Welcome to Don’t Delay Your Stay, news.com.au’s campaign to support communities hard hit by this summer’s devastating bushfires. Many of these regions rely on tourism so one of the best ways to help is to visit and spend time in some of the most beautiful parts of our great country.
RELATED: Don’t Delay Your Stay and book an Aussie trip today
The Southern Highlands, just 90 minutes south of Sydney, have been badly affected by the catastrophic bushfires which have had an impact on local tourism. Now that the danger has passed, the charming villages and country towns need your help to recover. If you’re looking for a food-focused long weekend, whet your appetite and spend your tourist dollars where it helps.
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BEST PIES: THE BARGO PIE SHOP & CAFE
Just off the Old Hume Hwy, this place is worthy of a pit-stop. The pies have been known to sell out by early afternoon, which is always a good sign, so best to head there earlier in the day. Grab a coffee and a sweet option in the morning, potentially an old-fashioned apple turnover with lashings of cream, or make for an easy roadside lunch with a chunky chicken or steak and kidney pie. It’s one of the places in the area that also fed/is feeding fireys for free.
BEST GENERAL STORE: EXETER GENERAL STORE
The concept of a general store is a mainstay of small country towns and acts as a communal gathering space. This one, housed in a 1900s building which used to be the post office, is a local institution and functions as a hub which attracts people from far and wide. Highlanders come to pick up groceries, have a coffee and read the papers while tourists will grab a takeaway brew as well as local wares, such as chutneys, jams and oils, to take back home.
BEST BREAKFAST: THE SHAGGY COW
Restaurateur Mark Wilson channels his fine dining background, which includes Watermark Restaurant in Sydney’s Balmoral Beach, into a buzzing, award-winning local cafe which bakes its own bread and even does sodas in-house. The menu includes favourites such as a brunch bowl or a more interesting egg dish with beetroot, goats curd and house-smoked trout.
BEST VEGETARIAN/VEGAN: FOUR SEASONS BISTRO
If you’re looking for a vegetarian, vegan or raw food restaurant, then this is for you. The eggs are free range, the vegan cheese is made in-house and pulled, BBQ jackfruit tastes meaty. Owner Derek Hamlen is known to take excess produce that locals bring into the restaurant and turn it into something delicious.
BEST DISTILLERY: JOADJA DISTILLERY
Never heard of this little hamlet? That gives you all the more reason to visit. The Scottish heritage of this mining town established in the 1870s gave it a reputation for producing sly grog. Valero and Elisa Jimenez have taken this tradition, combined it with their Spanish heritage to source ex-sherry ageing barrels, to make it legit and produce fantastic whiskey, gin, rum and anis. It’s also one of the world’s only single malt whisky distilleries that grows its own barley on site.
BEST PUB: THE TAPHOUSE
Pull up a stool at the brew pub for the Southern Highlands Brewing Co, a craft beer brewery started by two friends in 2015. They opened The Taphouse in 2017 to showcase their range of beverages. As well as regular styles, there’s always an invitational guest tap which gives you a chance to try something new. The menu is all about up-market ‘beer cuisine’, seasonal, local produce that make for delicious meals, such as cider pork belly and a T-bone with cafe de Paris butter, which go with what comes out of the taps.
BEST FINE DINING: BIOTA
When Biota opened in 2011, it set the benchmark for fine dining in the Southern Highlands. Chef James Viles didn’t just open a restaurant, but a property on 3.5 acres that includes a hobby farm to grow produce and, occasionally, is home to a herd of goats. To capitalise on Biota as a destination dining experience there is also accommodation in the form of 12 queen rooms and you can opt for stay-and-dine packages.
BEST FARM STALL: THE LOCH, BERRIMA
This working farm and guesthouse just outside of Berrima has a farm stall on Sundays. On your way back home, swing by and fill your cooler bags with home grown produce. As well as fruit, vegetables, herbs, eggs or flowers from the garden you could even walk away with lamb and beef that have been reared on the property. If you’re in luck, game might also be available.
BEST ITALIAN: BOTTEGA B
The little village of Bundanoon has a charming Italian restaurant that usually requires a reservation if you want to get in. The dough for the pizza is made on the premises from scratch, there’s a kitchen garden that grows everything from herbs to tomatoes and what they can’t grow, they get in from Brillig Farm in Exeter. There are also gluten-free pizza and pasta options.
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