SEA CHANGE

On a road trip down the Sap­phire Coast in NSW, MAG­GIE SCARDI­FIELD checks in on a wave of savvy bak­ers, dis­tillers, brew­ers and restau­ra­teurs to get a taste of the re­gion.

Gourmet Traveller (Australia) - - Contents - Pho­tog­ra­phy BEN­ITO MARTIN

Mag­gie Scardi­field gets a taste of NSW’s Sap­phire Coast.

I’ve been mak­ing G&Ts wrong this whole time. This re­al­i­sa­tion comes while sit­ting on the deck at Stony Creek Farm, five-anda-half-hours drive south of Syd­ney. It’s here that dis­tiller Gavin Hughes and his part­ner Karen Touchie make their small-batch North of Eden gins from a farm shed turned dis­tillery. “If you fill the glass with tonic, all you’re go­ing to taste is tonic,” says Hughes. “We do just 60ml tonic, 30 of gin.” It’s a rev­e­la­tion. And some­thing I never would’ve ex­pected to dis­cover in coun­try New South Wales.

The pris­tine Sap­phire Coast in NSW stretches roughly from Moruya to Eden, with a swag of her­itage, hin­ter­land and beach­side towns in be­tween in­clud­ing Cen­tral Tilba, Ber­magui, Tathra, Bega and Pam­bula. It’s known as Aus­tralia’s premier oys­ter­grow­ing re­gion, but thanks to a host of savvy bak­ers, dis­tillers, brew­ers, restau­ra­teurs and small-scale farm­ers, there’s a lot more than oys­ters to savour.

I start my week-long food sa­fari at the com­mu­ni­tyrun Sage Farm­ers’ Mar­kets in Moruya. Ev­ery Tues­day after­noon many of the Euro­bo­dalla and Bega Val­ley Shire’s most ded­i­cated grow­ers con­gre­gate on the river­bank to sell their pro­duce. Floppy-hat-wear­ing lo­cals gather in front of their favourite stalls in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the 3pm brass bell; noth­ing can be sold be­fore it rings. I eye a table laid with hand­fuls of ten­der gar­lic scapes, and won­der what to do with them. I’m swiftly handed a bunch.“Try them out, fall in love and I’ll see you next week,” says the grower. Another pro­ducer tosses me an or­ange with a wink. Later in my fully equipped tiny house at Tilba Lake Camp, I squeeze the cit­rus over the scapes with a slug of lo­cal olive oil, and toss them through broad beans from Turlin­jah, and the sweet­est flo­rets of broc­col­ini grown nearby in Tuross Head.

An hour south, the vi­brant game-fish­ing town of Ber­magui has be­come its own food and cof­fee mecca. One of the most sought-af­ter ad­dresses is Bunga Street. There, Steve Hope runs his café, Mister Hope, af­ter mov­ing to Ber­magui from Castle­maine, Vic­to­ria, five years ago. “It’s the most in­cred­i­ble way of life here,” he says. “The beaches and en­vi­ron­ment are so beau­ti­ful, so why shouldn’t the food scene be just as good.”

The day­time trade at Mister Hope is all about dark-roasted Fair Trade beans from Hy­per Hy­per in Nowra along­side lo­cal eggs and bagels, and by night, it’s an in­ti­mate speakeasy vibe with bou­tique Aus­tralian gins, ab­sinthe and the pop-up cin­ema, Elec­tric Hope. “We put about 35 chairs in, project some­thing spe­cial and serve lo­cal wines, fancy pop­corn and home­made choc-tops,” says Hope. “The 1934 L’Ata­lante by Jean

Vigo was the in­au­gu­ral film. It’s lyri­cal and ro­man­tic. And who doesn’t need more of that in their life?”

A few doors up, at ar­ti­san bak­ery Honor­bread, for­mer Syd­neysiders Honor and Tim Northam bake slow-fer­mented sour­dough and sea­sonal pas­tries us­ing or­ganic flour and her­itage grains. “We loved Syd­ney. But our big­ger want had al­ways been to try liv­ing in a small com­mu­nity,” says Honor.

The cou­ple built a loyal fol­low­ing for their baked goods as the own­ers of Il Pas­sag­gio, an Ital­ian restau­rant on the Fish­er­men’s Wharf. They sold the restau­rant to fo­cus on bak­ing full-time, and have been at the sunny Bunga Street site for four years. The next step is tak­ing over the va­cant block next door where they’ll in­stall a wood­fired oven for bak­ing bread, a pé­tanque court to help build com­mu­nity, and a gar­den of Ber­magui na­tive plants in­clud­ing aca­cia, wat­tle and kan­ga­roo grass. Up the road, the Ber­magui Preschool has its Moodji Cul­tural Gar­den, where chil­dren grow crops that were tra­di­tion­ally farmed in the re­gion by Yuin peo­ple, in­clud­ing yams and oat grass.

North of Eden takes a sim­i­larly hy­per-lo­cal ap­proach to mak­ing their Lon­don Dry-style gins. They’ve dis­tilled oys­ter shells, kelp from Mystery Bay, and in their

Clas­sic gin, the farm’s home­grown na­tive fin­ger lime pro­vides the cit­rus back­bone. The Clas­sic took home a sil­ver medal at the world-renowned In­ter­na­tional Wine & Spirit Com­pe­ti­tion in Lon­don last year, only nine months af­ter the duo had made their first com­mer­cially dis­tilled gin. The North of Eden cel­lar door and Gin School is due to open shortly, where stu­dents can choose their own botan­i­cals and craft a be­spoke gin, in less than a day’s work.

I’m two G&Ts and a Break­fast Mar­tini down, the lat­ter stirred with Karen’s home­made cumquat mar­malade. A full-time sea change right now is too much to fathom. But some­where north of Eden, it seems, is a good place to get a taste.

I eye a table with ten­der gar­lic scapes, and I’m swiftly handed a bunch. Another pro­ducer tosses me an or­ange with a wink.

• MORUYA

Al­fresco Cof­fee Roast­ers

This cof­fee shop blends, roasts and road-tests their beans in-house, so it’s no won­der lines form fast at the large front win­dow. Sin­gle Os from Cen­tral and South Amer­ica, Africa, In­done­sia and be­yond, plus 30-odd loose-leaf teas make it hard to de­cide. 15b Church St, Moruya, al­fres­co­cof­fee.com.au

Monarch Ho­tel Mo­tel

Did you know gran­ite from Moruya Quarry was used to build the Syd­ney Har­bour Bridge? Grab a beer, throw some­thing on the free juke­box, and browse the fas­ci­nat­ing pho­to­graphs in the cedar­clad bar. 50 Vul­can St, Moruya, monar­ch­mo­tel.com.au

Sage Farm­ers’ Mar­ket

Ten­sion builds as shop­pers wait for the 3pm bell, then col­lect award-winning jersey milk, seafood, fruit and veg­eta­bles from lo­cal farm­ers with soil on their boots and plenty of heart. 3pm Tues­days, River­side Park, Moruya, sage­farm­ers­mar­ket.org.au

• TILBA

Tilba Lake Camp

Tilba Lake Camp spans a pic­turesque B&B (Tilba Lake House), luxe bell tents and two tiny “pod” cab­ins, each with their own views of moun­tains, sea and stars. The pods are equipped with out­door firepits, loft-style beds and full kitchens for cook­ing up your mar­ket haul. 64 Sun­ny­side Rd, Cen­tral Tilba, tilbal­ake­camp.com.au; tilbal­ake­house.com.au

La Galette

What was once a petrol station and gen­eral store is now a charm­ing eatery run by French na­tive Pa­tri­cia Coutant. Deeply savoury buck­wheat galettes crowned with off-the-bone ham, Tilba Real Dairy cheese and lo­cal eggs are the star at­trac­tion, along with im­pres­sive cakes and madeleines. 266 Corkhill Dr, Tilba Tilba

Tilba Val­ley Win­ery & Ale House

This easy-go­ing wa­ter­ing hole over­looks rows of gewürz­traminer and chardonnay, and the pretty Corunna Lake. A hearty plough­man’s is a great match for the es­tate’s wines or ex­per­i­men­tal home­brews such as a bright lemon­grass and lime sour. 947 Old Hwy, Corunna, tilbaval­ley.com.au

Tilba Real Dairy Cheese Fac­tory

Nic and Erica Dib­den are be­hind Tilba Real Dairy, where you can pick up more than 25 dif­fer­ent cheeses – spiked with ev­ery­thing from Bredbo black gar­lic to Mystery Bay kelp. The cheese is made with jersey milk from their own farm, and the milk­shakes are gamechang­ers. 37 Bate St, Cen­tral Tilba, tilbare­al­dairy.com

•BER­MAGUI

Il Pas­sag­gio

This buzzy Ital­ian at the end of the Fish­er­men’s

Wharf still cranks thanks to stel­lar pro­duce that is deftly han­dled. Crisp pizze, thought­ful sea­sonal pas­tas, wel­com­ing staff and af­ford­able Ital­ian wines. Shop 5, 73-79 La­mont St, Ber­magui, il­pas­sag­gio.com.au

Honor­bread

Go for the sour­dough, stay for the sea­sonal pas­tries and pé­tanque. There’s the pop­py­seed-crusted tiberke, dan­ishes topped with the likes of cumquat and goat’s cheese, and the karde­mummab­ullar – a sticky, de­li­cious mess of cin­na­mon and car­damom. 8 Bunga St, Ber­magui, honor­bread.com

Mister Hope

Bagels stuffed with lo­cally-smoked pas­trami or salmon. Gin, art-house cin­ema and the owner’s “Word of the Week”. This thought­ful café might be pint-sized but it has more than a dou­ble-shot of per­son­al­ity. 4 Bunga St, Ber­magui

Bone­less Veg­e­tar­ian Cafe

Ten­zin Butt and part­ner Emily King used to make hemp smooth­ies out of Ten­zin’s par­ents’ Gu­laga Gallery in Cen­tral Tilba. The next chap­ter is Bone­less, where the smooth­ies still rock, but so does the mush­room okonomiyak­i and crisp cau­li­flower tacos. 1/14 La­mont St, Ber­magui

The Ber­magui Beach Ho­tel

Even af­ter its ma­jor re­fresh, the old barflies flock to this land­mark pub for beers over­look­ing Horse­shoe Bay Beach. With a new bistro and a bot­tle shop that doesn’t skimp on lo­cal spir­its and wine, it’s ripe for sum­mer.

10 La­mont St, Ber­magui, bermaguibe­ach­ho­tel.com.au

Eastwood’s Deli and Cook­ing School

For­mer River Cot­tage Aus­tralia pro­ducer and Bal­ly­maloe-trained chef Kelly Eastwood has cooked for Bill Gates, the Duchess of Corn­wall and more than a few Saudi princes in her time. But it’s her gin­gery break­fast con­gee, sea­sonal bom­boloni and round-the­world weekly din­ner se­ries that are wor­thy of the paps. 1/26 Bunga St, Ber­magui, east­woods­ber­magui.com.au

• TATHRA

Tathra Ho­tel Bistro & Humpback Brew­ery

Turn­ing the pok­ies room into a mi­cro­brew­ery is one way to get the com­mu­nity talk­ing – and drink­ing! The house beers now take play­ful names such as Killer Pil­sner and First Calf Pale, in­spired by the his­toric pub’s other reg­u­lars, spot­ted off the head­land. 8-12 Bega St, Tathra, tathra­ho­tel.com.au; hump­back­brew­ery.com.au

The Wharf Lo­cal

There’s no kitchen proper, but sis­ter-act Emma and Poppy Ben­ton work won­ders with a sand­wich press on Tathra’s his­toric wharf (hello, pesto and av­o­cado toast with flow­ers from Poppy’s yard). A booze li­cense is im­mi­nent, but be­ware: the ce­ram­ics in the café’s shop might be hard to say no to af­ter a few Spritzes. Tathra Wharf, Wharf Rd, Tathra, the­wharflo­cal.com.au

Seatons Tathra

The linen is In Bed. The pantry is prop­erly stocked with ar­ti­san tea, bic­cies and spices. And a wat­tle­seed bath soak has your name on it. It’s th­ese thought­ful touches that make an overnight stay at Seatons feel a lot longer. 43 Wildlife Dr, Tathra, seaton­stathra.com

Wild Orchid Cafe

Bean­bags and brol­lies and zingy juices. And easy­breezy lunches, such as herby lo­cal flat­head with av­o­cado and Asian slaw. Ev­ery­thing about this laid­back cor­ner café says “you’re on lo­cal time now”.

1/29 Andy Poole Dr, Tathra, wildorchid­tathra.com

•MER­IM­BULA

Dul­cie’s Cot­tage

When Arthur and Dul­cie Good­sell built this weath­er­board cot­tage on Mer­im­bula’s Main Street in 1925, they prob­a­bly never en­vis­aged that, one day, there’d be a vintage Cara­park car­a­van in their front yard sling­ing the best milk-bar style burg­ers in town. The good news? There is. 60 Main St, Mer­im­bula, dul­cies.com.au

•PAM­BULA

Cap­tain Sponge’s Mag­i­cal Oys­ter Tour

Friends call Brett “Sponge” Wein­garth the Croc­o­dile Dundee of the oys­ter world. A two-hour tour on his camo-clad oys­ter punt in­cludes Syd­ney Rocks plucked straight from the leases, In­dige­nous history and loads of charisma. Pam­bula Lake Jetty & Boat Ramp, Land­ing Rd, Pam­bula Lake, mag­icaloys­ter­tours.com.au

Long­stock­ing Brew­ery and Oys­ter Bar

Set­tle in. There’s at least 10 Long­stock­ing brews on tap to try – one week a spritzy lager made with Cham­pagne yeast, the next a cran­berry and home­grown co­rian­der-seed gose. Add Pam­bula Lake oys­ters and pizze from the out­door wood­fired oven, and you’re off! 3546 Princes Hwy, Pam­bula, long­stock­ing.com.au

Banksia Restau­rant

For­mer Zanz­ibar own­ers Huw Jones and Renée Loftus have opened Banksia in the his­toric bank on Pam­bula’s high street. The vault is now stocked with wine, and Jones’s weekly chang­ing three-course set menu is worth ev­ery penny. 22 Quon­dola St, Pam­bula Vil­lage, banksiares­tau­rant.com.au

Toast

Toast is just the ticket for re­peat vis­its, with ONA cof­fee (plus the op­tion to “make it boozy”) and wild mush­room and spelt por­ridge at brunch, and the likes of white an­chovies on toast with lo­cal spir­its at night. 3/25 Quon­dola St, Pam­bula

North of Eden Cel­lar Door, Stony Creek Farm Dis­tillery They turned their shed into a dis­tillery, and now the cel­lar door has a gin school. Cumquat, or­ange and fig leaf, or lemon, laven­der and pep­per­berry? It’s all there for the pick­ing. 13594 Princes Hwy, Stony Creek, northofe­den.com.au

Clock­wise from above: a lifesaver at Tathra Beach; oys­ters farmed in Mer­im­bula; Al­fresco Cof­fee Roast­ers, Moruya; Mister Hope owner Steve Hope; wa­ter views, Ber­magui. PRE­VI­OUS PAGES Left: a scene in Tilba. Right: Ber­magui’s Blue Pool.

Clock­wise from top left: whole­wheat sour­dough at Honor­bread, Ber­magui; ve­gan tacos at Bone­less Veg­e­tar­ian Cafe, Ber­magui; Tilba views; Honor­bread. Op­po­site: coastal views, Ber­magui.

Above, from top: Stony Creek Farm; North of Eden’s The Clas­sic gin; North of Eden dis­tiller Gavin Hughes with his high­land cow. Op­po­site, clock­wise from top left: Wild Orchid Cafe, Tathra; Dul­cie’s Cot­tage, Mer­im­bula; views over Mer­im­bula Wharf.

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