We never meant to go to Claypots Seafood Bar, but our original dinner plan in St Kilda was packed to the rafters and there was at least a 15 minute wait. Conscious that being a diabetic meant I would have to wait 2 hours to test my glucose levels after a meal, we decided to take our chances and wander the area to find something sooner, when a signboard caught my colleague’s eye.
“I’ve heard a lot about Claypots, but never tried it. I think it’s Asian,” she quipped as we walked through their door.
She wasn’t necessarily right on that account, nor was she completely wrong.
The décor was quite simple and almost bordering on tacky with the paper mache octopus looming overhead as we grabbed a booth seat. Our seats were more duct tape than cushioning and probably deserved to be put out of its misery, but it somehow added to the place’s rustic charm.
Claypots Seafood Bar is a celebration of everything from the sea, with its bounty of fresh seafood displayed behind a chiller window awaiting its ultimate fate on the grill in a range of spices and sauces. While there are menus, it was best to study the mounted blackboards for the day’s offering or to simply ask the staff to help.
One such lady took us under her wing and steered us clear from their claypot menu – “They’re nothing special”, she said as she flapped a hand like she was swatting a fly and directed us to what Claypots Seafood Bar truly prided themselves on. She got us up to the chiller window and described some of the ways each of the fish might be prepared and recommended for our company of four to order an entrée of prawns (one each) and two whole fish. We were sold.
Granted at AUD$10 a piece, the tiger prawns were extremely pricey as an entrée, as you could probably get large tiger prawns for $30 a kilo over the Christmas season. But would you get them cooked in garlic and served with crusty bread to soak up all the prawn oil and juices? Probably not.
I pitched to our company the sheer joy of properly prepared stingray. Despite the abundance and notorious nature of these cartilaginous fish, one rarely sees it on the Australian menu and I really wanted them to try it. A colleague once related how he had thrown a stingray back into the water on a fruitless fishing trip and I wailed in horror that he could’ve enjoyed a perfectly succulent dinner on the muscular flaps.
Grilled with a thick sambal paste of ginger and garlic, Claypots Seafood Bar’s interpretation on this commonly available Southeast Asian dish was a delightful effort. Not being too spicy in the heat department, everyone was able to enjoy the flesh, which one member of our table described to be almost as plump and firm as chicken. The complexity of the spicy dish was relieved by a simple blanched bak choy and an upturned bowl of white rice.
Our second dish might not win any beauty pageants, but who needs looks when you have a stunningly delicious whole flathead cooked in Cajun spices begging to be ravaged by all at the table? We literally picked the whole thing clean and were not the least bit apologetic about the sheer lack of decorum in doing so – mostly by me sucking at every morsel. This dish was served with the same blanched bak choy and thickly sliced potatoes.
By the end of the meal, there wasn’t a doubt in our minds Claypots Seafood Bar is an amazing eatery, well suited to those who adore fresh seafood in all its incarnations and don’t mind it staring back at you. As we walked past the chiller window to leave, much of the seafood had already disappeared into the waiting maw of diners who had filled the eatery. But be warned: Claypots Seafood Bar isn’t cheap (but when is great seafood ever cheap?), so be well prepared to fork out the dough.