Kangaroo Valley’s Hampden Deli is a food-lover's haven
Acclaimed chef Nick Gardner left the five-star kitchens of Sydney behind to transform Kangaroo Valley’s food scene with his multi-faceted Hampden Deli, Dining & School.
Graze your way along Kangaroo Valley's main road and you might wonder how such a tiny place in the country – with just 880 residents – is home to a gourmet deli, a fabulous pizza shop and a cutting-edge wine bar.
Visitors to the Shoalhaven dropping into the lush valley, encircled by dramatic sandstone escarpments and known for its historic suspension bridge, might not realise the same powerhouse fine-dining couple – Nick Gardner and Stevie-Lee Bounader – are the masterminds behind these three businesses: Hampden Deli, Dining & School, Hampden Wine Lounge and Buona Pizza. After honing their chops at Michelin-starred and hatted restaurants around the world, the Australian couple settled into the valley and promptly shook up the dining scene.
Gardner grew up in Forster-Tuncurry and, inspired by his Nan, his Dad and Jamie Oliver, started “rolling out pasta and hanging it all around the house”. He honed his craft by working in drawcard restaurants such as Quay in Sydney and The French Laundry in California’s Napa Valley before meeting West Australian Stevie, a front-of-house hospitality professional, in Banff, Canada.
After they returned to Australia, Gardner worked at Tetsuya's, and also won the Josephine Pignolet Young Chef Award, allowing him to gain further experience in Europe.
After stints at Silos Estate in Berry and Eschalot in Berrima, Gardner set his sights on Kangaroo Valley. In 2018, the couple opened Hampden Deli, a multi-faceted enterprise that’s a mornings-only bakery and cafe, and, on the first weekend of each month, the site of highly sought-after, open-kitchen degustation dinners. It also hosts regular cooking classes.
At the deli, you can crunch into a next-level pastry (perhaps an almond croissant or caramelised fig, almond and orange zest Danish) baked that morning, sip an excellent coffee, or order something savoury such as smoked rainbow trout arancini with lemon myrtle and capers. You can also pick up gourmet sandwiches, a pretty grazing box for a picnic lunch, or an olive and rosemary loaf to enjoy later.
“It’s only 40 square metres – it’s tiny – but the ethos at Hampden is that we’re more than these four walls,” says Gardner. “It’s a good little base but we’re always at different spaces.”
As well as pop-ups and collaborations with local winemakers and distillers, Gardner also cooks privately for holidaymakers staying at the fabulous homes tucked into the valley’s nooks and crannies.
Gardner consistently showcases local produce – such as Target Creek Farm’s grass-fed Angus beef, Fox and Quail Farm’s fruit and heirloom veggies and Kangaroo Valley Pastured Eggs, as well as cool-climate truffles and apples from the nearby Southern Highlands.
Savouring Shoalhaven's delights
The Deli originally replaced a pizza shop so, in 2019, the next move became obvious. The pizza equipment was put to use with the opening of Buona Pizza, with the Hampden Wine Lounge following in 2021.
A few steps up the road, the former serves pizzas that include gourmet toppings such as black garlic, asparagus and ‘nduja (a spreadable spicy sausage). Sweet tooths can try the banoffee pie or rocky road pizzas featuring custard-stuffed crusts, or fresh cannoli filled with orange cream, pistachio and chocolate ‘Rocher’ ganache.
In the Wine Lounge, visitors can chill on Chesterfields and peruse the wine list plus an ever-changing handwritten list of ‘by the glass’ drops presented on a giant roll of paper. Wine educator Michael ‘Quirky’ Quirk is on hand to help guests decide as well as serve platters of cheese, charcuterie and pickles, or a bowl of warm Kangaroo Valley green olives. (Naturally, a Buona pizza can also be delivered here during the pizzeria’s opening hours).
Quirk will also happily point guests toward the Shoalhaven’s wineries, which include nearby Cambewarra Estate Winery, and Yarrawa Estate. A little further afield, the Shoalhaven’s wine trail includes Crooked River Winery in Gerringong, Coolangatta Estate and Mountain Ridge Wines near Shoalhaven Heads, Silos Estate and Two Figs Winery near Berry and Cupitt’s Estate near Ulladulla.
The beginning of a trend
Perhaps the couple started something with their inspired move to the Shoalhaven region. One of Gardner’s friends, former Quay colleague Terry Robinson (who was also head chef at Sepia), and his chef wife Michelle, have followed in their footsteps. The Robinsons’ enterprise, Old Salt Distillery, opened in South Nowra in 2022, offering not only inventive drinks but a delectable menu.
Opening the Wine Lounge “was a big, bold move in the midst of Covid”, says Gardner, who jumps out of bed at 5am each day to start baking and filling the deli’s counter before moving on to more “cheffy” things like pickling, brining, fermenting and making stocks.
While there are many facets to keep tabs on, the couple’s business model “was designed to create more time for family”, says Bounader. When son Julian was born in 2021, locals rallied around the family.
“Incredibly, they did a big food chain and we were fed every night for four weeks,” says Bounader. “For me, that was the moment where I realised, ‘Wow, we’ve really become a part of the community.’”
Let us do the planning for you!
Let us do the planning for you!
Want to discover even more gastronomic gems in the Shoalhaven region? Use our itinerary to map out the must-do food and wine stops (and what to eat and drink when you get there).