucked by the dozen. The small, creamy Sydney rock oysters – so delicate you can almost pop them with your tongue – are best enjoyed natural with a touch of ground pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon. Wild recommends a good dash of Tabasco with the bigger, slightly chewier Pacific oysters. Both are usually salty enough, thanks to the salt water that trickles in when opened fresh. If raw isn’t your thing, juicy prawns (usually from Crystal Bay) provide an excellent alternative. Occasionally on the weekend it will serve oysters Kilpatrick, too. Just remember to bring your own beer and wine.
Grown in estuaries, it’s the combination of ocean and fresh water that makes the region’s oysters some of the finest in the world. Much of Wild’s success is owed to his fresh-is-best philosophy, with every oyster opened on the day. “If we have any left over we usually take a feed home ourselves,” says Wild, who still eats them every day. “I can’t help myself. I never get sick of oysters.” Once harvested they head to the cool room set at 12 degrees; like a cold winter’s day. They can be stored here for about two weeks before being shucked to order. “The oyster’s still alive in the shell. He’s just living in his own juice and stayin’ alive,” says Wild, before belting out the Bee Gees.
Despite the demand, the oyster industry has seen a steady decline over the years, as it’s difficult to find young people willing to carry on the farms. Luckily for Wild, his daughter has promised to continue the business when he and his wife retire. The biggest day-to-day challenge he now faces is deciding which party shirt to wear. His wardrobe houses more than 100 shirts, which he’s collected from everywhere from Lowes to Hawaii. He even has some custom-made by a lady in Nowra. “Some of them are pretty special. They’ve kind of become my trademark – that’s how people know they’re at Jim Wild’s Oysters.”
Jim Wild’s Oyster Service
170 Greens Road, Greenwell Point
(02) 4447 1498
Wed to Sat 9am–4pm