30 Staples St Shoalhaven Heads, NSW 2535
|Opening hours||Lunch Fri-Mon noon-2.30pm; dinner Mon-Sat 5.30pm-10pm|
|Phone||02 4448 7729|
Monday night is the new Friday night at Bangalay Dining. Yep, a regional restaurant, parked between the bush and the beach and kilometres from the nearest town, is booked out on a Monday night. How the world is changing.
Nestled into the sand dunes at Shoalhaven by the Seven Mile National Park, Bangalay Dining has the buzz of a busy bistro in the beating heart of the city (if a heartbeat is indeed discernible).
The fact that restaurant manager Ronnie Gorman was last seen heading the floor at Paddington's Saint Peter is testament to the fact that good hospo folk are venturing further out to get their work/life balance right.
And the fact that chef-hatted Wollongong chef Simon Evans is running the flat-out kitchen underlines it and puts it in bold type.
Evans arrived in November 2020 with fellow chef Thomas Chiumento after closing their much-gonged Wollongong restaurant, Caveau. Chiumento now focuses on their side hustle, the Night Parrot wine bar, while Evans has gone full-on Bangalay.
And it is full-on, the restaurant serving as bar, coffee stop and dining for the eco-luxury resort's guests as well as locals, road-trippers, and the quite sizeable South Coast/Sydney push.
It's an airy, open square of a space with views over the resort's gardens, pool and giant blackbutt tree; and instead of the punishing degustation you might expect, it encourages repeat visits by being a la carte.
The clever-but-comfortable menu reflects its bush-meets-beach location with coastal herbs, kangaroo, local beef, Shoalhaven Heads oysters and line-caught fish being a given.
Evans has been working with native ingredients for years and goes way beyond any gratuitous use, weaving them through his dishes with a thorough understanding of what they bring.
Kangaroo carpaccio ($22) is a converter, the sort of dish that will turn more people on to eating 'roo. Quickly seared, the ruby-red meat is rolled in ground broom wattle, finely sliced and scattered with super-toasty hazelnuts, saltbush, karkalla and tart, fruity pickled muntries. While it might be a challenge for some, the clean flavours and general beefiness will sneak it under their radar.
A fashionable crudo of sliced Aquna Murray cod ($24) sits on creamy cod fat taramasalata under a shroud of daikon ribbons, along with sweet, fruity persimmon (always a delight), the crunch of salty samphire and tiny white linaria flowers.
Whole roasted yellowbelly flounder ($48) is a big dish, the fish respectfully cooked and carpeted with smoked butter, sea purslane and bottarga.
But it's Kangaroo Valley's Target Creek beef short rib for the win ($42), the meat off the bone, dry-brined overnight, and gently cooked for 24 hours at 72 degrees until soft and yet not too soft.
Served with braised pine mushrooms gathered by one of the chefs, fried enoki and warrigal greens with a native thyme jus made with the bones, flavours are deep and red wine-demanding.
Gorman suggests a full-bodied, richly floral 2019 Fletcher 'The Minion' Nebbiolo ($92), made with grapes sourced from Victoria's Pyrenees and Yarra Valley, which works a treat.
You certainly don't need a side order of Dutch Cream Hasselback potatoes from Robertson ($10), which have been roasted with beef fat and served with labne, but need has little to do with it.
There are cheeses from The Pines at Kiama, and an ice-cream sandwich ($26) that's like a wagon wheel of Australiana, with the malty warmth of sallow wattle parfait squished between crunchy biscuits topped with white chocolate crumb, grated macadamia and ground wattle.
It's a polished performance from a hard-working kitchen, amplified by a good young team of South Coast locals on the floor.
What's especially good is that the experience ends up being a truly Australian one, without them shoving that sort of credo down your throat. It's so much more powerful, after all, when you want to shove it down your throat yourself.
Vegetarian: Options across menu, plus dedicated vegetarian or vegan "Feast" menu on request.
Drinks: Australian-led wine list with 21 by the glass and a chardonnay tasting flight. Cocktails and craft beers are in demand.
Pro tip: At press time, Bangalay Dining is open for business. Shoalhaven is unaffected. In fact, they're adding extra lunch services to cater to demand.