Editor’s note: We all witnessed in horror the devastation caused by bushfires in Tathra and its surrounding regions in the past week or so. As the local community begins the long and difficult journey of picking up the pieces, promoting local businesses in the area is one of the few ways we could show our support for a community that deserves all the help they can get. With this in mind, we hope this food review of a few well-deserved cafes lining the Sapphire Coast would inspire you to make that drive to the area and show your support for them too.
Something’s cooking in Bermagui. And down the coast road to Tathra for that matter.
Newly opened delicatessen; Eastwood’s, crowns a row of outlets at the start of the coast road to Tathra that not only activates a quiet part of town but enhances the area’s growing reputation as a foodie hub.
The Fishermen’s Wharf complex is well known for its restaurants, fish and chips, resort shops and gelati clinic, and now the new deli and its attached cooking school down the road has complemented Bermagui Cellars, the Mr Jones coffee haunt, and award-winning sough dough bakery; Honorbread.
Self-confessed food gypsy Kelly Eastwood, whose CV includes cheffing on superyachts and more recently being a TV food producer, fell in love with the area and specifically Bermagui while working on Tilba-based River Cottage.
She moved on to Family Food Fight when River Cottage folded but after toing and froing between Bermagui and Melbourne, Kelly committed to making a life on the coast.
“I was in TV for seven or eight years, and didn’t want to be in the rat race any more,” Kelly says.
“I came out here to Tilba and River Cottage, and moved to Bermagui eventually and absolutely loved it. There is no where else I want to be. And after being a gypsy for so many years I never thought I’d find somewhere where I could just go ‘that’s it’.”
And the three years of River Cottage gave her the connections to local food producers and artisans that would help her establish the deli and cooking school, which is heavily subscribed, mostly by locals.
“I was thinking about all the things that I missed, foodwise,” Kelly said. “The charcuterie, salads and looking at what we don’t have in town,” she says.
The emphasis is on local produce, such as the lettuce that has won a Delicious award and the Tilba Real Dairy.
“People come in and say my garden’s full of zucchinis or basil, do you want that? Yep,” she says.
Her popular artisan doughnut stall last year used Tilba dairy for custard, local fruit for jams, and Eden hazelnuts, to make a version of Nutella.
“I try to source as much locally as I can but we’ve also got a few interesting things that we can’t find. Things people drive to the city for,” she says.
“All of these shelves here will have Asian ingredients, Spanish, Portuguese, Mexican, stuff we can’t get around here.”
That also includes Spanish and Italian cured meats, the pork banh mi – Vietnamese pork roll – and for coffee snob Kelly, Five Senses Coffee from Melbourne, although I do my best to promote Canberra’s growing number of roasters and brewsters.
It’s a diverse offering that reflects her business model.
“For a town like this living in a rural area, it had to be a business model where you can’t just do one thing, you can’t just be a café, you cant just be a deli, it’s got to have other layers to it,” Kelly says.
Part of that is the cooking school, three-hour after-hours workshops run by teachers involved in River Cottage that are being lapped up for the locals but would be perfect for Canberrans on holiday.
The fit-out is coastal and country, with blue and yellow tiles and polished timber benches, and out the front, a community garden is planned.
Kelly is enthusiastic about her neighbours saying “It’s kinda like a food street now”.
Two doors down is Honorbread, created by Tim and Honor Nothham who used to own Modern Italian restaurant il Passaggio, where Honor’s sour dough proved so popular it is now their life.
They won three gold and a bronze at the Royal Easter Show and their loaves – made with organic flour, salt and water using classic sourdough starter – sell deep into the region including Canberra, at Mountain Creek Wholefoods and the Cook IGA.
“Love in every loaf,” quips Tim, who also notes that St Honore is the patron saint of bakers.
Honor also runs bread-making workshops at the bakery, which sees a steady stream of customers to its street counter as we chat.
We had been considering re-visiting the scene of an epic lunch a few years ago at Mimosa Winery’s Dry Stone Restaurant back down the track to Tathra. It’s worth visiting just for the architecture, let alone the fine food and Spanish wine varieties such as Tempranillo, Savagnin and Verdelho.
But Kelly has given us the good oil on a new restaurant in Barraga Bay just a few kilometres south of Bermagui. Only about a year old, Long Time No Sea is making waves with Noma-trained chef Will Wade bringing an intriguing combination of flavours and textures to the table.
In the foraging spirit of the famous Danish restaurant, the emphasis is on local fresh ingredients where possible.
The restaurant’s name is a legacy of Will and partner Soph’s overseas travel experience which saw the Merimbula boy pining for his South Coast views, which he now has in spades with pastures the foreground to the sweeping panorama of Barragga Bay before us as we take our seats.
It’s only a small BYO restaurant with a changing compact menu – just the two of them, with Soph front of house and Will in the kitchen. For busier times they bring in another chef.
We entertained the idea of not worrying about wine but just happened to have half a bottle of Lerida Estate pinot noir in the car which proves a perfect match for our choices.
We start with raw yellowfin tuna, Harvey Bay seared scallops, kohlrabi, toasted buckwheat with smoked butter sabayon, which combines brilliantly with the seafood. But the defining aspect for me is the crunch from the buckwheat.
For the mains, I stay with the sea and go for the barbecued kingfish with beurre blanc, a barbecued cabbage, and a cabbage puree, while my partner opts for the aged rib eye, jus and creamy mash.
My dish is a voyage of discovery traversing a changing terrain of tastes and textures, from the smoky cabbage to the perfectly cooked flakey fish capped by the salty crispiness of its skin which I leave till last as a final treat.
The rib eye is mouth-watering, with the only thing missing a touch of green on the plate, explained later as the usual cos lettuce accompaniment being unavailable.
The lady has dessert, of course, adjusted to be gluten-free. Chocolate hazelnut parfait, chocolate sponge, pineapple and passionfruit complete a memorable taste experience.
This is high-quality cuisine in a beautiful setting that deserves to prosper. For the complete taste experience, there is the Let Us Feed You option at $70 per person but that requires eight or more diners.
This food odyssey began in Tathra with lunch at the Wharf Local cafe and arts hub on the famous Tathra wharf where you can get fresh juices, just picked salads, quiches and frittatas as well as patisserie style sweet cakes and treats. Can’t make up your mind or you have dietary restrictions? They’re happy to create a more than generous bespoke option.
Take in the seafarer ambience as you enjoy lunch with ocean views. Just watch out for a bracing breeze, although they have blankets on hand if needed.
It also stocks a range of regional food products such as Tanja olives, as well as local art works.
The recently refurbished and perfectly sited Tathra Hotel has panoramic views, lunch and dinner, but we opt for Fat Tony’s Bar and Grill up the hill for an evening meal. Tony is not fat but very hospitable, and the menu inviting.
It’s the coast so we want seafood, and the seafood broth, a Vietnamese-style pho, is stunning – full of prawns, mussels, calamari, scallops and fresh fish in a delicious scented broth punctuated with chilli and served over rice noodles with snow peas, shaved garlic and sweet corn, fresh coriander and bean shoots.
Dessert is an indulgence and the chef personally delivers his lemon meringue pie and chocolate tart, both gluten-free, pretty pleased with his work and our response to the visual delights. Rightly so it proves.
The pie has a biscuit base, lemon mousse, and meringue top finished with lemon sorbet and praline nuts. The tart is served with minted banana salsa, chocolate gelati & creme de cacao white chocolate sauce. Yum.
Again, it’s high-quality stuff.
Food is matching the magnificent coastline along the Bermagui-Tathra stretch as an attraction, enhancing its reputation as a holiday destination, and particularly for hungry Canberrans like us, only a few hours drive away.