Eat your heart out

ex­plores the hid­den trea­sures and un­ex­pected plea­sures of the Coffs Coast re­gion

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

THERE are many roads well trav­elled in pur­suit of great food and wine ex­pe­ri­ences around Aus­tralia, but the NSW mid-north Coffs Coast has never re­ally been at the fore­front of peo­ple’s minds. So with the col­lec­tive knowl­edge of friends in the re­gion we map out a three-day, food-fo­cused drive (with a glass of wine or two along the way), tak­ing in Sawtell, Bellin­gen, Dor­rigo, the Nam­bucca, Glad­stone, South West Rocks and Port Mac­quarie. And what we find is a re­gion rich in food her­itage that should be high on any gourmet trav­eller’s must-do list.

Set­ting off from Coffs Har­bour air­port in a hire car, our first stop is the Coffs Coast Grow­ers Mar­ket in the city square. Here, the toma­toes from Brom­ley’s at Nana Glen are so un­be­liev­ably red I take pho­tos and the aroma of the Wool­go­oga samosas is so se­duc­tive I could eas­ily pass on lunch.

Nev­er­the­less, af­ter check­ing out the many stalls, in­clud­ing the cheek­ily named A Bit on the Side, with a great range of chut­neys and jams, we con­tinue north of Coffs, turn­ing off the Pa­cific High­way at the sign to Emer­ald Beach and Ca­role Walsh’s stylish Salt­wa­ter restau­rant, set on the beach­front with a su­perb out­look across Marine Park to Groper Is­land. We tuck into a mezze plate of dips, olives and toasted flat­bread, fol­lowed by a warm salad of squid, lemon, fen­nel and Dor­rigo feta with ver­juice dress­ing, be­fore wan­der­ing next door to browse the eclec­tic ar­ray of paint­ings and jew­ellery at Green­stone Stu­dio Gallery.

Just a clip down the high­way at Sawtell, our home away from home is Sawtell on the Beach, a spa­cious two-storey apart­ment where a wel­come cheese and fruit plat­ter and a nice bot­tle of red prove ir­re­sistible. Lit­tle do we re­alise that this and our lunch, cou­pled with an ex­trav­a­gant din­ner of soft shell crabs, tem­pura prawns, and pork and peanut parcels at Cry­ing Tiger, on the Coffs Jetty strip, and a dessert tast­ing plate at nearby Pic­colo of lemon tart with straw­ber­ries, pan­na­cotta with berry coulis, tiramisu, chocolate nut cake and prof­iteroles, is just the tip of the ice­berg.

The next morn­ing, for starters, we tuck into a break­fast of field mush­rooms, fresh farm eggs, or­ganic toma­toes and ba­con in Bellin­gen at the Elite Cafe Gallery run by Brian Clark, who used to live in Syd­ney’s Bal­main.

You could write son­nets about the views and the World Her­itage-listed rain­for­est around Bellin­gen and Dor­rigo, west of Coffs, and home to a vi­brant artis­tic com­mu­nity as well as an eclec­tic range of shops, cafes and restau­rants. Here we meet Kevin Doyle at Kombu Whole­foods in Bellin­gen, an Aladdin’s cave of af­ford­able and sus­tain­able or­ganic pro­duce, more than half of which comes from lo­cal sup­pli­ers.

Since we opened, we have been keen to keep as much lo­cal prod­uct as pos­si­ble,’’ Doyle says. It keeps prices down for our cus­tomers and sig­nif­i­cantly re­duces trans­port costs.’’

Later we meet David Scott and Suzie Sn­od­grass at Wa­ter­fall Way Win­ery who pro­duce boy­sen­berry, per­sim­mon and lime fruit wines; Kelly Cock­ern, who cooks up a tasty meat­loaf at the de­light­ful Ruby’s Cafe and Books, and Sonya Buck, who moved from Syd­ney to start the Dor­rigo Sweet Shop.

I en­joy my mi­nor celebrity among lo­cal chil­dren,’’ Buck says, smil­ing broadly. She says that in the street

they ei­ther fol­low me or point me out to their par­ents, That’s the lolly lady.’

In Raleigh, 22km from Coffs Har­bour, we drink wine and taste cheese at Vinny Din­gle’s Raleigh Win­ery and Vine­yard on the Bellinger River, where Jeff Da­ley of the nearby Honey Place pours his lime­in­fused honey over Philadel­phia cheese to good ef­fect.

Head­ing into Nam­bucca Shire we find pro­duc­ers such as Den­nis Ryan on his 41ha Val­ley of the Mist sus­tain­able, or­ganic bush fruits and nuts farm. He and his wife, Marilyn, show us through av­enues of David­son plums, macadamia trees, lemon myr­tle, fin­ger limes, riber­ries, lilli-pil­lis, aniseed myr­tle and war­ri­gal greens, tast­ing this and sniff­ing that, then crack­ing the macadamias in an an­ti­quated ma­chine.

From this bounty the Ryans make a de­li­cious lil­lip­illi dress­ing and crunchy macadamia chut­ney, in ad­di­tion to other sauces, jams and mari­nades. It’s their bush tucker that is the se­cret in­gre­di­ent in Danger­ous Dan’s gourmet sausages; we get a taste in the Ryans’ fa­mous bush­man’s roll, which comes with David­son plum sauce on one of their lunch tours. Danger­ous Dan op­er­ates an award-winning butch­ery in Macksville, a town the lo­cals call the sausage cap­i­tal of NSW’’.

Mean­while, at Jacaranda Coun­try Lodge in Macksville, we dine with broth­ers Ian and Stu­art John­son on their Aaben­raa prime beef. The John­son fam­ily prop­erty, Aaben­raa, is named af­ter a small Dan­ish vil­lage that was the an­ces­tral fam­ily home. Th­ese third-gen­er­a­tion farm­ers run a gen­uine op­er­a­tion of pad­dock to the plate and take pride in the high yield and flavour of their beef.

An­other fam­ily-run op­er­a­tion is Bliss in the Bush, op­er­ated by sis­ters Angie and Jilly Hazel­ton at Turn­ers Flat in the Ma­cleay Val­ley.

In­side a huge cor­ru­gated-iron shed is a de­light­ful cafe where comfy lounges and din­ing ta­bles are sur­rounded by an di­verse range of home­wares, jew­ellery and gifts. Not only do they make a mean espresso and a su­perb ar­bo­rio risotto with a soft cheese cen­tre, their busi­ness is a salient re­minder of the joys to be found when you take your­self off the beaten track.

Be­fore arriving in South West Rocks for a night at the lov­ingly ren­o­vated 1880s Her­itage Guest House, we stop in Glad­stone on the banks of the Ma­cleay River to ex­plore the build­ings in its splen­didly re­stored main street. Our ac­com­mo­da­tion, in the heart of South West Rocks, run by Bob and Tr­ish Ryan, is just around the cor­ner from award-winning Geppy’s Sea­side Restau­rant, where we en­joy a nine-course de­gus­ta­tion menu of seafood, game and Aus­tralian na­tive pro­duce.

Our fi­nal day be­gins with a walk around Smoky Cape Light­house and an am­ble through Trial Bay Goal, a pub­lic works prison from 1886-1903 and now a fas­ci­nat­ing mu­seum. Then it’s time for morn­ing tea and a tour of An­thony and Richard Sarks’s Ri­car­does Toma­toes in Port Mac­quarie. This state-of-the-art op­er­a­tion uses com­put­erised tech­nol­ogy in the green­houses, where high-qual­ity hy­dro­ponic toma­toes and pick-your-own straw­ber­ries are grown.

There is time for a cel­lar-door tour at the Cassegrain Win­ery then a glass of Cham­pagne and a lovely ta­pas lunch with Lou Perri at the Stunned Mul­let, which over­looks Port Mac­quarie’s Town Beach.

It’s the per­fect fi­nale to a mem­o­rable few days in a re­gion filled with sur­prises. Jill In­namorati-Var­ley was a guest of the Mid North Coast Re­gional Tourism Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Check­list

Coffs Coast Grow­ers Mar­ket runs fort­nightly from May to Septem­ber and then weekly, on Thurs­days, from Oc­to­ber to April. More: Coffs Coast Vis­i­tor In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre, 1300 369 070. www.coff­s­coast.com.au www.atas­te­of­coff­s­coast.com.au www.nnsw.com.au www.mid­north­coastnsw.com.au www.qan­tas.com

Big day out:

Pic­ture, right: Jill In­namorati-Var­ley

The colour­ful Coffs Coast Grow­ers Mar­ket, main pic­ture; rel­ishes and pick­les from A Bit on the Side, right

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