03 January, 2013

Cool-o-Cream Bermagui

When the reward is worth it, I'm not averse to some serious travel to get to good food. Seven hours on bus and train for a bucatini alla amatriciana in its hometown is one of my most memorable efforts. But an eight-hour drive for what is probably Australia's best gelato may just top that.

Bermagui is a small town on NSW's idyllic South Coast. Less well known than southern neighbours Eden and Merimbula, it is regardless a delightful, perfectly sized town boasting a compact, curving beach of gentle, aquamarine waves.

Even more impressive is the Blue Pool, which combines the safety of swimming in a pool with the views of swimming in the ocean.

All that swimming inevitably leads to craving for two things: fish and chips, and ice cream.

The fried stuff is taken care of by Saltwater Cafe, with its pleasing view over the very harbour where the battered fish most likely arrived that morning.

Any fish missed by the fisherman might be taken care of by these big-beaked chaps.

As for the ice cream craving, there's no better place in Australia to indulge it. Officially called Cool-o-Cream, Bermagui's hidden culinary treasure is better known as the Gelati Clinic: having taken over the spot previously occupied by Bermi's veterinary clinic they simply painted over the only word on the sign that no longer fitted and replaced and with that which they do best - gelati.

And do they what. Flavours rotate often enough that my promised three visits a day always threw up different choices. The range is divided into half creamy - which tended to have the more interesting combinations - and half icy - normally featuring fruit. Without exception, all the fruit flavours tasted intensely of their ingredients. Local growers bring down produce in exchange for vouchers, so the range matches local availability.

Even without repetition between the two of us over six visits, we only scratched the surface of their full range, judging by the box of labels (all in both English and Italian) we saw them ferreting through each morning. Burnt milk, sadly, did not make an appearance while we were there, but, happily, neither did curry! Over three days, this is what we managed to cover:

Liquirizia (Licorice): most of us are firmly pro- or anti-licorice. If you're in the former camp, get in the car now and drive to Bermi. I only had a taste of this (being more in the latter camp), but it's strong, super salty, and with an astonishing aniseed after-hit

Ciccolata piccante (Chilli chocolate): Richly chocolate, undeniably hot

Miele e zenzero (Honey and ginger): One of those great combos where both flavours are strongly identifiable but go together perfectly

Fragola (Strawberry): Creamier and more strawberry than a bowl at Wimbledon

Ananas (Banana): All it needed was a touch of honeycomb to be the perfect ice cream treat

Pesca (Peach): Peachier than the peachiest peach

Campari e pompelmo (Campari and grapefruit): Every bit as bitter as the aperitif

Mandarino cinese (Kumquat): So sour my mouth went slightly numb

Tangelo: The surprise favourite. Imagine the freshest fruit you can, add ice (and the smell of the sea) and you've got the taste

Rabarbaro (Rhubarb): An amazing complement to the tangelo. Where one was all icy tang, this was incredibly smooth and creamy

Cardamom, saffron and nut: (tasted only)

Chocolate sorbet: Judged by some to be the ultimate in iced desserts. This was rich yet bitter, and best taken in small portions

Uvetta, ciccolata e grappa (Chocolate, grappa and raisin): an Italian take on rum and raisin. Two scoops of this and you'd probably be tipsy

Pecan e cannella (Pecan and cinnamon): Delicious. Exactly what you're looking for in gelato

Stracciatela (Chocolate cuts): a gelato classic, immensely satisfying

Arancia, limone e carota (Orange, lemon and carrot): I thought this was mango from its colour. Instead it was unbelievably refreshing, fruity flavour, balanced by what was definitely carrot, but which mixed in so well I wouldn't have picked it if I hadn't known

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