12 indulgent foodie experiences on the Sapphire Coast
World-class oysters straight from the lake, award-winning waterside dining, local produce markets, and a small-batch gin. Indulge yourself on a food journey through the Sapphire Coast.
Mediterranean on the water at Valentina
Imagine this scene. A beautiful timber dining room flooded with sunlight. In front of you is a perfectly charred flatbread, oysters topped with finger lime, and a few sardines. You've got a negroni and your partner has a pét nat, and out the floor-to-ceiling windows, you can see Merimbula Lake. This is the experience at Valentina, a Merimbula restaurant from Sydney restaurateurs, that’s already winning awards for their service style, interiors, and creative and Italian-ish approach to local Sapphire produce.
Fine dining among the vines at Mimosa Wines
There aren’t many fine dining experiences set in the middle of a 200-acre farm. You’ll feel how special that is when you find your seat at Mimosa Wines and see the expansive view showing off Bermagui‘s rolling hills and their picturesque vineyard. At the table, you’ll be delivered a set menu of innovative creations from Jan Semmelhack, a chef whose career was made in Europe’s Michelin-starred restaurants. Of course, this is a winery, so you can pair all of Semmelhack’s two-hat-awarded dishes with both Mimosa’s signature wines and other local drops.
Craft beers in the garden at Longstocking Brewery
You know the feeling you get post-hike or post-swim when you feel 100% ready to unwind? Longstocking Brewery is set up to cater for exactly that feeling. The Pambula microbrewery serves a diverse, rotating list of beers – look for the specials board for the freshest pours. Find yourself a cold one and a woodfired pizza to share, then sit back and watch local musicians fill the room with soft melodies. Or swap your beer for a gin, and the music for a board game, then recline in the garden’s lounge area. If you end up going all out with a flight of beer, there’s a bookable chauffeur service to take you home.
Modern eats in heritage Hotel Australasia
Hotel Australasia was once known as the Grand Old Lady of Eden, which makes sense when you learn it was built in 1904. Now, the recently restored Eden hotel is known for its glamorous rooms and bistro. Sitting out in the bistro’s courtyard will feel like being in a great country pub with modern flair, not just with its glamorously refurbished furnishings but with a slightly up-market menu featuring Neapolitan pizzas, local seafood platters and beef-fat fried chips. The hotel’s bar, John Hines, is similarly pub-deluxe, with 12 tap beers, a short cocktail list and both local and international wines. The venue’s showpiece, fine dining restaurant Circa 1904, opens in April.
Learn how to make your own gin at North of Eden Distillery
When North of Eden say craft gin, they really mean it. Everything at this Stony Creek distillery, just a 10-minute drive from Bega, is made by hand. Even Jill, their Portuguese copper still, is manually operated and heated with a live fire, and all the ingredients infused in the gin are either grown onsite or foraged. It’s for those reasons all the bottles in their range, including their unique oyster shell gin (made with juniper, cumquat, saltbush and local oyster shells for a unique flavour and to give a mouth feel to the gin), have been awarded by the biggest international spirit competitions. Join an afternoon of alchemy at North of Eden’s Gin School, a three-hour workshop where you can distil your own gin recipe, plus taste the range. Or simply relax at the distillery’s outdoor bar with a BYO picnic, a G&T, and an outlook over the green hills of the Bega Valley.
Tour the Sapphire Coast Oyster Trail
The quality of an oyster relies most on the clarity and health of the water they live in, and you can tell just from the crystal-clear colour of the water on the Sapphire Coast that it’s one of the most significant and applauded oyster regions in the country. Try Pambula Lake’s best with an on-the-water farm visit on Captain Sponge’s Magical Oyster Tours, a more educational and luxurious Broadwater Oysters tour, or an adventurous kayak and shuck experience with Navigate Expeditions. While in Merimbula, head to the Oyster Barn for a plate of oysters looking over the bay where they were grown in. If you’re keen to explore more, or everything all on your own, make your own oyster trail itinerary.
Shop like a local at produce markets
Fragrant heads of garlic just picked from the earth, bread that still smells like the morning’s bake, lamb shanks from farms up the road, and fruit from the trees of nearby orchards – if you needed any more proof of how embedded the local farming culture is on the Sapphire Coast, check out the quality and sheer number of produce markets. Bega Produce Market, a weekly market on Fridays, sells only produce from small producers within a 250km radius. On Thursdays, the Bermagui Growers and Makers Market shows off the area’s produce often alongside freshly baked pies, local spirits, pantry goods and flowers. On top of the two big weekly markets there are monthly or season-based markets all over the coast, all of them full of locals. Check out the market schedules here.
Tide-to-table oysters at Wheeler’s Seafood Restaurant
The distance between Wheeler’s Seafood Restaurant and Merimbula Lake, where you’ll find the Wheeler’s Oyster Farm, is so short you can walk it. The only way you’ll get fresher oysters is plucking them from Sapphire’s salty waters yourself. And oysters aren’t the only thing on the menu at this decade-old Pambula institution. Go all out on a local seafood platter, sit at the bar with a box of fish and chips and your pooch by your side, or try your own cook-up by visiting the Wheeler’s pantry and fish shop.
Extremely good cheeseburgers, cocktails to match at Dulcies
Dulcies is Valentina’s little sister. The burger and oyster bar, set up in an old 1920s cottage in Merimbula and its courtyard, not only shares the same owners as Valentina, but also the same philosophy: a love of local produce and Sapphire Coast makers. But Dulcies has its own personality. While Valentina is elegant and innovative, Dulcies is easy-going and comfortable. It's all about craft tinnies and cocktails from the bar, tables in the courtyard sun, burgers from the van out back, and savouring it all with a backdrop of water views and live music.
Relaxed fine dining at Banksia Restaurant
At Banksia Restaurant, Huw and Renee Jones run the kind of fine-dining eatery you rarely find these days. The Pambula local has white tablecloths, the food is beautifully styled on the plate, and it’s set menu only, but it's not stuffy in any way. Renee runs the floor, Huw runs the kitchen (where modern Australian and French-style dishes are artfully plated), and both will likely drop by your table to have a chat. The couple’s styling of the heritage-listed Old Pambula Bank helps too – bright mustard-yellow walls, natural light and indoor plants make the space feel lively and relaxed.
Nourishing brunch at Boneless Vegetarian Café
Colourful, all-vegetarian cafe and coffee roaster Boneless in Bermagui is philosophical about everything they do. Meaning your meals are based on local producers, health trends, the season, coffee is roasted on site, and ingredients that are hard to find in any other context – why not try a hemp milkshake while you sit on the cafe's alfresco tables that overlook Horseshoe Bay Beach.
Neighbourhood dining in style at Tidal
Few things will make you feel like you’ve escaped the city than a meal in a Merimbula local that ends in a delightful chat with the restaurant’s owner and executive chef. That doesn’t mean Tidal is your everyday neighbourhood experience though; chef Gavin Swalwell is a passionate advocate for sustainable seafood and promoting local farmers and makers. Taste the entire coast with a Tide to Table seafood platter or join forces with your partner to split a plate of salt and pepper calamari with green mango, and some local lamb with house-made bacon.