Sydney is pretty damn fabulous but sometimes it’s nice to escape the city and get among those regional feels. No need to pack a picnic. There is plenty of renowned fare sure to impress even the most discerning of foodies at the other end of a road trip departing Sydney.
Here are a few of our faves…
Restaurant Botanica at Spicers Vineyards Estate in Pokolbin is our first cab off the rank and certainly sets the benchmark high. Drawing inspiration from its kitchen garden, Restaurant Botanica offers a la carte dining as well as a signature menu with or without matching wines (with, please). Chef Josh Duncan specialises in modern contemporary European and his menu is certainly a crowd pleaser with offerings such as Mandagery Creek venison with green pea, poached berries and goat’s curd, and herb roasted lamb rump with parsnip, black garlic gnocchi, ricotta, pumpkin seed and jus. Also, I want to eat all the things on the dessert menu. All. The. Things!
Still in Pokolbin, EXP Restaurant at Oakvale Winery is new to the scene in 2015 and has already impressed with experimental flavours and carefully curated decor. Owner and chef Frank Fawkner, of two-hat fame from his time at Muse, believes dining is about the experience and he has certainly delivered. The menu is broken into Earth, Sea, Land and Sky, Cheese, and Sweets. I’ve got my eye firmly on the Petuna ocean trout with potato gnocchi, citrus and fennel, and perhaps some of that house-made haloumi with carrot, olive, tarragon and cider. And yes, the warm blue cheese with brioche and honey. Thanks muchly.
Pearls on the Beach
To the Central Coast we go where Pearls on the Beach has maintained iconic status for 13 years. The beachside setting—Pearl Beach in case you didn’t pick it—is relaxed yet glamorous and the same can be said for the menu. With small and large dishes on offer, Pearls is a great place for sharing. Personally, I’d be all over the seared sea scallops with coconut and tamarind puree; the twice-cooked lamb belly with harissa carrot puree; and the Brazil nut and malt sponge with guava gel and roast white chocolate. And you’d be lucky to get a bite! #sorrynotsorry
Restaurant Mason in Newcastle is doing Novocastrians proud, serving up on-point food in an on-point setting. Awarded ‘one hat’ in its opening year (2011), Mason has since maintained the accolade thanks largely to the consistent delivery of inventive, flavourful dishes. Chef Chris Thornton cut his teeth at Michelin Star establishment, The Ledbury in London, and the experience shows. Even my complete and utter disdain for beetroots could not keep me away from the 36-hour beef short rib, grilled over charcoal with brassicas, heirloom beetroots, buffalo curd and horseradish. A delicious selection of Australian and French cheeses also catches the eye.
Rick Stein at Bannisters
Heading south, Rick Stein at Bannisters in Mollymook is a seafood lover’s delight. Making the most of what’s on offer from the Pacific Ocean next door, the Bannisters menu features the freshest oysters, barramundi, marlin, swordfish, salmon, snapper, blue swimmer crab… the list goes on. Can’t decide? Hedge your bets with the Bannisters Fish Pie—salmon, blue eye trevalla, snapper, scallops, mushrooms and prawns in a creamy fish velouté sauce with black truffle. That’s got to be worth the drive.
A little closer to Sydney, Biota Dining in Bowral remains the foodie jackpot of the Southern Highlands. The two-hatted charmer offers a five or eight-course option that both take full advantage of seasonal ingredients. The décor is the perfect complement to Biota’s high country surrounds while the menu is a celebration of local produce such as the acacia seed éclair and warm hen yolk, beef cooked over coals with aged cows milk cheddar, and brined pork loin with onions cooked in elder vinegar. I’m feeling warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.
Back in Newcastle where Subo is one of the hottest tickets in town. With Tetsuya’s and Guillaume at Bennelong on his impressive resume, head chef and owner Beau Vincent has worked tirelessly for his two hats. The five-course tasting menu changes every six weeks. Get there this weekend and be spoilt with cured iki jime ocean trout with white anchovy and yuzu, and green apple and buttermilk, among other things. Grab a reservation next month and be delighted with something completely different. Variety is the spice of life!
Manfredi at Bells
North again and this time we’re happily dining at Manfredi at Bells in Killcare. Chef Stefano Manfredi is a master of modern Italian cuisine making us a great match since I am a master at eating modern Italian cuisine. The menu, boasting one hat since the restaurant opened in 2008, is authentic, simple and fresh, featuring local produce such as Hawkesbury River oysters and crayfish caught off nearby Macmasters Beach, Gundooee Wagyu beef from the Central Tablelands and Bangalow Sweet Pork from the Northern Rivers. Me so hungry.
A visit to Darley’s is a visit to a time gone by with the restaurant set in a stunning heritage-listed homestead in Katoomba. Two open fireplaces, crystal chandeliers and plush furnishing set the tone for the multi-award winning restaurant located at Lilianfels Resort and Spa. Executive chef Lee Kwiez, a multi-award winner himself, is described as a “food puritan”. His menu (think wagyu beef tartare with squid ink rice wafer, soft yolk, coriander and sesame; crisp pressed Thirlmere duck with shaved Queensland scallops, star anise broth and poached shitake mushrooms; cannoli of ginger cream, granny smith apple sorbet, fuji apple and calvados ice cream) is sure to make your mouth water.
Just a few minutes up the road in Blackheath, Vesta is a celebration of slow food, of taking things down a notch and savouring the moment, not to mention the flavours. Along with chefs Misha Laurent and Alfie Elwell, a 120-year-old scotch oven works magic in the Vesta kitchen to deliver rustic fare perfect for the Blue Mountains setting. From dill ravioli to lamb shoulder for two, from vegetarian tagine to beef tafelspitz, Vesta is the bomb. Speaking of bombs, get me some of that dark chocolate parfait, strawberry sherbet, cardamom parfait and caramel popcorn bombe, please!
Back to where it all began, Pokolbin in the Hunter Valley makes its third appearance on the list thanks to Circa 1876. Formerly Roberts, Circa 1876 is set in the expansive acreage of the glamorous Peppers Convent and it is acreage well utilised with a brag-worthy kitchen garden taking full advantage of the region’s rich soil. Executive chef Trent Barrett (also the resident bee keeper!) delivers a blend of old favourites and contemporary twists including crispy skin jumbo quail; seared scallops with cauliflower puree; blue eye cod with scallop and prawn-stuffed zucchini flower; and a deconstructed lemon tart with lemon myrtle, macadamia nut ice cream, vanilla tuile, lemon syrup and lime jelly.
Well, what are you waiting for? Hit the road!
Image credit: Pearls on The Beach