A South Coast & South­ern High­lands Se­duc­tion

Let's Travel - - AUSTRALIA - Words and im­ages by Shane Boocock

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.

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