Down to Earth
The nsw Central Coast has some fresh new offerings that are are tempting those cruising up the highway to turn off, slow down and switch off.
TrueBlue Magazine - Oct/Nov 2019
Words: Michelle Hespe
My partner and I are sitting in highly polished sturdy horse saddles enjoying a lovely bottle of pinot noir and a charcuterie and cheese board that tastes as good as it looks. That’s not a typo – we are very comfortably seated at the brass-scalloped bar of Saddles, otherwise known by locals and staff as ’Singo’s loungeroom’.
After media magnate, entrepreneur and businessman John Singleton sold iconic Icebergs in Bondi for $15 million, it must have made perfect sense to invest in the beautiful land near his home on his beloved Central Coast. When he switches off from work he can amble across the paddock and enjoy time with family and friends in this beautifully rustic restaurant-come-bakehouse that offers guests a grassroots country experience only an hour’s drive from Sydney CBD.
It’s a joint venture with acclaimed restaurateurs Cameron and Hayley Cansdell, who also own Bombini and Bombini Pizza at Avoca Beach and Fish Dining at Point Frederick. They worked with The John Singleton Group and White Dickson Architects to deliver this feel-good 11-acre property grandly spanning a dam.
Saddles is a culinary breakthrough for this picture-perfect patch of the Central Coast – gourmands travelling up the coast now have somewhere to stop, refresh and indulge before an open fireplace in the winter, or on a sprawling Queenslander-style wooden deck in the warmer months.
The place smells like home – the scents of sourdough, pastries, pies, sausage rolls, pastas and soups constantly permeate the air. They’re made here daily alongside the other treats on the menu, which has been designed to offer guests ever-changing hearty country-style fare created with local seasonal ingredients.
As we sip, nibble and relax, a waiter points out the painting hanging above the fireplace, of a simple old Australian farm shack with a tin roof – it’s one of Singo’s favourite pieces, and where the inspiration for this venture came from. The saddles we’re sitting on also tie into the theme – they were created by artisan saddler and stuntman Heath Harris, who worked with Singleton at his nearby Strawberry Hills Stud and appeared in the well-known hill scene from The Man from Snowy River. There are many other interesting pieces dotted about the place, making it look like a 100-year old renovated barn rather than a perfectly planned new-build.
It’s an over-used saying, but there’s something so down-to-earth about the place, and the people working and dining here. And so Saddles sets the tone for the rest of our trip.
Stay The Night
There are seemingly endless places to stay in the many lovely villages and towns on the Central Coast, and most have either bushland or ocean vistas. There’s a plethora of B&Bs, and the upmarket faves Bell’s at Killcare and Pretty Beach House are like honey to bees for those after a luxury getaway. }
In the mid-range offerings there’s a newcomer on the scene taking full advantage of its breathtakingly pristine hinterland and beach views. The Outlook Cabana is tucked into dense bushland and surrounded by mature flower-filled gardens. Overlooking rainforest with a sublime view of Avoca Beach, the romantic couples-only glass-walled cabin perched above an infinity pool offers complete privacy (when you have the blinds down), and on the property there are bushwalks and a horse riding academy.
If getting into the action of the Central Coast is more your style, Terrigal is a buzzing seaside location with the Crowne Plaza Terrigal Pacific hotel proudly positioned at its epicentre. The 199-room palatial complex has stunning ocean views, live music, a heated swimming pool with a poolside bar, a fitness centre and a range of stylishly decorated spaces to eat and drink.
Onsite Seasalt restaurant is a favourite for locals and visitors, and with its floor-to-ceiling windows, you can take in the ocean views while enjoying chef Simon Quick’s modern Australian meals. Tuck into the best-selling seafood platter, with a side of his famous halloumi fries, and don’t sleep in too long as you might miss the rightfully raved about breakfast, where the offerings are as expansive as they are fresh and delicious.
Central Coast Scenic Sips
“Save the planet – it’s the only one with wine on it” says the sign inside Firescreek Fruit Wines. I have a chuckle as we meet up with owner and winemaker Nadia. Despite her family once being city dwellers, she is another down-to-earth champion of the Central Coast, who knows just how lucky she is to have access to such an energising lifestyle in a beautiful location.
As we wander about her fruit winery, Nadia’s plump Wyandotte chickens roam about – the intricate patterning of their feathers making them look as though they’re wearing fancy lace coats. A lot of ’peep-peeping’ is going on, and she stops to pluck a tiny fluffy chick from the grass and offers up a cuddle. “Her mother is relaxed, doesn’t mind at all,” she says with a smile.
We enjoy a tasting of the latest six varieties of Nadia’s wines – raspberry, chilli & orange, blueberry & lavender, coffee & blackcurrant, plum & rose petal, and peach – and are completely surprised by the layers of flavour explosions that unfold. The wines are fermented in steel vats for around a year, so the sugar has long gone.
What’s left to lovingly bottle is fruity combinations, often with a surprisingly dry aftertaste. We buy one of each for the cellar, knowing that they will be the perfect ingredient for a range of unusual Kir Royales at our next dinner party.
With so much happening on the Central Coast, some savvy locals put their heads together and created Central Coast Scenic Sips – a self-guided tour where people can visit four different ‘sip-based’ operators all a few minutes cruise from one another.
And so our next stop is Distillery Botanica and Bar Botanica, both of which are on the same grounds only five minutes down the road from Firescreek Fruit Wines. The property was formerly known (and well-loved) as The Fragrant Garden. Now the collaborative operators have breathed new life into the garden concept, and it’s a busier and more charming venue than ever.
Distillery Botanica is the brainchild of master horticulturist and herbalist Philip Moore, who has dedicated 20 years of his life to distilling. Using a traditional copper still he blends each of the six separate distillations by hand, and the result is highly distinctive, award-winning liqueurs and gins.
Philip has won seven golds and six silver medals in prestigious spirit competitions, and Moore’s gin is the first Australian gin to have ever won gold in the prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition.
Nigel Weisbaum is the manager of Distillery Botanica. His humour, absolute passion for distilling and amazing depth of booze knowledge make the educational tastings here a real treat. He fits right into the mob of down-to-earth people who call this happening place home. Try to wiggle your way out of being the designated driver for this tasting, as it’s worth trying every one of Philip’s concoctions.
Next on the sipping tour, we cross the courtyard and enter Bar Botanica. Formerly a cluttered gift store, the building, that’s a bit log cabin, a bit yurt and all things natural, has a waterfall window, chunky wooden beams, brick floors and sandstone walls.
Surrounded by thriving herb, flower and vegetable gardens, the café has plenty of outdoor seating, and inside, chef and café owner Dan Hughes has hired staff who are obviously passionate about making excellent coffee. They also happily scoop up and hand out award-winning Mr Goaty Gelato to excited patrons.
Dan runs a tight kitchen where light lunches are the order of the day. He lovingly sources every ingredient from nearby producers, and has abundant gardens at his fingertips to forage in. Simple is often best, and he proves this with his Ploughman’s Platter – it has to be up there with the best in the country.
New offering & established icon
Gosford has long been known for its pubs and community clubs, but even the locals will admit that it’s not the first place that springs to mind when you’re seeking a high-end, architectually impressive hangout with great food, cocktails and an extensive wine list.
Enter Bon Pavilion. Aka Bon.
Singo has hit the town, this time arm in arm with acclaimed chef Sean Connolly and the entrepreneurial couple behind Bells at Killcare and Pretty Beach House – Brian and Karina Barry. The foursome have opened the upmarket eatery in the 14-storey Bonython Tower.
Bon is home to café Bon Bon Espresso, a cocktail and tapas ’Bon Bar’, a dining room called Bonfire, specialty craft beer and whisky den Bon Vin Private Dining, and wine bar Bon Vin.
A half hour’s drive away is Eastcoast Beverages, which began in 1965 when Salvatore Lentini picked and packed fresh fruit from his Central Coast orchards to supply to Australia’s Flemington Markets. Years later, when the Australian Government removed tariffs on imported juice concentrate, it became less profitable to produce juice derived solely from fresh fruit. That’s when Salvatore’s three sons – Sam, Mick and Frank Lentini – saw an opportunity to create their own niche market by squeezing citrus fruit juice made entirely from 100 per cent fresh fruit.
Today Eastcoast Beverages is a third-generation Australian family business that creates a range of fruit juice, spring water, sparkling water and kombucha on its farm in Kulnura. The company’s solid philosophy is to Return – Regrow – Re-juice, so that absolutely nothing is wasted.
Gem of an experience
One of the many things that attracts hordes of tourists to the Central Coast is its sublime waterways. A new way to enjoy some time out on the water is to take a Pearls of Australia Broken Bay Pearl Farm Tour, which largely takes place on a 10-metre catamaran.
Celeste and Steve are a great team for this tour that teaches you everything you need to know about natural and cultured pearls, specifically concentrating on the pearl that is famous in these parts – the Akoya pearl.
Steve is a quintessential Aussie bloke who loves the water, and his entertaining and educational tour has all passengers marvelling at how intricate the process of seeding a pearl is, and how skilled the hatchery technicians need to be to continually succeed in their role. Everyone on the boat is in awe when an oyster is pried opened to reveal a perfect golden-hued pearl.
Later we cruise back to Ettalong, where over a cup of tea the lovely Celeste gets everyone involved in a hands-on session with precious Akoya pearls, explaining how pearls are graded and turned into stunning jewellery. It’s the perfect way to wrap up a weekend filled with Central Coast gems.
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