*Yeah, I know, they’re also called potato cakes by some people. But in Canberra, most people call them potato scallops, so please relax everyone from Victoria, m’K?
Tucked away in the far corner of the often crowded carpark of the Charnwood Shopping Centre is one of Canberra’s many hidden culinary gems. You may already know that Regal Charcoal Chicken in Charnwood makes Canberra’s best charcoal barbeque chicken, but did you know their potato scallops were pretty bloody awesome too?
Well they are. I know a picture is worth a thousand words, so check this out… a perfectly soft and creamy freshly cooked potato interior enveloped in a crispy, crunchy warm batter. Is there a better comfort food on a cool Canberra evening?
The owner and purveyor of these fine specimens of fried perfection, Angelo, doesn’t let himself be distracted by the semantic scallops vs cakes debate. As he matter-of-factly explained to me, “Most people in Canberra call them potato scallops, so when someone occasionally asks for potato cakes, I know exactly what they mean, so it’s not really a problem at all.” Such wisdom would help hose down many a debate on social media, but unsurprisingly, Angelo is too wise to spend much time on twitter. He has better things to do with his time, like feed the hungry families of west Belco. I recently sat down with Angelo to discuss scallops and the suburban takeaway food business, and also met some of his wonderful team, including Ashleigh in the photo below.
Angelo’s delicious scallops are hand-made several times per week, depending on demand. At least three times a week, he and his team unpack bags of special extra-large scallop-sized potatoes, The fresh potatoes are machine-peeled and washed before being passed through a mechanical slicer that ensures each scallop is precisely the same size so it can be perfectly cooked throughout the scallop. He adds a batter that includes a special mix of secret spices, which he wouldn’t reveal. I begged him to let me know what was in it so I could try cooking it at home, but all he would reveal was it included self-raising flour, water and salt and that anyone trying this at home should start with those basic ingredients for the batter. The battered potato scallops are then partially cooked until they are a light golden colour and placed in refrigeration, until they are used, usually within a couple of days. They are quickly cooked a second time just before each sale to ensure the batter stays as crisp as possible. Angelo stressed the importance of not freezing the scallops. Many takeaway shops sadly use pre-made frozen scallops and the quality and taste of the batter deteriorate.
Ever since my better half and I moved to Macgregor about 15 years ago we’ve been regulars at this fine establishment. Angelo explained the shop has been here nearly 40 years and he has had the good fortune of running it for the past 14 years, having previously run a similar shop in Mona Vale in Sydney. It was quickly apparent that he has a great rapport with customers and his own staff, who he says he treats like his own family. I’ve certainly been impressed by the service and friendliness.
I can’t write anything about Charnwood, ever, without mentioning the barbeque chicken at this place. While I was asking Angelo about his scallops the conversation inevitably turned to his barbeque chooks. Why were they so tasty?! They’re certainly better than the ones at Coles or Woollies, and better than many other takeaway chicken shops. He explained that there were two essential ingredients. The first is proper barbequing chickens. The second was charcoal. That makes perfect sense! He explained he uses chickens from Baiada Poultry and they’re specially bred and supplied with a charcoal-specific stuffing which Angelo and his staff add prior to barbequing. He also uses a unique charcoal-only cooking process. All the heat is derived solely from the charcoal, without any gas. Electricity is used solely to rotate the chickens on rotisserie sticks.
Angelo explained that charcoal barbequing is an art and an experienced hand is required to stoke the charcoal and watch the cooking process to ensure chickens are evenly cooked, both on each stick and by rotating the sticks to different positions on the barbeque, starting at the front, where the hottest charcoal is found. Each chicken takes between 80 and 90 minutes to cook, depending on the heat of the charcoal and the ambient temperature.
This attention to quality control is reflected in all the food sold at Regal, including the pizza, burgers and salads. Angelo prides himself on not spending a cent on advertising but letting word of mouth and customer satisfaction ensure his business grows, despite the strong competition from other takeaways, restaurants and food outlets within walking distance of his shop.
Back to the topic of potato scallops (or cakes, for Victorians), the ABC recently published a potato scallop map, showing who calls them what names. It highlights the geographic variety in some words of Australia’s unique language. If we had more time we could compare it to the pot/middy/pint map or sausage-in-bread vs sausage sandwich map!
Do you have a local takeaway that does awesome potato scallops (or potato cakes)? Please share the details in the comments below!
I suspect potato scallops are a bit like kebabs or HSPs, everyone will usually prefer their local shop, where they probably know the owners or staff and feel better supporting a local business. That’s fine, just tell us why your local potato scallops (or cakes) are the best!
Elias Hallaj (aka CBRfoodie) is a part-time food blogger and full-time political staffer who has joined RiotACT as a regular contributor. All his opinions about scallops and chooks are his own. Don’t worry he is trying to cut back on fried and fatty food, but insists it’s just too damned delicious. If you have any tips or feedback you can find him on Twitter @CBRfoodie.