The NSW Central Coast hasn’t been known for its food culture, but that’s all changing with an influx of young chefs at places like Woy Woy Fishermen’s Wharf, its hottest new dining spot, says Yasmin Newman.

Woy Woy Fishermen’s Wharf first opened up shop four decades ago, first as a boat hire, then as a fishmonger. Over the years, and with each succession of the through-and-through family run business, a fish ‘n’ chip shop and restaurant were added, transforming the former waterside shack into the Central Coast’s premier seafood spot.

Today, it also boasts a cool factor. Following a recent refurb, the restaurant has been re-imagined as a hip dining space, complete with distressed wood tables, hanging ferns, mismatched tableware and slick signage. Read: a fitout worthy of inner-city Sydney.

But Woy Woy Fishermen’s Wharf is just one of a growing number of quality venues on the Central Coast – and elsewhere in regional Australia – as young Australians look for a different pace of life outside of the metropolises, and bring their city savoir-faire with them.

Former TV producer Sam Clayton and third-generation family member is now the Wharf’s general manager with fresh ideas – and not just with the venue in mind, but for the greater community. Earlier this year, with a handful of local foodies, Sam launched the hugely successful Central Coast food festival, Cast Off (there’s another slated for 2016).

Now he’s teamed up with another Sydney expat, food publicist Mark Patrick, in a series of ‘chef takeover’ dinners at Woy Woy Fishermen’s Wharf, which run for two nights each.

The names so far have been big: former sous chef at Momofuku Seiōbo, Corey Reid, Cafe Nice head chef Josh Niland, and head chef of Pilu at Freshwater, Matteo Zamboni. There’s a common thread here, if it wasn’t obvious: all hot, young chefs and the next guard in Australian food.

Lured by the creative free reign and pristine sustainable seafood, the chefs cite other pulls for lending their talents.

“I grew up in Maitland and completed the first year of my apprenticeship in Newcastle, so I was really keen to take my skills to the Central Coast,” says Niland.

Reid, whose folks live in northern New South Wales, echoes the desire to share city skills in more distant areas: “It’s a dream of mine to open up north, so it was great to see the reaction from locals.”

Meanwhile, Zamboni, who hails from Italy, was taken by the opportunity to use lesser-known fish varieties. “These guys know a lot about fish. Even among my suppliers, that’s not easy to find.”

Of course, there’s also the pop-up and collaboration appeal, which is pretty hot right now. So hot, in fact, that the Woy Woy Takeover series has attracted out-of-towners from Sydney, keen to check out the changing face of the Central Coast.

Up next is Muse Restaurant’s Troy Rhoades-Brown, followed by Mr Wong’s Khanh Nguyen and another young gun chef each month until May 2016.

The details: Woy Woy Fishermen’s Wharf

Getting there: Woy Woy Fishermen’s Wharf is an hour-and-a-half from Sydney by car and conveniently located just five minutes’ walking distance from Woy Woy train station. For a complete line-up of chefs and dates, or to book a table, call (02) 4341 1171.

Staying there: While you can journey up and back from Sydney for the evening, many guests opt to make a weekend of their Central Coast sojourn with an indulgent night (or two) at Bells at Killcare. Or, for the ultimate splurge, try Pretty Beach House.

Australian Traveller magazine 66

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