“Skiffies”, The Spit and the Middle Harbour 16ft Skiff Club

10.23am, Thursday 3rd May, George Street, Sydney city central, NSW, Australia

Morning, folks, and today is being brought to you by the ‘skiffies’.

What are they, I hear you ask?

Well, back in colonial times, on and around the water maze that is Sydney Harbour and all its nooks and crannies, the ‘skiffies’ are the blokes that rowed people and every imaginable cargo to and from the ships and cutters to the docks and warehouses. They had heavy wooden boats called ‘skiffs’, and whilst they were more commonly rowed from point A to B, whenever they could, they’d hoist their sail for return journeys, ending up in fierce competition developing between the ‘skiffies’ to be king of the Harbour. This eventually developed into reasonably organized racing which was even supported by the local bookmakers of the time.

So this, folks, is a skiff …

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It’s the “Farewell” in full flight at Middle Harbour in 1948, and it’s framed and on the wall at the entrance of the Middle Harbour 16 ft Skiff Club, which you’ll find on the southern side of The Spit bridge. Probably a good time to explain ‘The Spit’ as well – it’s two narrow pointy bits of land and a bridge that join up Sydney’s inner north suburbs with the Northern Beaches – Mosman to Clontarf more or less separating Middle Harbour and some little bloodstream bays and hollows going west from the main Harbour water. This is what it looked like back in the early days – boat wharves and fishing docks (photo also pinched from the wall at the club) …

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So as local legend has it, a group of these local “skiffies” got together around the Adams Boatshed on The Spit Wharf in 1902 and formalized the competition between the boats, and The Middle Harbour 16ft Skiff Club was born.

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And last night, we christened the new restaurant at the club – Skiffies – by doing their first-ever wine dinner, in conjunction with Zest, who look after the food and drink side of things at the club, and Jeremy, the chef who sets the bar nice and high with what you’ll find on the menu. And from our Yalumba wine world, it was all organised by the lovely Luca Scuri, sporting a very European close-clipped GQ coverman beard look that he picked up on his very recent holiday in Lake Como, Italy (yes, that’s right – George Clooney country). I like it!

So, I hope the long introduction makes sense now, because until I went to dinner last night, I had no idea whatsoever about what a “skiffie” was. Now I’m a bit of an instant expert, and I love the place, especially the deck perched out over the water, virtually on top of the boats moored around that part of the Spit.

Now to the food and wine combinations that won the day. Easy decision really, here you go:

2010 Yalumba Eden Valley Viognier with one of the ‘fluffiest’, separates down into fibres, not chewy “pork belly with fennel, fresh apple and candied walnuts” dishes that we’ve seen this year.

The Coonawarra ‘pigeon pair’ of Cabernet wines – the 2010 Yalumba The Cigar and the 2008 Yalumba The Menzies – purple berries and purpler berries respectively! They ducked and weaved very nicely around “beef fillet, parsley risotto, braised beef cheek (moulded into a cube of sorts seared to give a slight crispy ‘skin’ ) tarragon and horseradish”. Jeremy did a great job here – and had everything surrounded by a stripe of reduced sticky sauce made from the 2010 Cigar itself. Trust me – all those plates went back with not a crumb remaining!

Last but not last, the smoky coffee mocha bottomless wall of fruit 2008 The Signature was previewed with some cheese – washed rind, blue, tangy cheddar – glace figs and quince paste. Nice concentrated flavors both ways really, and a fitting ‘finisher offer” to the first big wine and foodie night at Skiffies inside the “newly refurbished back to the old polished timber panel” Middle Harbour 16ft Skiff Club. We are thrilled to bits to report that Joan and the boys have asked us back to do it all again next year, and we’d also like to wish Trevor (current GM of the Club itself) all the very best with the new 16ft skiff racing season that gets under way in September. Thanks very much to you all for having us, see you next winter.

Oh … and keep an eye on the Sailors Deck Bar  … you may just find me propped there watching the boats if I get a spare moment next trip to Sydney!

2 responses to ““Skiffies”, The Spit and the Middle Harbour 16ft Skiff Club

  1. We had lunch here on the weekend. The foods always been pleasant here. Have been dining here over the past 20 + years. Thought we’d try the tiger prawns assuming they’d be Australian tiger prawns… Not so! They were so salty my friend spat his out. Vietnamese tiger prawns we’d all say. A table of 6 each having a taste can’t be wrong… Not one of your greatest. We left most of them and shared others meals with copious amounts of water to drown out the taste (salt)

    • Hi Bill, I hope you let them know. That’s not right at all and its usually pretty good there.This is not to annoy you, but as a bit of a prawn perfectionist myself, we were spoiled rotten this weekend when our mates from Port Lincoln – K+K Cooling – came to town. They look after a lot of the refrigeration over there and we hosted a tasting in one of our underground tanks for their double birthday group on Saturday – they had a top time and surprised us with two foam boxes of seafood on ice that had flown across the Spencer Gulf with them. 10 dozen oysters opened that morning – I gave them away around the winery – and enough prawns to keep 5 of us smiling Saturday night for dinner, with the tablecloth made completely out of newspaper! No salty taste at all, just shelled, fresh lemon juice, a wave at most near the cracked pepper, and away! All I can say is that I wish you could have been there….it made this prawn lover a happy gal!

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