For many South Australians, foraging for pipis at Goolwa Beach is a quintessential part of childhood beach holidays. Bare feet are wriggled in the wet sand until the pale clams appear (as if by magic) and are scooped up and carted off in buckets, shells clinking all the way home.
Here, chefs Brendan Roach and Rhys Badcock put pipis on a pedestal, serving them with a view of the beach from which they came. It's a big team effort. Kuti means pipi in the local Ngarrindjeri language and the tasty morsels are harvested by Ngarrindjeri-owned KutiCo and processed by Goolwa PipiCo, which backs onto the little seaside eatery and is a pipi cellar door of sorts. Take-home packs can be snapped up for $20 per kilogram.
Dining in is an immersive experience. The recently renovated, modern shack-like building is nestled between Goolwa Surf Lifesaving Club and the sea, and the sandy carpark heaves with action. Surfers gather to swap wave reports and surf life savers arrive for their shift in the sun. Inside, a casual, open plan dining space offers rugged coastal views.
Waitstaff are as local as the seafood on the plate. Co-owner Vanessa Button leads the way through share plates and more substantial dishes. A bowl of pipis swimming in XO sauce is a must. The salty, punchy broth is best slurped direct from heart-shaped shells and mopped up with chunks of sourdough. Messy but fun. Pipi linguini is another crowd favourite. Boston Bay speck, garlic, lashings of lemon butter and parmesan complement the clam's sweet, nutty flesh.
Crisp, fried whitebait with dill mayo is delightfully all crunch and punch, while Coffin Bay oysters are served on a custom ceramic oyster plate made by Button. Classic fish and chips is presented with a twist; Coopers battered SA gummy shark fillet is laced with a gentle medley of spice.
Daily specials are scrawled on butcher's paper and the seafood-averse, vegetarians and children are well looked after. During school holidays, opening hours extend to every day except Wednesday.
The predominantly South Australian wine list is small but carefully curated to complement seafood and casual beach vibes. A token French fizz, Riverland cocktail, and South Australian beer and cider are also available.
The small team's respect for the local environment and its traditional owners is tangible.
Simple but meaningful aesthetics add to the laid-back charm. Woven light shades and traditional pipi catchers hang from the ceiling (the work of Ngarrindjeri elder Ellen Trevorrow), while the bright mural on the building's exterior is a depiction of the nearby Coorong by artist Cedric Varcoe. It's all pitch perfect. There's little need for cosmetic distractions when Mother Nature is the jaw-dropping star.