Via East and West Public Wharves Berowra Waters, New South Wales
|Opening hours||Lunch Fri-Sun; dinner Fri-Sat|
|Features||Accepts bookings, Degustation, Events, Groups, Licensed, Long lunch, Open fire, Outdoor seating, Romance-first date, Vegetarian friendly, Views, Private dining, Gluten-free options|
|Prices||Expensive (mains over $40)|
|Payments||Diner's Club, eftpos, AMEX, Cash, Visa, Mastercard|
|Phone||02 9456 1027|
If there's a better way to begin lunch than a boat ride across Berowra Creek, I can't say I've experienced it. The complimentary transfer from wharf to Berowra Waters Inn only takes five minutes, but the moment you hop on the restaurant's flat-bottomed tinnie, a four-hour holiday begins. See you later, cares of the week. Hello, ancient bushland, louvre windows and lofty food.
Since it was built in the 1930s, the sandstone pavilion has only been accessible by boat (or seaplane, if money doesn't get in the way of having a good time), largely due to the angophora-lined cliffs that surround it. Even if there was a road, I wouldn't want to take it. The punt is all part of the fun.
I'm back on board for the first time in four years, partly because it's always nice to eat oysters in a room with views that would get Arthur Streeton excited, and partly because talented pastry chef Lauren Eldridge joined the kitchen in May and I keep hearing fabulous things about her desserts.
Spoiler incoming: those sweets are more than worth the pilgrimage, especially the curls of paper-thin rhubarb crowning freeze-dried yoghurt and rhubarb sorbet. Davidson plum powder zip-zaps the frilly creation to life and a sticky Margan Estate semillon sends the dish into orbit. I may have waited too long between drinks.
Berowra Waters was originally a teahouse for Hawkesbury River locals. Restaurateurs Gay and Tony Bilson took over in 1976, commissioned architect Glenn Murcutt for an expensive refit, and the restaurant led Australia's nouvelle dining movement through the decadent '80s. Bollinger champagne on arrival, bone marrow with brioche, and a fight over who got first crack of the creme brulee.
Intense collaboration between Gay Bilson and chef Janni Kyritsis earned the fine diner a top ranking of three hats in the 1984 (and first) edition of The Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide. Bilson put the building up for sale nine years later, and Swiss-born chef Dietmar Sawyere propelled the inn to another round of fame in the late 2000s.
Brian Geraghty took the keys in 2012 and has been at the helm of hallowed ground ever since. His cooking has become tighter and smarter since I was last here, and a new six-course tasting menu (there's no a la carte) is one of the most enjoyable ways to spend an autumn afternoon.
Ingredients are often pickled, blitzed or reduced with delicious results. Cured sea urchin butter, say, enhancing dry-aged wagyu rump cap poached in its own rendered fat before a turn on the charcoal hibachi grill.
Pork is slow-cooked in a masterstock humming with star anise, ginger and orange, and pressed overnight for wickedly sharp crackling – terrific with prune puree and a plate-mate of ham hock terrine.
There is a focus on native ingredients that goes beyond the odd dollop of finger lime, too. Sweet and buttery raw kingfish holds its own against black pepper-infused oil and a vinegar made from fermented banksia nectar. It's a mighty good dish, punched up with salted sea-fennel flowers taking on a caper-like form, and brined daikon radish for crunch.
Eldridge follows her rhubarb number with roasted fig lightly cooked in verjuice syrup and pooled with glossy rum caramel. Served with fig leaf ice-cream and a shiv of toasted meringue, it's a striking and soothing end to the meal, and no doubt even better with a local whisky by the dining-room fireplace.
Young sommelier Darcy Creenaune Ellis has pulled together an all-Australian drinks list, which means it's out with the French fizz and in with a 2010 Stefano Lubiana Grande Reserve Brut ($142) from Tasmania. A pox on the one-hour drive back to the city that inhibits popping a bottle. Rookie mistake, should have booked an Airbnb.
The restaurant may one day again reach the heights of its early Bilson era, but if that requires imported caviar and truffles, I'd rather Geraghty and Eldridge stick to their current, more considered path.
There are hundreds of fine diners with highfalutin ingredients today, but few offer a singular Australian experience like that found at Berowra Waters right now. My next punt across the creek won't take four years.
Vibe: A riverside escape from which to quietly push the boat out
Go-to dish: Rhubarb, yoghurt and Davidson plum
Drinks: An all-Aussie adventure across beer, wine and spirits, with a range of price points and styles
Cost: Tasting menu only, $195 per person; $90 or $130 options for matched wines
This review was originally published in Good Weekend magazine