Orange Crush

Why the grass is greener (and the din­ing finer) in NSW’s Cen­tral West

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PICK a res­i­dent of Orange and chances are they’ve left the bright lights to carve out a bet­ter life in the coun­try – and found the grass re­ally is greener here on the other side of the di­vide, just three and a half hours’ drive across the Blue Moun­tains from Syd­ney or al­most two hours from Dubbo.

When Willa and Shaun Arantz opened their pad­dock-to-plate restau­rant, Racine, at La Colline Wines in 2009, Willa says there was only a hand­ful of good cafés and restau­rants in the re­gional city. “Now, there are about 70 and the food has gone from de­cent to amaz­ing.”

While well-estab­lished Racine and one-hat­ted Lolli Re­dini are pop­u­lar stal­warts, newer restau­rants (in­clud­ing Sweet Sour Salt, Mr Lim and Charred) and bars (Fer­ment and Wash­ing­ton & Co.) are join­ing the party.

The sea­sons are keenly felt in this cool-cli­mate wine­grow­ing re­gion where el­e­va­tions range from 600 to 1100 me­tres – the high­est in Aus­tralia. The winer­ies are a draw­card but add a swag of great restau­rants, cafés and bars, eclec­tic shops and mod­est house prices and it’s easy to un­der­stand why peo­ple want to live here.

SIM­PLY STYLISH

Named in mem­ory of a Tus­can nonna and fam­ily friend, el­e­gant fine-diner Lolli Re­dini (lol­lire­dini.com.au) has racked up more ac­co­lades than you can poke a sil­ver but­terknife at. For those who like to dine al­fresco, Satur­day lunch un­der the mag­nif­i­cent mag­no­lia tree in spring and au­tumn is a must. Orange-raised Si­monn Hawke trained in Syd­ney un­der renowned chef An­thony Musarra be­fore head­ing home to raise the din­ing bar with the open­ing of Lolli Re­dini in 2001. Her forte is Ital­ian- and French-in­flu­enced cui­sine. “We’re not into molec­u­lar gas­tron­omy or short-lived trends,” says Si­monn, who believes the restau­rant’s suc­cess lies in its “gen­er­ous, hon­est, con­sis­tent” cook­ing of re­gional pro­duce. While cus­tomers have never let Si­monn re­move the twice­baked Heidi Gruyere cheese souf­flé from the menu, the wine list is ever-chang­ing. Cu­rated by Si­monn’s life and busi­ness part­ner, Leah Mor­phett, it in­cludes la­bels from some of the best vine­yards in NSW’s Cen­tral West, Aus­tralia and over­seas.

RUS­TIC DIN­ING

Nine kilo­me­tres west of Orange, charm­ing Racine restau­rant (raciner­estau­rant.com.au) at La Colline Wines has long been a favourite of lo­cals and trav­ellers. Don’t be fooled by the shed-like ex­te­rior; in­side, the at­mos­phere is swish, with grass-green walls de­signed to bring the out­side in. Af­ter three years in Lon­don, own­ers Willa and Shaun Arantz came to Orange with the aim of cre­at­ing a high-end restau­rant “in the mid­dle of nowhere, as you can find in Europe”. They’ve also opened a bak­ery in town. The cui­sine at Racine cel­e­brates the re­gion and the sea­sons. The restau­rant, which is named af­ter the French word for “root”, has its own kitchen gar­den, and an ap­ple sym­bol on the menu sig­ni­fies that a dish has been 75 per cent lo­cally sourced. “I’m sick of Syd­ney chefs say­ing, ‘We grow it all here,’ be­cause even we can’t do that, though we come close,” says Willa. Gour­mands note: the pressed duck has been on the menu since its in­cep­tion for good rea­son. Nearby, the Ap­ple Pack­ing Shed – a nod to the ap­ple or­chard that was here be­fore the vine­yard – is a pop­u­lar venue for wed­dings and func­tions.

HIS­TORIC CHARMER

Sure, there are linen table­cloths at one-hat­ted restau­rant Tonic (ton­icmillthorpe.com.au) in the his­toric town of Millthorpe but owner-chef Tony Wor­land doesn’t do posh. His menu is brim­ming with sea­sonal pro­duce, some of which Tony dis­cov­ers grow­ing in the wild, such as quinces. The restau­rant “re­flects what we’re like: fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants types who love a beer and a good time”, says the af­fa­ble chef. Tonic (a com­bi­na­tion of Tony and wife Ni­cole’s names) is now in its 15th year and is one of the many rea­sons why peo­ple are drawn to Millthorpe (millthor­pevil­lage.com.au), which is about a 20-minute drive from Orange.

While the small town’s 1000 or so res­i­dents might get blasé about its quaint, her­itage-listed build­ings, that’s not the case for the many vis­i­tors who love to ex­plore its cosy heart, which has two pubs, as well as cel­lar doors at An­gul­long Vine­yard (an­gul­long.com.au) and Slow Wine Co. (slowwineco.com.au).

The Old Mill (the­old­mill­cafe.com.au), Millthorpe Provi­dore (33 Vic­to­ria Street; 0417 412 577) and La Boucherie (25 Vic­to­ria Street; 02 6366 3656) serve good cof­fee and food, while you can get your fash­ion and home­wares fix at To­molly (to­molly.com.au) and Millthorpe Blue (millthor­pe­blue.com.au). For all of Millthorpe’s charm, peo­ple are what mat­ter to fa­ther-of-five Tony. “There’s a great lit­tle pub­lic school and com­mu­nity,” he says.

GRAND DE­SIGNS

The stark white pillars of Orange’s for­mer Ma­sonic Hall frame the grand en­trance of The Sonic (thesonic.com.au), the stylish do­main of pe­tite dy­namo Pip Brett. The 33-year-old com­pleted a Bach­e­lor of De­sign in Syd­ney be­fore re­turn­ing to Orange, where her mum, Kezz, ran a women’s bou­tique. “Mum said, ‘Just start small and build,’” says Pip. So she opened a clothes store, Iglou (which stocks la­bels such as Sass & Bide), then a suc­cess­ful home­wares store, Jum­bled. Pip was des­per­ate for more re­tail space when, as luck would have it, her builder hus­band, Nick Luelf, no­ticed the Ma­sonic Hall was up for sale; it was the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to put her two busi­nesses un­der one roof. Mel­bourne ar­chi­tects Stu­dio Esteta pared back Pip’s vivid, mul­ti­lay­ered style to cre­ate The Sonic, a space in­spired by con­cept stores such as Merci and An­thro­polo­gie in Paris. Spread across two light, in­ter­con­nect­ing rooms, the store has an eclec­tic range of home­wares and cool, ca­sual fash­ion la­bels, plus a café, Nim­rod’s. “I want The Sonic to in­spire and ex­cite,” en­thuses Pip. A few blocks away, The White Place (the­whiteplace.com.au) and Mary & Tex (maryand­tex.com.au) show­case con­tem­po­rary fur­ni­ture and quirky gifts. And if sec­ond-hand threads are your bag, Frock­work Orange (frock­worko­r­ange.com.au) is a must; don’t miss the vin­tage room at the back.

MAR­KET FRESH

Twice a month, there’s a won­der­ful op­por­tu­nity to buy pro­duce di­rect from the re­gion’s grow­ers at Orange Farm­ers Mar­ket (or­ange­farm­ers­mar­ket.org.au). The mar­kets are held ev­ery sec­ond Satur­day at the tree-lined North­court in sum­mer and at Orange Show­ground’s Agri­cul­tural Pav­il­ion in win­ter. Grab a cof­fee and a freshly baked pas­try and soak up the scene – 60 stalls op­er­ated by hon­est coun­try folk, the siz­zle of ba­con, in­ter­est­ing lo­cal ban­ter – and won­der why the heck you live else­where. Whether its duck’s eggs, home­made fruit pies or the finest cut of beef, the mar­kets have it all. You might even come across a guest chef cook­ing up a storm with sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents. It’s a wel­com­ing place that unites the com­mu­nity; spot the lo­cals with their branded farm­ers’ mar­ket bags and a de­ter­mined look to get to their pre­ferred stalls.

An an­nual high­light is the Orange F.O.O.D (Food of Orange Dis­trict) Week fes­ti­val (or­ange­food­week.com.au) that en­livens the town in April. The long­est-run­ning event of its kind in Aus­tralia, it’s a ver­i­ta­ble au­tumn feast. Pro­gram stand­outs in­clude For­age, an am­ble through three vine­yards that’s akin to an eight-course dé­gus­ta­tion. An­other hit at the fes­ti­val is F.O.O.D HQ, where you can hear grow­ers talk­ing about their pro­duce. “It’s of­ten hard to get a seat,” says James Swee­t­ap­ple, the aptly named pres­i­dent of the F.O.O.D Week As­so­ci­a­tion. Tip: book your ac­com­mo­da­tion now.

VIN­TAGE CROP

The Orange wine re­gion now has 60 vine­yards and 40 cel­lar doors. Blood­wood (blood­wood. biz) and Canobo­las-Smith (canobo­las­smith­wines.com.au) led the charge but many more winer­ies have since sprouted on the slopes of Mount Canobo­las, in­clud­ing Ross Hill (rosshill wines.com.au), Philip Shaw (philip­shaw.com.au), De Salis (de­sal­iswines.com.au), Word of Mouth (word­of­mouth­wines.com.au) and Heifer Sta­tion (heifer­sta­tion.com). Nat­u­rally, sev­eral are run by tree chang­ers.

Char­lie and Loretta Sven­son, of De Salis, aban­doned Syd­ney for Orange (she was in hos­pi­tal­ity; he was an aca­demic) to mas­ter mak­ing top­notch wines with a “min­i­mal-in­ter­ven­tion pol­icy” and with­out us­ing en­zymes or tan­nins. “The hip­sters call it nat­u­ral wine­mak­ing and mar­ket it as cloudy, un­fin­ished wine but we’re not com­fort­able with that,” says Char­lie of their ul­tra-pre­mium drops.

At Word of Mouth, for­mer Syd­neysider Peter Gib­son and his wife, Deb­o­rah Upjohn, also have a sus­tain­able ap­proach to wine­mak­ing. Their prop­erty in­cludes two hectares of estab­lished gar­dens (look out for Snug­gles the sheep and Ge­orge

the al­paca), a mar­ket gar­den, a cel­lar door, Peter’s pot­tery stu­dio and a small ex­hi­bi­tion space.

Renowned wine pro­ducer Philip Shaw’s sons, Daniel and Damian, are lead­ing the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of wine­mak­ers who love talk­ing about wine at their cel­lar door or at the an­nual Orange Wine Fes­ti­val (orange wine­fes­ti­val.com.au), held this year from Oc­to­ber 13 to 22. Chin-chin.

SLEEP WELL

With sweep­ing views to Mount Canobo­las, the Old Con­vent (old­con­vent.com.au) at Borenore, a 20-minute drive west of Orange, of­fers lovely quar­ters and whole­some food for the weary trav­eller. Own­ers Josie (a be­spoke dress­maker) and Jef­frey Chap­man (a fi­nan­cial con­troller) left Syd­ney for Orange in 1989. When the Catholic Church put the con­vent up for sale, they leapt at the chance to res­cue it from its then par­lous state. The 8000-square-me­tre prop­erty has a church that’s used for small func­tions and three lodg­ings. The orig­i­nal con­vent build­ing, which was run as a school un­til 1963, is now The Cot­tage, con­verted into a bright two-bed­room, onebath­room space. Weath­er­board charmer Wil­low House has two bed­rooms, two bath­rooms and a wrap­around ve­ran­dah. An ex­tra bed is avail­able in The Nun’s Room, a self-con­tained one-bed­room apart­ment at­tached to the Chap­mans’ home. Guests can savour de­li­cious coun­try break­fasts; ex­pect home­made muesli, a herb and goat’s curd omelette with roasted toma­toes and ro­bust cof­fee from the Faema espresso ma­chine. “It’s not fancy but it’s the kind of place where

we like to stay,” says Josie. An­other ru­ral charmer, also in Borenore, is the Black Sheep Inn (black­sheepinn.com.au), which of­fers con­tem­po­rary ac­com­mo­da­tion in a for­mer shear­ing shed. And if you’re crav­ing city digs, check out De Russie Bou­tique Ho­tel Orange (derussieho­tels.com.au).

WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COF­FEE

If you thought the hip­ster barista was ex­clu­sive to cap­i­tal cities, think again. Orange’s cof­fee scene shows no sign of slow­ing but, ac­cord­ing to lo­cals, you have to be on your game. “If you don’t serve good cof­fee, you don’t get away with it,” says Katie Bad­dock, who moved from Syd­ney’s Mar­rickville to Orange to found peren­nial gourmet favourite The Agrestic Gro­cer (426 Mo­long Road; 02 6360 4604) be­fore open­ing new café Ground­stone (151a Byng Street; 02 6394 6386). Lo­cated in the Orange Re­gional Mu­seum precinct, Ground­stone has a Scan­di­na­vian feel and fea­tures a kokedama suc­cu­lent gar­den. Need an­other caf­feine hit? Wan­der a few blocks to Lords Place and look for the grey-and­white striped awning above hole-in-the-wall café Good Eddy (good­eddy.com.au). Pull up a seat, en­joy the sun­light stream­ing in through the shop win­dow and soak up the coun­try-town vibe.

Other great places in Orange for cof­fee in­clude Hawkes Gen­eral Store (hawkes-gen­eral store.com.au) and Byng Street Lo­cal Store (byn­gstreet.com.au), which serves break­fast ev­ery day from 7am and has lovely ve­ran­dah seat­ing.

The Old Con­vent Café, Borenore, in NSW’s Cen­tral West

Photography by Petrina Tinslay

An old stor­age shed in Millthorpe is the back­drop to home­wares and gifts at To­molly

Pip Brett and The Sonic in Orange (above and bot­tom); The Sa­lon des Re­fusés an­tiques store in Pym Street, Millthorpe (top right)

(From top) The Old Con­vent at Borenore and its Wil­low House ac­com­mo­da­tion

Char­lie and Loretta Sven­son, of De Salis, and their 2013 Lofty Pinot Noir pro­duced from vines on the north­ern slope of Mount Canobo­las

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