Cravings On The Coast
Dodging all fast-food pitstops on a weekend escape from sydney, Tatyana Leonov and her husband encounter friendly farmers and innovative chefs eager to provide gourmet sustenance throughout their south coast adventure.
New South Wales’ South Coast region has long been known for its powdery white-sand beaches, turquoise-blue water and sightings of majestic whales. It’s now fast gaining a reputation as a foodie hotspot – and it’s not just chefs and restaurateurs putting the stunning location on the culinary circuit. The growers, farmers, fishermen and producers are also responsible for making farm-fresh mainstream.
In between time spent in the sun and sea, this road trip’s menu was filled with freshly caught fish, shucked oysters, local meats, just-picked berries and seasonal vegetables, along with homemade chutneys and smoked cheese. And as an added bonus, on a weekend set for food and frivolity, we ended up meeting some of Australia’s friendliest folk.
The picturesque town is about an hour-and-a-half’s drive from Sydney. Families, couples and groups of friends roam along the main street, picnic on the grassy knoll overlooking the sea, or check out Kiama’s famous blowhole. First discovered in 1797 – officially by British explorer George Bass, although Aboriginals had discovered it earlier – the erratic, wind-dependent water spurt has been attracting travellers for many years. We arrive on a windy day, and the loud noise that accompanies the spray is as magnificent as we imagine. Hundreds of people watch in awe as the water surges out, then quickly disappears.
A few steps away at Blowhole Point we find Pilot’s Cottage, a small museum that offers history enthusiasts the chance to immerse themselves in Kiama’s past. The cutesy traditional bolthole houses all kinds of paraphernalia related to Kiama’s renowned orifice, as well as information on shipwrecks, the dairy industry and historic buildings in the form of paintings, photographs, models and artefacts.
After a quick history lesson we stroll to the recently opened milk&honey café. Recalling the beginnings of their establishment, husband-and-wife team Mick and Liz say they wanted to introduce something different to Kiama: “I wanted a point of difference,” says Liz while simultaneously serving a customer. “Remember when service was good and food was great? That’s what I wanted to bring back.”
The café’s interior scheme exudes retro-cool – a pastel-colour palette of crèmes, pinks and browns, accentuated with the addition of quirky-cool furniture scattered around. “I spent so much time collecting and storing all these items,” Liz laughs, settling down on a comfy- looking lounger. “This is our life.”
About 30 minutes from Kiama, the perpetually busy inland town of Berry is renowned for its good food, trendy shops and eccentric atmosphere. Even the approach by road is nothing short of spectacular – think luscious, rolling hills and expansive fields.
The Berry Sourdough Café and Hungry Duck have long been the town’s go-to eateries, but it’s the newcomers that are hitting those top gastronomy notes. “The last six months have been fantastic for Berry,” explains Carole Ruta, who together with her partner Ian Gray manages South Coast Providores, a shop where they sell their own homemade chutneys, relishes and jams.
The charismatic twosome are like schoolchildren in love, and quickly reveal their knowledge of all things edible. Carole has a few cookbooks under her belt, and has worked in restaurants and food stores all her life, while Ian has a strong background in both food and Champagne.
Upon Carole’s recommendation – she noted the chef’s “way with fish” – we soon have our lunch spot sorted. She had been referring to John Evans, a Welshman who together with his partner Sonia Greig opened the modern, industrial-inflected restaurant South on Albany in the second half of 2013. His Welsh origins help give the food a gutsy oomph, while Sonia’s background in food presentation – she’s styled food for leading publishing houses – seals the deal.
On the fourth Sunday of every month there’s a produce market held at Cupitt’s Winery, so the next day we get among the growers and producers before grabbing lunch at winery restaurant Vineyard Kitchen. Griff and Rosie Cupitt bought the farm in 2003, envisioning running a small cellar door and restaurant to take them into retirement. But word quickly got out, and the eatery grew to become one of the area’s best. When we arrive at the market it’s busy with patrons – some taste relishes, others buy oodles of fresh garden-grown greens – while a gaggle of giggling ladies are devouring huge, fluffy scones on the charming lawn.
Rosie is a passionate advocate of the concept of “slow food”. She explains the coinage has nothing to do with slow cooking or slow eating, but serves as an antonym to fast food, and refers to preparing food using local traditions and produce.
We take our time with lunch – whether it’s slow food or not, we want to savour every bite and take advantage of the stunning vineyard vistas. An entrée of scallops is both fragrant and earthy, the subtle flavours of carrot, ginger and leek accentuating the tenderness of the scallop meat, while a pork and pistachio terrine combines an array of interesting textures and flavours.
Feeling full, we head to Mollymook and spend the afternoon swimming, moving as much as possible to make space for dinner at The Digging Stick Aboriginal Food and Art Café. Come dinnertime we’re ready, and although we hadn’t planned on it, we spend hours here because of the owners’ contagious energy. Noel Butler is an Indigenous Aboriginal Elder, and runs the café together with his partner Trish Roberts. We soon learn this is just a tiny part of what the compelling duo does. Together they’ve performed all around the world – Trish sings and Noel backs her with instruments, dancing and fire lighting – and have also carried out cultural teachings and enrichment programmes. “People have the right to be who they are, and the right to be accepted for who they are,” says Noel, a passionate advocate of Indigenous education.
Tonight, it’s cooking. “We’d like to cook in a fire or a hole in the ground, but we can’t...” Noel trails off. “The next best thing is basic cooking. Fresh, local ingredients, cooked basically.”
The seared kangaroo, emu meatballs and vegetarian delights we taste that night, the beautiful Aboriginal art and sculptures dotted around the casual eatery, just chatting to Noel and Trish about their lives – the whole experience makes this the highlight of our trip.
When we thought that the evening couldn’t get any better, we arrive at the luxurious Bannisters in Mollymook. After a quick nightcap at Rick Stein at Bannisters restaurant we climb the stairs to our water-view suite, collapse into the sumptuously soft bed and are quickly lulled to sleep by the gentle sounds of the sea.
Bodalla, a little country town that was once known as the dairy capital of the state, is our end point. The once-famous Bodalla milk factory was closed down in 1987, but charming Sandra McCuaig didn’t want the rich history of the town to go to waste. Together with her husband Robert she turned an old motel into a retro-styled milk café and cheese factory – Bodalla Dairy.
At first Sandra comes across as prim and proper: wearing a crisp, faultlessly ironed white shirt, her smile feels purely professional. That is, until you find a topic she wants to chat about – and it doesn’t take us long before we’re on the subject of cheese.
Sandra animatedly offers us her newest addition – cheese smoked with fresh gum leaves – watching us closely to gauge our reactions as we taste
the concoction. “This is what Bodalla Dairy is all about,” she gushes after establishing that we like her creation. “I’ve just started smoking the cheese, and we make milk the old-fashioned way. We pasteurise the milk hours after the cows are milked, and then heat it gently, preserving its flavour and health benefits.”
We order a milkshake each and join a bunch of kids watching calves as they get their daily 4pm bottle-feed. One of the girls squeals in excitement as a calf drinks from the bottle she’s holding, and we both laugh out loud. Who knew that the simplest pleasures – like drinking a milkshake while watching a child laugh – would be a highlight of our South Coast getaway.
Where to stay
With everything from motels and farmstays to plush suites and seaside shacks, there’s something for everyone.
Budget: Try one of the camping sites along the coast. Big4 holiday camps with a variety of cabin and campsites; nsw.big4.com.au/ south-coast.aspx
Mid-range: Kiama Shores Motel has spacious rooms in a central location. 45–51 Collins St, Kiama; kiamashores. com.au
Luxury: Bannisters in Mollymook is the ultimate luxury getaway, sitting on a hilltop overlooking the sea. 191 Mitchell Pde, Mollymook; bannisters.com.au
Where to eat
Milk&honey: Blowhole Point Rd, Kiama; kiama.com.au/ kiama/milk-and- honey-cafe
South Coast Providores: 89 Queen St, Berry; southcoast providores.com.au
South On Albany: 3/65 Queen St, Berry; southonalbany. com.au
Rick Stein at BannisterSs: 191 Mitchell Pde, Mollymook; bannisters.com.au
Vineyard kitchen: 58 Washburton Rd, Ulladulla; cupittwines.com.au
The Digging Stick & Art Café: 16 Wason St, Ulludulla
Bodalla Dairy: 52 Princes Hwy, Bodalla; bodalladairyshed. com.au