Australia's new food and wine destination on the rise: 20 must-do highlights of NSW Southern Highlands

1. EXPLORE: SOUTHERN HIGHLANDS

For too long something of a poor relation of the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley for day and overnight visitors from Sydney, this NSW region is reaching new, well, highs, as it finally begins to reach its potential as a destination. There's a new campaign to highlight its not inconsiderable food and wine credentials through two defined, inelegantly named, "cluster" districts, along with an improved choice of accommodation, both new and upgraded. See southernhighlandsfoodandwineclusters.com.au

2. STAY: PEPPERS MANOR HOUSE

After an overdue $4.5 million renovation, the landmark 140-year-old Peppers Manor House at Sutton Forest not only now features spruced-up guestrooms and public spaces but also a first-rate restaurant (see number 11, below), eyeing off a possible return to the Good Food Guide where it was for a time a regional fixture. One of Peppers Manor House's most appealing features is its baronial and slightly eccentric Great Hall, replete with towering ceilings, comfy sofas and roaring log fire. See peppers.com.au

3. EAT: GRAND BISTRO

A welcome newcomer to the Bowral food scene, Grand Bistro is the latest venture of Damien and Justine Monley, a Sydney couple formerly of Woollahra's sleek Flat White cafe. Sydney's loss is Bowral's gain with their brand new, already popular bistro inside the old Grand Hotel building just off the town's main street. The food is rustic, unpretentious and served in a city-slick, all-white dining room. Mittagong's Howards Lane wines (see number 16), which the Monleys also bought as part of their wholesale tree-change, proudly line the shelves behind the counter. See grandbistro.com.au; howardslanevineyard.com.au

See also: Edible escapes: Australia's favourite destinations for food 

*4. STAY: THE LOCH

One of the Southern Highlands' truest and newest gems, The Loch, near the historic village of Berrima, is the creation of Brigid Kennedy, an enterprising Sydney chef and caterer, and her antique-purveying partner Kevin Nott. A wee pocket of Scotland in the Southern Highlands, each of The Loch's four stylish and cosy rooms are named in honour of a Scottish town or city. One of its most appealing features is its large communal kitchen and living room with views of the surrounding Southern Highlands farmlands and countryside. See theloch.net.au

5. DRINK ARTEMIS WINES

When compared with other regions in Australia and NSW itself, the cool climate wines of the Southern Highlands have tended to be underpromoted and underappreciated. Sydneysiders have opted for the Hunter Valley wineries even though the Southern Highlands equivalents, such as the well-regarded, family-owned Artemis, are much closer to the big smoke. The Artemis Wines' range not only includes the Southern Highland Selection, Crux Quadrata and limited release Grand Heritage selection and Estate "Close Vine" Pinot Noir, but also meads and ciders, all available from its bucolic cellar door at Mittagong, just off the Old Hume Highway. See artemiswines.com.au

*6. DINE BENDOOLEY ESTATE RESTAURANT

The Southern Highlands-based Berkelouw family, renowned for their new and secondhand bookshops, gave the term "intellectual nourishment" new meaning when they set this restaurant right between its shelves of tomes and overlooking rows of vines and rolling countryside. Inside the landmark "Book Barn", just outside the historic village of Berrima, Bendooley's menu consists of a superior country comfort food including wood-fired gourmet pizzas. In the cooler months, scoring a table right by the open fireplace is a bit like winning the Miles Franklin. See bendooleyestate.com.au

See also: The 13 best places to eat out in Australia

7. EAT EXETER GENERAL STORE

Every village needs a general store but few are blessed with one nearly as perfect as that located in blink-and-you'll-miss-it Exeter, near Bundanoon. Inside an early 20th-century building, Exeter General Store doubles (make that triples) as a post office, store and café with city smarts that makes for a perfect breakfast, brunch or lunch diversion for locals and visitors alike. There's also a selection of secondhand books for browsing and buying. Even if you're staying elsewhere in the Southern Highlands, it's worth making the time to visit what's become a worthy local institution. See exetergeneralstore.com.au

Advertisement

*8. VISIT JOADJA DISTILLERY

One of the Southern Highlands' most surprising ventures is located in the region's most fascinating, historic and remote corner. Today Joadja is a ghost town, dating to the late 1870s, where shale was once mined and Scottish miners became adept in the low art of sly grog production. The modern-day Jimenez family now own and manage the ruins at Joadja Town where they have established not only a whisky distillery but, with their Spanish heritage, also the production of sherry and gin. There's a fledgling cellar door for tastings and purchases as well as heritage tours of the extraordinary site.

See joadjadistillery.com.au; see joadjatown.com.au

9. DINE BIOTA DINING

Although its inventive style of cooking can polarise, Biota Dining took the Southern Highlands to much-needed new gastronomic heights when it opened in Bowral, right in the middle of its retirement home zone as you head south out of town. Aside from its state-of-the-art menu, Biota Dining also includes accommodation with a dozen rooms for two with breakfast included. If that's not enough, there are regular "workshops" including classes on natural bread-making and cooking with vegetables. See biotadining.com

10. QUAFF BENDOOLEY CELLAR DOOR BAR

One of the newest additions (or should that be "editions"?) to the Southern Highlands scene is Berrima bookworms' fabulous new cellar door built from local stone (see number 18). The ambitious Berkelouw family is are also scheming to create some accommodation to properly complement the impressive complex, though in the meantime there remains the none-too-shabby two-bedroom weatherboard Book Barn Cottage. See bendooleyestate.com.au

*11. EAT KATERS

Katers, once a Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide hat recipient in Peppers Manor House's more halcyon days, is again back under the tutelage of skilled Irish-born chef John Shelly. Not only has he set about restoring the restaurant's reputation, he's also resumed his strong relationship with Southern Highlands producers, as well as developing a kitchen garden that house guests can visit. See peppers.com.au

See also: The best country in the world for food

12. DINE ESCHALOT

The gracious 19th-century sandstone building on the main drag of Berrima in which Eschalot is housed belies the surprisingly contemporary nature of the food served inside. And in a nod to Eschalot's regular, long-time fans, chef Richard Kemp's menu features a "favourites" section, including dishes such as twice-baked goat's cheese soufflé and Thirlmere duck leg confit. Many of the ingredients from the menu are grown on site. See eschalot.com.au

13. VISIT MOUNT ASHBY ESTATE

Not only can you sample Mount Ashby's boutique winery reds and wines on a visit to this attractive Gallic-style winery cellar door complex near Moss Vale, you can also savour them over over homemade soup, crusty bread and a charcuterie plate. A former dairy, from the cellar door there are gorgeous vineyard views framed by grazing Holsteins as well as a fully fledged antique store (see number 17). See mountashby.com.au

14. BUY THE LOCH'S FARM STALL

Not content with running a bed and breakfast-cum-guesthouse-cum-antique-store, the aforementioned Brigid Delaney and Kevin Nott also operate a "farm stall", as they call it, each Sunday between 8am and 4pm. Held in and around the extensive gardens of The Loch, visitors can buy fresh produce, sourced from its farm gardens, condiments, take-home packs of chef-prepared meals and vintage pieces from the antique store (see number 19). See theloch.net.au

15. VISIT FARM CLUB

Conceived to provide an authentic taste of rural life for city-slickers and overseas tourists within easy reach of Sydney, Farm Club is a refreshing concept. Not only is there accommodation in the form of erstwhile farmhouses scattered across the beautifully situated property, there's also a central communal building featuring a cafe and shop. See farmclubaustralia.com.au

See also: The 10 foods every visitor to the US needs to try

16. STAY HOWARDS LANE VINEYARD

Grand Bistro's Damien and Justine Monley have done a fine job transforming their winery's old cellar door into superior luxurious accommodation. The spacious cottage-style space has bush church-like towering beamed ceilings with views overlooking the vines and surrounding countryside and kangaroos are regular visitors in the early mornings. Additionally, there's separate, fully equipped kitchen with an espresso machine as well as Howards Lane wines. See howardslanevineyard.com.au; grandbistro.com.au

17. SHOP SALLY BERESFORD ANTIQUES

A little pocket of Paddo in the middle of Southern Highlands at Mount Ashby Estate, Sally Beresford specialises in exquisite French farmhouse-style dining tables inside a relocated local produce store dating from the early 20th century. (One of Beresford's wonderfully robust and sought-after tables even featured as a notable prop in MasterChef). Wander the suitably rustic store, stuffed with not just tables but all manner of provincial antique furniture, including 17th- to 19th-century antiques sourced from France and other parts of Europe. See sallyberesford.com.au

18. EAT BENDOOLEY CELLAR DOOR CASUAL DINING

A fine, more casual alternative to the restaurant at Bendooley Estate, the new cellar door offers a simpler, wines-friendly menu with the piece-de-resistance – aside from the elaborate fireplace – being a specially commissioned painting by legendary Sydney artist John Olsen. It sits in pride of place above the cellar door's bar, which is made from a naturally toppled 170-year-old radiata pine recovered from the estate. See bendooleyestate.com.au

19. SHOP THE LOCH

Each of the ground-floor stalls (sans horses these days) at the former stables at The Loch have been cleverly converted into an antique shop of sorts operated by owners Kevin Nott, partner of Brigid Kennedy, the establishment's co-owner. You'll find an array of quality "farm-finished" pieces for sale, all carefully and skilfully restored on the property. See theloch.net.au

20. EAT KATERS LARDER

In addition to the eponymous restaurant at Peppers Manor House is the more casual and al fresco Katers Larder. Perfect for a relaxing sunny afternoon (though rug up in winter). The food features the best Southern Highlands produce and is served from midday in the leafy courtyard. High tea is also served in the courtyard, the intimate guest lounge or around the fireplace in the Great Hall. See peppers.com.au

Anthony Dennis was a guest of The Loch, Peppers Manor House, Howards Lane and the Southern Highlands Food and Wine Clusters

* Traveller top picks

See also: Best food around the world: The greatest meals of all time

See also: Food holidays: The new reason why we're travelling

Comments