The Mollymook area holds special charms for me, so after hearing from readers Mick and Katherine Roche about the Tallwood Eatery, I grabbed a friend, jumped in the car and we were off, reaching Tallwood in time for lunch.
The Roches told us about an entree of Portuguese fish cakes with saffron mayo, Japanese pancakes with daikon pickle from the vego section of the menu, mains of duck and a black Angus scotch fillet with pine mushrooms and thyme, and hot coconut pudding with coconut ice-cream. On a warm, sunny day, it was the side dish of roasted pumpkin with Persian feta, lime and ginger and the local organic leaves that proved tempting.
The secret, it turns out, is the vegetables are grown by the chefs. Executive chef and co-owner Matt Upson trained in South Australia under Cheong Liew, Simon Bryant, Maggie Beer and others, and has worked at Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island and Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island.
In 2010, he and partner Simone moved to the south coast to raise their family, and he opened Merry Street restaurant in Kioloa.
This year, he and business partner Clayton Till opened Tallwood.
Upson says his father had epic gardens in different states of Australia and in Samoa, where he grew all manner of wild and wonderful things that he picked and his mother cooked. From his father, Upson has inherited potted fruit trees and strawberries for his home garden, which is at present in a rented property.
The sous chef at Tallwood and a professional surfer, Damian Martin, grows edibles at home in Milton, primarily for the restaurant. He is chuffed every time his produce is sent out on the plate.
Martin's plants are grown from seed and are pesticide-free. His peas, broad beans, heirloom carrots and radishes, beets, citrus, spinach, thyme and strawberries have been on the menu. The restaurant religiously composts all green waste to put back into the garden. The globe artichokes are almost ready for harvesting.
Upson also gets Demeter biodynamic produce from Louise Tucker's plots at Merry Maidens' Veggies in the Milton hinterland, where there is chocolate-coloured soil on the cow pastures. His favourites are cavolo nero, spinach, salad greens, rocket, parsley and fennel.
We went to the Merry Maidens retail shop in Milton to check out the kale and local mandarins. One of tantalising items on the counter was not for sale: it was a trio of feathers from the yellow-tailed black cockatoo.
Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.