Stingrays are ugly. In terms of good looks in the animal kingdom, if dolphins and birds of paradise are a 10, then stingrays rate a one. They rank down there with cockroaches and those single cell blobs from which life descended billions of years ago. They are not beautiful. They are not majestic. They are not even cute in a "pet lizard" kind of way. Stingrays are a circle with a tail. They are the table tennis racquet of the sea. They have eyes like a gargoyle. They camouflage themselves as the bottom of the ocean. They only scavenge food that has fallen to the ocean floor - which means they go through other fishes' garbage. No wonder no one eats them. They are ugly, shiftless, deceitful and have a sting in the tail. How could they possibly taste good? They would taste like some politicians. Beryl Van-Oploo thinks otherwise. She runs Lillipilli in Sydney's Rocks area, 'one of the first Aboriginal restaurants in Australia owned and operated by Aboriginals". In fact she thinks stingrays are a much-maligned seafood. She serves ray fillets as a part of her all-native Australian menu, which features emu, crocodile, wallaby and barramundi, all exclusively cooked with native bush herbs and spices such as bunya-bunya nuts, bush lemon, quandong (wild peach) and native pepper berries. Beryl worked as a TAFE teacher in catering and hospitality in Sydney for 15 years, and now, at Lillipilli (a native bush plum), she and niece Naomi Sykes are making it their mission to educate Sydneysiders who are so used to heading out to eat Vietnamese or Thai or Middle Eastern, yet to whom it would never occur to "go native". "We stick as close as possible to indigenous cooking methods as possible," says Beryl. "We use few oils and only wild bush fruits, herbs, spices and nuts. Most Aboriginal people were coastal people, and so they'd eat whatever fish they could get their hands on. As an estuary fish around Sydney that was easy to catch, they would have eaten a lot of ray." The particular ray I am having is called skate. It is diamond-shaped, and appears to have wings, as opposed to the circular ping-pong variety. Skate occur up and down the east coast, in estuary waters and open-ocean. The fillets are found in the wing sections that are cut away from the body and skinned. Beryl says she gets it from her supplier for $4.00 per kilo - which is cheaper than mullet - because a) There is a lot of wastage compared to body weight; and b) It is considered a by product of a trawler's catch. Lillipilli's entree of ray is listed as "Grilled stingray (umpara) strips served on a bed of wild rice with a delicious bush lemon butter". "Grilled umpara" sounds much better. The fillets - exactly the same as a pink-tinged white fish fillet such as deep sea bream - are pan fried in butter, with lemon juice and a good sprinkling of the bush herb lemon myrtle. Lemon myrtle grows around most of the country and has a leaf similar to a bay leaf. It can be used whole as a bay leaf would, or ground down as it has been for the sauce. Its taste is quite sweet, but with a real lemony tang. It was made for fish and chicken - or stingray - and also has medicinal value. Once the butter and herbs has been reduced to a velvety texture and the fillets are cooked, they are placed on the bed of rice and drizzled with the sauce. Cooked, the flesh is bright white, like any of your garden variety $15-$30 per kilo fish. It appears slightly stringy, as the meat runs in ridges along where the bones used to radiate out to the edges of the wing before skinning. Stringy is the last thing it is. At $4 per kilo, stingray is the best-kept secret of Australian seafood. It is moist, sweet and very tender. The lemon myrtle balances the slightest hint of fishiness perfectly. I'm here to tell you folks, stingrays might look like hell warmed up, but cooked properly, taste like heaven. Beryl also says the fish grills well. It is just a matter of leaving the skin on (much like a shark's skin, but less rough), putting it skin side down on the barbeque. In terms of other recipes, go nuts. You're only limited by what you'd normally do to other white-fleshed fish. I suggest to Beryl that I am surprised by how sweet and moist the flesh is and, based on this dish, how surprised I am that it is not readily available in at local seafood stores across the country. She smiles at me, and tells me how ironic it is that 95 per cent of Lillipilli's trade is tourists. "Australians need to be re-educated about what is right under their nose" she says. "People just don't utilise what they have in terms of naturally occurring food in this country. Hopefully we can introduce native Australian food to Australia. Anglo Saxons, still today, tend not to go outside the circle."