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Who knew the food in The Southern Highlands was this good?

Who knew the food in The Southern Highlands was this amazing?

With so many chefs moving in from Sydney, the Southern Highlands’ food has just gone up a few notches.

This is where I ate and stayed in The Southern Highlands last week:

 Bistro Officina

Italian chef Nicola Coccia has moved in to Bistro Officina the Berida Manor Hotel, and the restaurant is undoubtedly one of the Southern Highland’s best – already.

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Snapper Fillet, Photo by Jason Loucas.

Coccia hails from Naples, and specialises in smoked cooking, but don’t let that put you off, the food is exceptional. Even the home made butter is gently smoked and served on an earthy wooden platter with fresh, warm, home made bread. Every single dish, flavour and morsel here has been treated with love, respect and focus from Coccia. He is a man with passion, as is his beautiful wife who works with him.

His food is extraordinary and it is no wonder, his resume reads like a Michelin star list of best restaurants in Sydney. His last was Quay and he’s worked at Biota and QT just to name a few.

Restaurant afficionados will recognise reflections and influences of many of the dishes from the restaurants he has worked in previously, including the famous Snow Egg Dessert at Quay, which I was reminded of when eating the delectable tirimasu.

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Coccia in the kitchen. Photo by Jason Loucas.

There’s nothing on the menu Coccia doesn’t cook with precision, from extraordinary pippies, as good as anything I had in Capri last month, gently sautéed in garlic and butter, to a tender medium rare Sirloin Wagyu gently bathed in a rich, sweet sauce, so that every mouthful melts.

And a stuffed whole Marron made my children squeal, as it is served whole with half cracked pinchers you squeeze with your hands in order to suck out the flesh. The seafood is so fresh you half expect it to crawl off your plate – and this is in Bowral, a long way from the ocean. Not what I expected at all.

There’s nothing on the menu that is not top notch and surprising in terms of the delicate blend of flavours. There’s home made gnocchi, delicately cooked fish fillets, and so it goes on. I could write pages.

The wine list is packed with local wines which compliment Coccia’s Italian food, as well as a fine selection from other Australian wine areas. Coccia serves the full food menu Wednesday – Sunday, and a large tapas menu on the other nights.

Whatever you do, do not miss this, but book soon, as it is already difficult to get in.

The Grand Bistro

Gorgeous restaurateurs Justine and Damien Monley have abandoned their brilliant Woollahra cafe/restaurant Flat White after 15 years to raise their four children in The Southern Highlands, and The Highlands are the winners.

Their new restaurant is located right in Bowral and they serve breakfasts as good if not better than anything in Sydney. These people understand food, and understand the Sydney market. There are plenty of choices for clean eaters. The fit out is fresh and modern, and staff are warm and friendly. Justine works on the floor most days.unspecified-5

For breakfast, there’s Baghdad eggs on toast; green pea hummus, pickled red onions, sumac, mint, tahini, yoghurt, A Gorgeous Clean Breakfast Bowl; kale, quinoa, avocado, smoked salmon, herbs, seeds, poached eggs, and Quinoa Porridge; Slow-cooked oat and quinoa porridge, strawberries, brown sugar, and they’re just a few  amongst too many other fab dishes to mention.

The highlight at breakfast for me is Pepe Saya butter with toast, which has to be the best butter in the country right now.

Lunch includes some gorgeous, creative, healthy salads including Ora King Salmon Salad; peas, asparagus, seeds, tarragon, green tahini as well as the decadent Crispy Pork Belly Soft Roll; Crispy pork belly soft roll apple, sweet corn, currants, & relish. Everything on the menu is interesting, and tastes fantastic. There’s some gorgeous local wines on offer too.

I didn’t get to dinner this time, as it is Thursday, Friday, Saturday, but I can’t wait. And for Eastern suburbs Sydney-siders, their famous chocolate chip brownies from Flat White have re-appeared here too. To die for.

Bendooley Estate

This architectural design of this winery set over 200 acres is the highlight, as it is just breathtakingly beautiful. It’s no surprise there are weddings here regularly, as there are photo opportunities at every turn.  Owned by the Berkelouw Book family, the Berkelouw Barn is a must- visit, with cathedral ceilings and exposed timber beams, creating a warm setting, and a reminder of a time when computers means nothing and books were everything.img_5684

Strategically placed next to the restaurant, with chairs and tables amongst the shelves, children can sit and read whilst giving parents space to enjoy some fine local wines and food just next door.

The restaurant menu could do with a re-fresh, as choices were limited when I was there, and the day 5 of us ate there, none of the dishes were worth rushing back for.

I had the goat shoulder that was loaded with sugary marinade, making it difficult to eat for someone who is not a sweet person. Mots of the other items were full of carbs. The pizzas were ok, but again not spectacular, but did the job. The chicken skewers were ok, but a touch dry. Great rocket salad.

Their wines however were on another level and were impressive. Particularly the Pinot Gris which was fresh, grassy with a hint of asparagus, and delicious.

Even if all you do here is a round of wine tasting, it’s well worth it.

Stay:

The Fitzroy Inn Historic Retreat33777075

This  gracious homestead -like accommodation with sweeping verandahs overlooking a carefully tended garden is in Mittagong, and reminds me very much of Bell’s at Killcare, another stunning place to stay.

It was built in 1836 and was the first lodge/guest house in the state.

Rooms feel gracious and are large, with clean and fresh intereiors, mostly decorated in cream and pastel tones, and there are multiple communal lounge areas where guests can enjoy a wine, coffee or tea before or after dinner and mingle.

This venue attracts international guests, so there’s always someone interesting to meet.  The gardens are beautiful, and our room overlooked them, which was a magnificent sight to wake up to each day.

There is a spacious restaurant where breakfast is served, as well as dinner, and parking is on site.

Berida Manor4376907

When the renovations are finished on this gracious property, this will be an amazing place to stay. Right now it’s pretty run down, but has spectacular bone structure, and lots of relics from another era filling each corner. It is in a fantastic location just outside Bowral, and staff are warm and helpful, and superbly presented in purple pussy-bow shirts with The Berida Manor logo emblazoned on them.

At this time, you stay here for the restaurant, not the accommodation, although if it is a bargain you are after, this is it.  I must admit my 9 year old twins liked this accommodation more than I did – they are keen to stay again. The pool table and table tennis table kept them entertained,and the heated pool and spa clinched the deal for them. Parking is on site.

All in all, we had a really fun adventure staying at the hotel, just don’t expect slick interiors – yet.

The Briars24e4abc8_z

There are people who rave about this place, and I am not quite sure why. When we stayed, admittedly we had big expectations, but it was like an abandoned convention centre. There was no-one there and the place had an eerie feel. The rooms are designed to overlook a stunning dam and rolling green countryside, which coming from Sydney is absolutely beautiful and a welcome relief from urban life.

But the 31 split level suites whilst super spacious and well designed, are in desperate need of a rejuvenation, as the colours and finishes are very dated.

Staff seemed a bit jaded, and  told us several times that they are not connected with the venue’s on-site restaurant, which seemed odd.

Even more confusing was the request that the tennis balls we borrowed for the court at 5pm had to be returned by 630pm (when it was starting to get dark) because other people may want to use them that night.

It’s located close to Bowral, but I wouldn’t rush back given the huge amount of accommodation choices in the area.

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