Saturday, September 23, 2017

Travel Diaries :: NSW Weekend Escape: Unspoilt Shoalhaven Foodies Trail

Foodies will travel anywhere for good food. It’s crazy, I know. Food lovers book flights and troop around the world to indulge on good food. But what if I told you that you don’t need to book an air ticket and as a Sydneysider, a culinary inspired trip is only an hour and half drive away from Sydney? I’m talking about the Shoalhaven region, in particular a little village town called Berry and a little bit further south, Milton for some of the finest regional restaurants in the country.

Berry is a charming little regional town in the Shoalhaven region of the NSW South Coast located 145km from Sydney. Most likely if you are reading this article you are looking for a short weekend away, possibly driving down a Friday and coming back Sunday afternoon and you don’t want to just wander as you want to make the most of your time. I’m going to tell you about my foodies trail thanks to Shoalhaven Tourism to Berry a couple of weekends back and I loved it so much I think I’ve decided if there was a regional town I wanted to move to some stage in my life away from the hustle bustle of the city, it would be Berry, NSW. Also, if you were to stay anywhere in Berry and you wanted a touch of luxury and privacy, then I would make a booking at Mt Hay Retreat. You can read my review on Mt Hay Retreat here.
So I went down Friday from Sydney and returned on Sunday afternoon. When you have driven all the way to Berry and only have 3 days there, you don’t want to be wasting time wandering to look for good coffee, a good breakfast, lunch or dinner. Here are the places we went to and tried and I would go back to again.

For breakfast, lunch and great coffee
Berry Sourdough Café
It was lunch time when I got to Berry and was starting to feel a bit peckish. You’ll love the charming rusticness of this century old building now called Berry Sourdough Café. I can still smell the scent of fresh artisan sourdough and savoury muffins which I was craving for when I got there. You can have a choice of the blackboard specials for lunch or choose something from the menu. Simple, wholesome dishes using local fresh ingredients. Muffins taste better in the country. They serve awesome coffee here too warming up on a crisp winter’s day in the country. The café also sells this easy to follow recipe book too that has been published for Berry Public School to assist with fundraising which I got and I can't wait to give those recipes a go. 

We tried the Ocean Trout, fresh, healthy and delicious, pork loin chop with blue lentil, confit garlic, cherry tomato salad and a fried egg (almost like the Western take of a common Vietnamese pork and fried egg dish I order) and freshly baked savoury muffins with cauliflower quinoa and almond salad.

Little Rae General Store 

Little Rae General Store was a great little place to grab a clean eating healthy breakfast on a Sunday morning. I remember the breakfast plate that I had at a charming little cafe and General store in the heart of Berry. I couldn't resist ordering a plate that has hummus in it. The plate comprised of avocado, green beans, kale, chickpeas, poached egg, fresh herbs and love the seeded toast too. They serve great coffee too in this little café which was founded in Berry, NSW in 2015 by mother & daughter team Louise and Bec Riles. Together, they combine their knowledge of cooking, retail and interior design in a store that values deliciously simple food & thoughtfully made wares. The venue is collaboration of family members, with Chef and brother Ben (formerly at Rockpool Bar & Grill Sydney, Guillaume Paddington and Devon on Danks) at the helm in the kitchen, preparing simple and nourishing food made fresh to go. The store is a destination for serious coffee, and heart-warming food but whilst in store, be sure to check out the selection of beautiful and durable wares, designed to stand the test of time. 



Casual fine award winning dining 

South on Albany
The perfect oysters from the South Coast, NSW. That’s what I remember about South of Albany. I tried the little beauties, the Clyde River Oysters (near Batemans Bay) as starters for dinner at South of Albany one of Berry's best neighbourhood restaurants lead by owner chef John Evans and Sonia, his partner not to mention as of recently Gourmet Travellers Top 10 best regional restaurants, chef hats in Good Food Guide and Best Regional restaurant in Restaurant and Catering Awards. With an emphasis on sourcing the freshest seasonal and local produce, picked on site from their kitchen garden, John Evans and Sonia Greig are behind this venue and have created a friendly and unique venue for their guests to enjoy the best the South Coast has to offer. The wine list includes extensive local and NSW wines. 

This was one fine dinner with quality dishes created from quality fresh produce. Mains are around $29-$35 so reasonably priced too. We also tried the spiced baby carrots and chickpea salad, smoked eggplant, Mountain goat cheese, toasted nuts and grains and sourdough crumbed fish cake of local snapper, herb and caper mayonnaise, radish and watercress to start. For mains we had Fish of the Day and the slow cooked lamb shoulder with celeriac puree, pearly barley risotto, roasted beetroot, herb brioche crumbs. For desserts, we tasted the chocolate mousse, honeycomb, raspberry sorbet, passionfruit, chocolate and wattleseed crumb and the pear almond and ginger pudding with caramel sauce, Ameretto and cassia cream.







St Isidore

This was my view from where we were sitting at St Isidore restaurant which feels like a friend's country home kitchen, overlooking rolling greens, where orchards, herbs and vegetables are grown as well as a chook yard. It is a beautiful location for lunch on a weekend, about 1 hour drive south of Berry, NSW in Milton.

St Isidore is a modern restaurant with a huge kitchen garden, located in the beautiful Milton hills. Its menu is contemporary in style, celebrating and embracing the beauty of season and origin.There is a reason why restaurants are given hats. Since I last visited 2 years ago St Isidore, Milton was recently awarded one star by Gourmet Traveller magazine and ranked 6th in the best of NSW regional restaurants in their 2017 Restaurant Guide. St Isidore was also awarded a coveted one hat by the SMH Good Food Guide 2016 and 2017. St Isidore in Milton is as good as I remember it when I first visited 2 years ago. The first thing I did was went out the back to see if the chooks were still there in St Isidore restaurant, and they were as plump as ever and was happily greeted by them (they probably knew a foodie was coming) and to walk through their vegetable garden and to see their orchards. A really beautiful restaurant with a farm at the back. Just in case you were wondering St Isidore’s name was derived from Isidore the Farm Labourer in Spain. (c. 1070 – May 15, 1130) He was a Spanish farmworker known for his piety toward the poor and animals. He is the Catholic patron saint of farmers and of Madrid, and of La Ceiba, Honduras. His feast day is celebrated on May 15. He was known to perform miracles for the poor and farm animals. One snowy day, when going to the mill with corn to be ground, he passed a flock of wood-pigeons scratching vainly for food on the hard surface of the frosty ground. Taking pity on the poor animals, he poured half of his sack of precious corn upon the ground for the birds, despite the mocking of witnesses. When he reached the mill, however, the bag was full, and the corn, when it was ground, produced double the expected amount of flour (reference Wikipedia).Well no shortage of food here.

We tried the Narooma Sydney Rock Oysters to start. For mains, the Ulladulla Snapper with mussels, roasted fennel, grilled prawn sauce and lemon and the Riverina MS2+ Scotch Fillet with baby carrots, radicchio, garlic butter, onion rings. For desserts we tasted a  delicious pink lady apple and olive oil cake and the warm chocolate tart.

For something different

Hungry Duck

For dinner, we tried a venue that is a dynamic take on Asian cuisine, Hungry Duck. Admittedly, by the time I got there I was still full from breakfast and lunch so wanted to try something on the lighter side. So I opted for vegetable dishes which wasn't a bad choice considering their kitchen garden provides many of the organic herbs and vegetables that are showcased on the plate. It is worth a stopover for any food lover travelling the South Coast. The space is chic and the food is modern and behind this venue is chef/owner David Campbell.

Bite Around Berry
On the day we arrived we went on a foodies tour with Cameron of Foodscape Tours to get a taste of what a small village like Berry in the Shoalhaven region has on offer and there I discovered the most delicious melt in your mouth artisan chocolates that are worth the drive for Sydney and the best ever sausage rolls. I bought so much chocolates, jams, conserves, paella ingredients, rice, sausage rolls, and other gourmet goodies to take home and these are places Cameron introduced me to that I would definitely go back again. We went behind the scenes to visit the store owners on this tour and visited Berry Chocolatier (where I discovered the best selling chocolates); Flavours Shoalhaven, where I discovered what makes their eggs so special; Nourish Berry, for funky kitchen utensils and the most delicious maple syrup varieties; and South Coast Providores where I discovered Iranian Baby Figs  which are heaven with vanilla ice cream and the best sausage rolls ever! Cameron is a great guide and has good rapport with the store owners ensuring you experience more than if you just walk in the store yourself. Definitely go on this tour because if you are in Berry for the first time and only have the weekend. This tour with Foodscape Tours will help curate what food stores to visit for the first time, so you can sample, listen and learn the stories of the store owners. 






For something hands on  
I mentioned earlier that I've decided that if there was a regional town I would retire in it would be Berry, NSW South Coast as not only is it a foodies heaven, gourmet, locally sourced, fresh and delicious produce and ingredients and food made with a lot of love but also its only a short drive (45 mins) to Kangaroo Valley to a place where you can have a whole food experience. I'm reluctant to call Flavours of the Valley in Kangaroo Valley a cooking school as it is much more than that.

Toni, of Italian heritage, a former school teacher and with hospitality background provides a powerful combination to learn about food, especially Italian food. Toni is an excellent teacher, breaks everything down step by step, easy to follow and her teaching background really was helpful and educational in guiding us through what we needed to do and what we needed to make for our lunch. We arrived at 8.45am and we got a run down of what we were cooking today which was pasta and a few other Italian dishes. We started by walking through Toni's herb and vegetable garden to see what was growing in her small but extensive range and we picked what we needed to use in our dishes today. We learnt to make pasta dough to start and it was a very simple process of egg and flour, using Italian 00 flour ... that's the magic. Type 00 flour has a finer grain soft, delicate pasta. We were assigned dishes to make as a group and all that mushrooms earlier in the week has rubbed off on me, as I was assigned to cook Wild Mushroom and Three Cheese Ravioli made with homemade ricotta (that's so easy to make at home too) and Mittagong mushrooms (which are grown in a disused railway tunnel in Mittagong!). I can't wait to come back and try her Moroccan class.

They say a trip to Shoalhaven isn't complete until you try a cooking school and the one to try is Flavours of the Valley in Kangaroo Valley, which is so true. Well worth a visit for the hands on foodies experience.

Trip Notes Summary
Getting there
Self-drive from Sydney to Berry is about 2 hours.

Where to stay

Mt Hay Retreat 260 Mount Hay Rd, Berry NSW 2535

Where to eat

Breakfast/Lunch …

Berry Sourdough Café
23 Prince Alfred Street, Berry NSW 2535

Little Rae General Store
Shop 1, 65 Queen Street, Berry NSW 2535

Casual fine dining …
South of Albany
3/65 Queen Street (cnr Albany Street) Berry NSW 2535

St Isidore http
89 Croobyar Road, Milton NSW 2538

For something different …

Hungry Duck
85 Queen St, Berry NSW 2535

For a foodies tour …
Bite Around Berry

For something hands on …
Flavours of the Valley
407D Bendeela Road, Kangaroo Valley NSW 2577

See.Taste.Do travelled as a guest of Shoalhaven Tourism

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