|Tastes of the Sapphire Coast, NSW|
The beautiful NSW South Coast has much to recommend it - views, beaches, birdlife and activities - but on a recent trip F&T discovered that the food and dining is excellent too. Come and taste with us!
Bermagui marks the northern entrance to this part of the coast. Beautifully located with water on all sides - lake, ocean and river - it is a popular retreat at the base of the extinct volcano, Mount Dromedary.
Bellbird Cottage is nestled in bushland and is well named. Many species of birds come to the bird-feeder outside the window and you may even be lucky enough to sight a lyrebird or an irridescent blue bower bird.
Breakfast is delivered to the dining table in your room by the owner, Gretel, and it will vary according to your requests or her endless creativity.
The Fishermen's Wharf at Bermagui's waterfront has several cafes and eating places, but pick of the bunch is Il Passaggio, upstairs (next door to the Horse and Camel deli, wine-bar and coffee lounge) with its stunning views across the marina. Start your meal with Buckley's Wapengo Lake rock oysters to set the tone of the meal and whet your appetite.
As the name suggests, Il Passaggio features Italian cuisine and keeps it simple both on the wall-sized menu and on the card at the table. Antipasti, three pizzas, three pastas, three dolces, plus meats, and sides. But it is the quality that has diners returning. Try duck ragu with pappardelle and spinach (above) or ricotta gnocchetti - or anything else chef Hayden McRae turns out.
It's like gold to discover a cafe in a country town serving not just good but sensational coffee. Bega's Red Cafe on the main street (Carp Street) uses Byron Bay Coffee in surroundings which match the name. There are splashes of red on chairs, light shades and frames as well as the series of portraits below.
Judging by how packed it was (even before lunch) and the great aromas coming from the kitchen, it's no wonder it is a hit with the lucky locals.
Bemboka is a tiny community on the road to Cooma. What it lacks in size it makes up for with a vibrant and energetic food scene, much of it due to one man, chef Patrick Reubinson. February saw him cooking for and coordinating the Bemboka Banquet at which 150 locals enjoy a sumptuous buffet of dishes made from ingredients sourced from within ten kilometres!
If you missed that, relax. Check into Stroudover Cottage for a night or two and you can choose to have Patrick come to the cottage and cook your dinner. During winter he is offering the exceptional Stroudover Cottage seven-course truffle menu for a minimum number of four people. He is proud that this is the only place on the Sapphire Coast offering a truffle menu experience.
F&T's meal began with white asparagus soup and homemade sourdough bread and included this delicious pie made with tender local venison, served with local seasonal vegetables. Raspberry brulee, sweetened with honey (local of course) and toped with meringue, finished the meal.
The fishing town of Tathra, on the coast, 18 kilometres from Bega, is perhaps best known for its historic wharf which celebrates it 150th anniversary on the October long weekend, 2012. You can enjoy the views of waves crashing on the nearby rocks and fishermen on the wharf by sitting back with a coffee and something from the extensive range of lovely cakes and sandwiches at Tathra Locavore.
For food-lovers and keen cooks, another great find is Tathra Beach Pickle Factory on Andy Poole Drive.
The small shop is packed with a huge range of kitchenware and gadgets and to sustain you on your travels, there are tarts, sandwiches and other goodies. Make sure you try the gruyere monsieur packed with ham and bechamel then toasted.
If you have time, take the winding picturesque road along to coast to reach the next main town to the south, Merimbula, known as the heart of the Sapphire Coast. The best way to see the town is to take the waterside walk opposite the jetty and enjoy the pelicans as see the oyster beds - both icons of this region.
In town, Zanzibar Cafe, run by Renee Loftus and Huw Jones, is the star of the dining scene. Relatively new to this restaurant, the pair are already seeing many repeat diners. Merimbula is well-placed for visitors to the snow or those heading for Canberra or Melbourne to make a stopover, and it is thrilling to see food of this standard in a country town.
Chef Jones has had extensive experience in Sydney (including Tetsuya's) and elsewhere and it shines in dishes like the local whitefish, spanner crab agnolotti with a riesling veloute (above) and the local flathead pie which he serves with velvety potato mash, leeks, hazelnuts and just a whisper of truffle oil.
Renee Loftus & Huw Jones
At Eden, the southern boundary of the Sapphire Coast, Eden Smokehouse beckons lovers of seafood. The vast range is mostly locally caught and all are smoked onsite. Owner, Stan Saroka, has every right to be proud of the company's product, knowing that others agree. Eden Smokehouse has two products named as finalists in the 2012 ABCdelicious. magazine's Produce Awards.
The Sapphire Coast is rightly named. At Eden's marina, busy with fishing boats, you may be lucky enough to see dolphins frolicking under the wharf. Like so many of the other places strung like gems along this stretch of coastline, here is a place at which you could so easily choose to stay on - and on!
And when you can be assured of so many delectable foods and places serving them so well, why wouldn't you?
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