A South Coast & Southern Highlands Seduction
To say riding a Harley Davidson motorbike on the first leg of a wine and food trip is bound to build up an appetite is a slight understatement… talk about twisting the throttle before drinking a bottle! We were curving our way south on the Grand Pacific Drive, as pillion passengers, with Just Cruisin’ Motorcycles to our first port of call, Dingies Café in North Wollongong. This is a great spot for morning brunch on the beach.
Having lived in Sydney for almost four years in the 1990’s you’d have thought I would have travelled down this part of the south coast heading towards Jervis Bay but I’d never taken the opportunity until now.
It was my first venture into this part of New South Wales and I was beginning to sense this three-night road trip would have a tempting smorgasbord of culinary opportunities. I wasn’t about to be disappointed. First night’s entrée would be staying and dining at the exclusive Paperback Camp in National Park. Second night’s main course was an exquisite evening dining at ‘Rick Stein at Bannisters Restaurant’ in Mollymock. For dessert on the last night we were wined and dined at ‘Eschalot Restaurant’ in Berrima in the Southern Highlands – this was truly a rich menu of first class establishments.
For our first lunch stop we were seduced into visiting Coolangatta Estate in Shoalhaven Heads. Situated at the foot of Mount Coolangatta (meaning ‘splendid view’), the vineyard, which was established in 1822, is the site of the first European settlement on the South Coast of NSW. Alive with history, the original convict-built village is now surrounded by sprawling vineyards and landscaped grounds. Our reward was to tuck into their tasting lunch featuring local gourmet produce in Alexanders Vineyard Restaurant matched of course with a range of their boutique wines.
To really get a feel for the local countryside we were then taken on a Foodscape Tour around Shoalhaven – a fine way to indulge our taste senses I thought. By mid-afternoon we were heading down country lanes between towns and villages visiting organic farms, orchards and vineyards sampling from the source. Testing out what was in season and shopping at places such as South Coast Providores, who make a range of mouth-tasting preserves.
That evening was reserved for a special overnight eco-tourism stay at Paperback Camp in Woollamia. Combining unique luxury tented accommodation with wonderful food and warm hospitality, Paperbark Camp is a peaceful bush retreat in beautiful Jervis Bay…think camping for grown-ups (commonly known today as “glamping”)!
Jervis Bay is a nature lover’s paradise with spectacular coastal scenery, clear and calm waters for swimming and pristine white sand beaches for strolling and relaxing on. Situated amongst eucalypt and paperbark trees, 12 safari-style tents are built above the ground for privacy and comfort. Each has a spacious verandah, wooden flooring, insect screens and solar-powered lighting. All tents include an open-air ensuite bathroom with hot shower.
Situated amongst the treetops to enjoy the sea breeze, our exquisite dinner was held in Paperbark’s Gunyah Restaurant. Here they prepared modern Europeaninfluenced cuisine with an emphasis on locally grown and sourced produce. As one local producer said earlier in the day, “If it grows together it goes together”.
After a visit to Booderee National Park, a great place to see Australian fauna and wildlife of the region we headed to lunch at Pilgrim’s Wholefood Café in Milton - a place that doesn’t serve meat, just lots of healthy veggies in mammoth burgers with tabouleh and hummus. An assortment of their famous pies includes curried kidney bean and lentil pies.
Located on a cliff top above Mollybrook Beach Bannisters Hotel offers what no other establishment outside of England does…a signature, award-winning restaurant under the guidance of the famous chef, Rick Stein. The man himself visits up to six times a year to directly choose what is selected for the menu. As he says: “Nothing is so exhilarating as fresh fish, simply cooked”, but after his latest India sojourn I’d expect to see a few curries on the list too.
For my first course I requested grilled Hervey Bay scallops in the shell with toasted hazelnut and coriander butter. It was hard to go past the restaurant’s main signature dish Bannisters Fish Pie: salmon, deep-sea blue eye trevalla (or deep-sea trevally), snapper, scallops, mushrooms and prawns in a creamy fish veloute sauce with truffle. For desert I chose Ginger Pudding: caramel mascarpone, salted caramel and hazelnut. YUM!
Day three had us looping back via the Southern Highlands to the well-known town of Bowral. We were booked on a Foodpath Culinary Tour that firstly delivered us to Pines Pastoral, a working Angus Cattle property with all the sights and smells you’d expect in the beef business and where every steer fetches A$1,000 apiece. Among other country delights we also visited the Victoria Park Alpaca Stud to learn how it all begins and ends for this animal’s highly prized fleece. If you’re chasing some rural reflections then this is a tour worth taking.
Get your motor runnin’ Head out on the highway Looking for adventure In whatever comes our way Yeah, darlin’ Gonna make it happen Take the world in a love embrace Fire all of your guns at once And explode into space (Excerpt from Born to be Wild by Steppenwolf…1968)
What many visitors aren’t aware of is that there are 15 cellar doors and 55 vineyards in the Southern Highlands, so it was only fair that our lunch stop choice should be at Mt. Ashby Estate. Here we enjoyed a two-course lunch in the owners’ beautiful Cellar Door Café accompanied by a few glasses of Mt. Ashby wines such as their 1999 cool climate Pinot Gris. A bonus was wandering through Sally Beresford’s French antique store in an adjacent old barn.
To cap off our day’s activities there was still time to slip into Centennial Vineyards for a tour of the back of house and of course the chance to try a few tipples of their locally grown wines. They offer 26 styles of wine but specialise in sparkling.
Established in 2003, Eschalot Restaurant has established itself as one of the finest restaurants in the Southern Highlands. Located in the historic village of Berrima it operates from one of the most significant heritage buildings in the area. Eschalot delivers consistently beautiful cuisine with an elegant and understated sense of occasion. I started my entrée off with parsley dusted scallops, ‘beer & batter’, remoulade aioli. My main course was blue eye cod fillet, beetroot, garbanzo garden green cake, preserved lemon and jus. I find it hard to resist finishing off with crème brûlée…all accompanied by Artimis Reserve Shiraz Viognier 2009.
Lunch on our last day was at the renowned Biota Dining Restaurant in Bowral. Biota is a dining experience supporting local farmers and growers that also incorporates seasonal botanicals in all aspects of its menus and environment. Foraging as well as propagating has become a large part of their gastronomic journey with kitchen gardens and a glasshouse in the restaurant grounds to prove it.
A trip to the South Coast and the Southern Highlands can be made in either direction on a self-drive itinerary. Ideally three or four nights will allow you to really explore, experience and escape into the region whilst sampling the best restaurants and vineyards - a cuisine and wine seduction to suit anyone’s appetite.