A trip to Australia and New Zealand is a great way to learn about ultra-fresh seafood, says Mark Hix. Even better if someone dives off the side of a boat to catch it for you...

I've just got back from an amazing trip to Australia and New Zealand to check out some of the boutique wineries that supply our restaurants. Our host was John Hutton, from Berry Bros & Rudd, our wine supplier, who I mentioned a few weeks ago. Our cases remained unpacked for the trip's two-week duration, as we hopped on and off of flights every other day to get to our next destination.

Our main stop-off in Australia was Sydney, where we met up with Cameron and Allister Ashmead of Elderton Wines in the Barossa Valley. Their shiraz is just so silky and they entertained us at Rockpool, Neil Perry's restaurant, with eight courses and their own wines to match.

We also visited La Sala, where Darren Simpson, who used to work at the River Café, cooks the best Italian food in Sydney. My old mate Jeremy Strode, who I used to work with years ago, joined us for coffee; now he has his own place, Bistrode, which is situated in a converted butcher's shop in Surry Hills and which often gets referred to as the St John of Sydney.

One of the other highlights of our visit to Sydney was a trip out on George Kerr's boat. George is a good mate of Nigel Lacy from the Bayswater Brasserie and he's also a partner of Amisfield Vineyard in Central Otargo in New Zealand. Nigel's boys prepared fried mud crab, which is a memorable dish with a kind of Malaysian flavour. We ate Moreton Bay bugs too - a type of alien-lookalike local lobster - all washed down with lots of French bubbly; that antipodean sea air does give you a bit of a thirst.

Over in New Zealand, we started off at the Alana Estate in Martinborough and then went down to the Dog Point Vineyard in Blenheim. Ivan Sutherland and James Healy used to run Cloudy Bay before starting up together on a smaller scale; and Dog Point has certainly been a coup for the NZ wine industry.

Next stop was Isabel Estate in Marlborough, where we had a great barbecue and tasted a delicious dish of whitebait patties. Whitebait varies around the world, but the word generally refers to small fish. These were made with what looked like elvers, and although I couldn't quite work out what species they were, they certainly looked and tasted like our tiny glass eels. They were simply mixed into a light batter and pan-fried like blinis until crisp and then served with caper mayonnaise.

The best restaurant food we ate in New Zealand was at Amisfield Vineyard. Most vineyards have what they call a cellar door (which is a tasting room, shop or restaurant), and the chef certainly understood what simple Italian food was all about - the execution of flavours and freshness suited the climate, as did the pinot noir.

Our next and final stop off was just down the road to see Greg Hay at Peregrine. Greg's showcase winery has been voted one of the top three wineries to visit in the world, and he had a real treat in store for us. We set off by helicopter over the snow-capped mountains to his charter boat on Fiordand, an extraordinary and dramatic national park. Helicopter is the only means of transport to get to this remote spot, unless you fancy driving for 12 hours.

We set off up the fjord in the boat with Greg's partner, Derek Brown, then we anchored in a sheltered spot and Derek dived for scallops, rock lobster and giant mussels. While he was down on the bottom we jigged for blue cod and caught more than enough for our lunch. Once Derek was up from his final dive with five carefully selected rock lobsters we cracked on with lunch. Des and I knocked up a simple meal with the day's catch; when you have seafood that fresh it needs very little doing to it.

Scallop ceviche

Serves 4

Raw scallops are quite delicious and certainly on a par with oysters, but they have obviously got to be ultra-fresh. The nice thing with ceviche is that you can veer off-course slightly from the classic marinade formula. Lime juice has always been traditionally used but there's no harm in using other acidic fruits such as grapefruit or even passion fruit. For this particular one, I did use lime, which just happened to be on board, and I also added a fine dice of cucumber just to give the dish a little extra crunch.

8 large scallops, cleaned, with 4 of the shells reserved and cleaned up
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
1 small chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped
1tbsp finely shredded coriander leaves
Juice of 1 lime
1tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Quarter of a cucumber, diced into 1/3cm pieces

Cut the flesh of the cucumber into 4 pieces around the seeds and then discard them. Cut the flesh into small 1/3cm dice including the skin. Cut the scallops and the roes, if you wish, into 1/2-1cm dice, then mix with the rest of the ingredients and the cucumber and season. Leave for a couple of minutes, stirring a couple of times, then spoon into the shells and serve immediately.

Whitebait patties

Serves 4-6

The word whitebait is used worldwide for small fish - but the shape and taste will obviously differ depending on the species. The ones we had in New Zealand resembled elvers, although getting hold of them could prove tricky. Apart from our own species of whitebait, I have come across tiny eel-like fish in Taj Stores in Brick Lane, but it's up to you what form of whitebait you use.

150-200g whitebait
1 egg, beaten
80-100g self-raising flour
A little milk to mix
Salt and cayenne pepper
Oil for frying
Lemon to serve

Whisk the egg, flour and milk to form a smooth batter, then season with salt and cayenne pepper. Mix the batter and whitebait together. Heat a little vegetable oil in a large frying pan and drop tablespoonfuls of the mixture into the pan and cook for a couple of minutes on each side until crisp. Repeat with the rest of the mixture, keeping the cooked ones warm. Serve with lemon and a tartare sauce, or maybe a mayonnaise mixed with chilli, capers and parsley.

Wok-fried crab

I've had this dish twice now on George Kerr's boat in Sydney. Over there they use their native mud crabs, but it works equally well with our native crabs. It's one of those dishes where you have to get stuck in and get your hands dirty, so have a finger bowl at hand. I wasn't quite sure how the dish was made the first time round, but Nigel Lacy from the Bayswater Brasserie has kindly sent it to me.

1-1.5kg live crab
Vegetable oil for deep frying
2tbsp sesame oil
2tbsp sea salt
1tsp ground black pepper
1tsp ground white pepper
2tsp ground cumin
2 star anise, coarsely ground
1tsp ground cinnamon
Juice of 2 limes
8 snake beans or 150g prepared green beans, cooked in boiling, salted water for 4-5 minutes and drained
A handful of coriander leaves

Place the crab in a pan of salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for a couple of minutes. Drain and run under the cold tap for 4-5 minutes to cool. Remove the outer main shell and discard or save for a soup or sauce. Remove the large claws and just crack them on the main piece of claw at both joints, keeping the claws intact. Remove the dead man's fingers and chop the main body in half.

Preheat about 8cm of oil to 140-150C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Cook the pieces of crab in the fat in a couple of batches for 3-4 minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain. Chop the two pieces of body in half again.

Meanwhile, heat a couple of tablespoons of the frying oil and the sesame oil in a wok and fry the spices gently for a minute. Then add the pieces of crab and continue cooking in the wok for 4-5 minutes, turning the pieces every so often. Add the lime juice and stir well on a high heat, then toss in the beans. Transfer to a serving dish and scatter the coriander over.

Macadamia nut and manuka honey ice cream

Makes about a litre

I didn't even eat this in New Zealand or Australia, but seeing macadamia nuts and manuka honey dominating the shelves at the duty-free prompted me to come up with a recipe. Toasted nuts and fragrant honey is a great combination. If you're going to make ice-cream at home, don't cut corners on the quality of the ingredients. And if you haven't got an ice-cream machine, you could just get away with softening some vanilla ice-cream and stirring in the macadamias and honey; but don't let the ice-cream melt and then re-freeze it; you could cause problem bacteria.

400ml milk such as gold top, Guernsey or Jersey
1 1/2 vanilla pods
1/2 tsp Bourbon vanilla essence
400ml Jersey or clotted cream, or a mixture
6 egg yolks
80g caster sugar
120g macadamia nuts
1tbsp icing sugar
200g manuka honey at room temperature

Put the milk into a saucepan. Split the vanilla pods lengthways with a sharp knife and scrape the seeds into the milk with the point of the knife, then add the pods as well. Bring the milk to the boil and remove from the heat.

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together, then pour the milk on and whisk well. Return to the pan on a low heat and cook for about five minutes, stirring constantly using a whisk (don't let it boil). Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream. Leave to cool, then churn in the ice-cream machine.

Meanwhile, put the nuts on a tray lined with foil and scatter over the icing sugar and lightly brown under a medium grill, stirring every so often, until they are lightly caramelised. You can also do this in a moderate oven. When the ice-cream has almost frozen enough to remove from the machine, add the nuts. Transfer the ice-cream to a bowl or container, then stir in the honey to form a rippled effect. Freeze until firm enough to scoop, and serve.

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