TAV­ERNA fuses North Coast NSW’s SLEEPY BEACH charm with OLD-WORLD GREECE. Craig Tans­ley sam­ples the re­gion’s BEST NEW of­fer­ing.

Australian Traveller - - Weekends Reviews -

I HAVEN’T EVEN MADE IT in­side Tav­erna and al­ready my hack­les are raised; there’s a show­room of $100,000-plus Euro­pean cars parked out­side. Much of the Far North Coast of New South Wales has been over­taken by the ‘fancy bri­gade’; boat shoe and polo shirt-wear­ers (with col­lars raised), swan­ning be­tween lunches in shiny Porsche SUVs. The sleepy ham­let of Kingscliff was al­ways a tar­get, with a glo­ri­ous river that cuts through town and its lo­ca­tion just 20 min­utes from Gold Coast Air­port. But it takes barely 60 sec­onds for my fears to be al­layed; there’s a down-home qual­ity that you feel from the mo­ment you’re in­side. Per­haps it’s the rus­tic old brick floor, or the sim­ple ta­ble set­tings; though more likely it’s the staff. There’s not a sin­gle ‘sir’ or ‘madam’ din­ing in Tav­erna today. I’m seated by the open front win­dows that look across to the Pa­cific Ocean and a rugged off-shore islet (Cook Island), though my view is dom­i­nated by a More­ton Bay fig tree full of sleep­ing corel­las. It’s as if Santorini got fused into a jus with a Fred­er­ick McCub­bin land­scape. That’s not where the fu­sion ends. Own­ers Mark Wil­son and Lia Ma­son (along with part­ner Lee Mid­den­dorf) run the re­gion’s best-re­garded eatery, Ca­sua­r­ina’s Os­te­ria, and its blend­ing of tra­di­tional Ital­ian fare with mod­ern Aus­tralian ideas is leg­endary in these parts. Tav­erna does the same, Greek-style. A sig­na­ture dish I try first is a North Coast take on saganaki: By­ron Bay haloumi, lightly fried and driz­zled with bush honey washed down with Aus­tralia’s first Assyr­tiko (pro­duced by Jim Barry Wines). Fried cheese will al­ways make new friends, but it’s ac­tu­ally the del­i­cate dishes Tav­erna does so well like the con­fit ocean trout with artichoke hearts and goat’s cheese on a fresh ap­ple and mint salad that I or­der as a main. And the fried lo­cal squid with sea­weed crisps and a pink pep­per­corn mayo. Sure, I have neigh­bours in up-col­lared Ralph Lau­ren pink, but in­side Tav­erna, it’s still the same Kingscliff my grand­par­ents moved here for 35 years ago.

CLOCK­WISE FROM FAR LEFT: Tav­erna’s well-stocked bar; Slow-roasted lamb; Breezy in­te­ri­ors; Re­fresh with a cock­tail; Colour­ful food fu­sions; The beach­side restau­rant’s gor­geous façade.

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