Sawtell is so overlooked even Lonely Planet doesn’t give it more than ten words. Just ten minutes south of Coffs Harbour on the Mid North Coast of NSW, Australian Traveller magazine checked in to see what the lack of fuss was all about.

While Sawtell’s housing architecture is a little on the worse side of the ’70s, the main street is a very very enticing surprise. Divided by a row of lovely old fig trees with awning-covered footpaths,  the total effect is a very welcoming village centre.

The fig trees are in fact heritage-listed and the town owes this charm to the vigilance of some local ladies who, in the early ’80s when rampant development wasn’t met with enough protestors in many seaside towns, chained themselves to the trees to keep them from being turned into car parking spaces — cue Joni Mitchell. Their campaign was successful and today all Sawtellians owe them a debt of gratitude.

I actually come for lunch and lobbed into a chilled cafe/bistro where I was met by a highly chilled-out surfie dude.

“Mate have a seat. Every week our specials come from a different country. This week it’s Laos and Cambodia.” Barrels Global Surf Bistro (Ph: +61 2 6658 8255, 234 First Ave, Sawtell) goes to very great lengths to make sure it is in fact global.

The menu arrives with a glass of water and I peruse a varied selection. In the back of my mind I can’t help remember Anthony Bourdain’s invaluable advice in his legendary book Kitchen Confidential –– the more varied and lengthy the menu, the harder it is to keep produce and food fresh. So, in short, the longer the menu, the worse the food.

After perusing the five excellent sounding specials (from Laos and Cambodia) the Global Tapas plate gets the nod – just because it really is global. And it knocks my socks off.

Who would’ve thought of wrapping fetta in radicchio and grilling it? Then there’s the heart-stopping brie wrapped in pancetta and grilled. The big tapas plate was a meal for two, let alone one.

Taking a photo of the plate that arrives is a bit of a giveaway and the nice guy who greeted me strolls on over to find out more. As I munch through the plate,  from Moroccan meatballs to the fetta and radicchio, Matt Oxley tells me his story.

After eight years of travelling the world and spending a lot of time in Cape Town, South Africa, he returned to Australia looking to replicate the life he loves. The criteria was pretty straightforward:

“A chilled small town on the coast with good surf and a good space where there are a couple of places to eat.”

So Matt started Barrels and it continues to be the pre-eminent place to have a chilled lunch in Sawtell and the wider Coffs Coast. But Matt has plans:

“We’re getting our liquor license and putting in a bar to make it more loungey. We get bands coming through as well, which should make it a pretty cool place to have a beer and listen to a band.”

The place is covered in surfing images and photos taken by his wife which, as you would expect, feature their global travels and two kids. On the way out I step over some hibiscus flowers scattered over the footpath.

“It’s just a nice welcome for people,” says Matt.

The details:

Sawtell Beach Caravan Park

The caravan park at the end of the main street is lovely and has camp grounds, caravan sites and cabins.

Sawtell Beach is between two points. The walk around the northern headland of Sawtell Point (right) is a great way to walk off lunch.

Split Cafe almost opposite Barells has an excellent reputation.

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