August 24, 2012
Shoalhaven in NSW is one of four up-and-coming foodie hotspots to tantalise your tastebuds…
The Shoalhaven region has long been the summer holiday playground for nearby city dwellers, who have been coming to bask on the pristine beaches of Jervis Bay and beyond for generations. With its proximity to Sydney and Canberra (a-two-and-a-half-hour drive from both), balmy climate, lush valleys and 160 kilometres of some of the purest, whitest coastline in New South Wales, it’s surprising how long the Shoalhaven has been flying under the radar, until recently. Now there’s another reason that this little jewel of a region is drawing folks in – the burgeoning food and wine scene.
Long-established dairy farms of the Shoalhaven have traditionally been the area’s main produce, but now, much to the delight of the food-savvy visitor and locals alike, a wider variety of quality, local produce is becoming more and more available to this food-loving region, from wagyu beef to sustainable alpaca (yes, for eating – try it at Berry’s Hungry Duck restaurant). According to Doug Innes-Will, chef of the Gunyah (one of the must-try restaurants of the region), “The Shoalhaven’s notoriety as a foodie destination is due in no small part to the dedication of a growing number of passionate producers, establishments and advocates.”
Any trip to the sandy Shoalhaven shores involves an obligatory stop over in the town of Berry and if you’re feeling a bit peckish you can’t go wrong with the Berry Sourdough Café. Set in a charming heritage listed building, the buzzing café and bakery was one of the first establishments to put the region on the food map. The European-style pastries or the obvious favourite – the woodfire-baked, organic sourdough bread – will serve you well on the road. Otherwise, stay for a lunch of European countryside classics like sourdough welsh rarebit with pickled onions or a Brittany-style fish stew, depending on the season.
Berry is also home to Hungry Duck, a restaurant that answers the call for the area’s budding interest in local, organic produce. Chef David Campbell, who brings his experience from Tetsuya’s, Billy Kwong and Wokpool, is as passionate about Asian cuisine as he is dedicated to the sustainable food philosophy, with a kitchen garden that customers can stroll through to get to know their food before it reaches their plate and a menu that supports local farmers and producers.
Even though the dining scene is progressing way beyond the standard good old fish and chips, you still can’t go wrong with the classic specialty of the Shoalhaven coast – fresh oysters, a wonderful match to the budding wine region just outside Berry.
Wineries such as Coolangatta Estate, Cambewarra Estate and Two Figs are taking advantage of the region’s temperate, maritime climate and producing some award winning wines. Worth visiting just for the views overlooking the Shoalhaven Valley, you can also taste grape varieties such as Chambourcin and Verdelho that suit the sea-breezy climate – soft, mineral wines that match the region’s produce.
You’d do well to pack an esky in the back of the car so that along the way you can pick up the goods for an elegant picnic. A loaf of Berry’s sourdough, broken into pieces by hand would be mighty fine with a dozen of freshly shucked plump oysters direct from the oyster hut of Jim Wild or his fellow oyster farmers at Greenwell Point, 15 kilometres east of Nowra. Follow the makeshift signs off the main road to the collection of oyster shacks where you can buy trays of fresh oysters direct from the farmers, shucked on the spot. Wash it all down with a cooled bottle of Coolangatta Estate’s Savagnin, a peachy, citrussy white.
When you’ve had your fill, stay overnight in the luxury safari tents at the eco-lodge of Paperbark Camp just outside of Husskison. Or at least book a candlelit dinner amongst the gumtree-tops here at The Gunyah. Chef Doug Innes-Will runs the restaurant with the same eco ethos as the Camp, supporting local farmers and providores as much as possible to create a dining experience that is unique to the area – essentially, it’s Shoalhaven on a plate.
The Shoalhaven is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful areas of Australia. We fell in the love with the place years ago and ended up purchasing a holiday house in the gorgeous little seaside town of Huskisson (Huski) located right on the shores of the incomparable Jervis Bay. The pure white silicon sand of the beaches and the pure aquamarine waters of Jervis Bay are so clean and pristine because Jervis Bay is surrounded on all sides by the massive, unspoilt beauty of Jervis Bay National Park and Booderee National Park (so efficiently managed by the Koori aboriginal caretakers there). Booderee NP has some of the most gorgeous unspoilt beaches on the east coast where, often, the only footprints on the sand will be yours, eg isolated Steamers Beach and Whiting Beach (you need to hike in). Jervis Bay has resident pods of friendly dolphins and many whales often enter the Bay with their young calves during the months from mid-May to September/Oc tober. Huskisson and Vincentia are spoilt for choice with great cafes, restaurants and clubs. One of my favourite restaurants in the area is the Butter Factory located at Pyree (not far from Nowra) – it is an exquisite little restaurant with a fabulous menu and really lovely, friendly staff. A day trip to Perpendicular Point is a must-see (one must access via an entry gate managed by the Department of Defense) where one of the sweetest little beaches (favoured by weekend campers) is located, called Honeymoon Bay (a heart shaped little beach perfect for little pre-school children). If you are coming from Sydney, my advice is to drive down the spectacular Grand Pacific Drive via the famous Sea Cliff Bridge – don’t forget to stop for a drink or lunch at the Scarborough Pub. When you are returning to Sydney, drive the alternate and absolutely gorgeous drive through verdant rainforest climbing the hinterland via the Cambewarra Lookout and Kangaroo Valley. In my honest opinion, I don’t think there is a coastline in the world that can compare to the green, green beauty of the Shoalhaven.
Where // NSW, Australia
This article appeared in Issue 46 of Australian Traveller.
The AUG/SEP The Food Edition