We are blessed with so many hidden idyllic pockets in Australia and one of our favourite things to do here at FFS is exploring our own backyard. The Hunter was our main focus in 2017 but we thought we’d strike somewhere a little closer to home. The Central Coast, a pleasant 1- 1.5 hr-hour drive from Sydney CBD. A wonderful weekend getaway, for the Summer or Winter months.
Our destination for the weekend was Avoca Beach, which forms part of the predominantly surfing and holiday resort area stretching along the residential coastline from The Entrance Down to McMasters Beach. We were on a ‘food safari’ of sorts to check out three locations operated by the entrepreneurial husband and wife duo, Cameron and Hayley Cansdell. The pair is well-known on the Central Coast food scene for their successful hospitality careers and their restaurants Fish Dining and Bombini. The first stop for us was their most recent venture, Saddles, located in Mount White.
Vanessa: Saddles eatery and bakehouse only opened its doors in late May and has clearly already made an impact. We arrived for our 11am reservation to a full house both inside and out, which is always a good sign for a newly opened establishment. Saddles is located on a 10-hectare property with a man-made lake and surrounded by picturesque bushland. This place made an excellent first impression on us from the outside and even more so on the inside.
The interior furnishings are simply exquisite and much attention has been paid to create an equine vibe with a cosy, upmarket feel. The saddles at the bar are a particularly beautiful feature that really offers a unique and novel way of eating a meal. It’s not every day you get to sit on handcrafted saddle whilst sipping your morning coffee.
We had our significant others in tow, along with our junior foodie, Baby V, which enabled us to order quite the spread and really get a feel for the breakfast menu, which offers a great variety.
There were some unanimous standouts namely the pork and fennel sausage roll with house bbq sauce ($14). The pastry was perfectly flaky and buttery and the filling was chunky with a robust flavour, enhanced by the sauce. Equally the beef and mushroom pie ($19) left an impression as the beef was so wonderfully tender sitting in the rich sauce. As far pastry items go, these are not your average pie and sausage roll and definitely worth a look in.
We also ordered the porridge with warm milk, banana, coconut and panella sugar ($13), initially for Vincent, but it was enjoyed by all. Very creamy texture although a little bland without the addition of the milk and sugar, so do make sure to add it.
The spiced french toast was served with berry compote and creme fraiche ($18) and tasted almost like a brioche. A generous portion with two pieces of toast although it could have done with more syrup to really enhance the texture and flavour.
We also sampled some of the dishes on the sweets menu…obviously. The strawberry and cream brioche ($7) was a stand out for me. The brioche itself was soft and had just the right amount of sweetness that made the creamy marscapone and strawberries the perfect accompaniment.
The lamingtons with chocolate ganache ($7) were moist and covered in a thick layer of Valrhona chocolate with a centre filled with raspberry cream, the flavour was akin to a cherry ripe. The Italian doughnuts with spiced sugar ($8) are essentially fried sweet balls of pastry that have been covered with sugar and cinnamon, very indulgent and hard to stop at one.
The breakfast menu offers something for everyone’s taste and showcases a simple, ethical approach to food highlighting the best of local and seasonal produce. They also offer a lunch menu from 12pm. Bookings are essential on the weekend as it does get busy.
Do take the time after your meal to have a wander around by the lake and also visit the small retail outlet where you can purchase some of the produce used at the eatery such as honey, spreads and the gorgeous crockery. Saddles is somewhere we will return to with the extended family in tow. It really offers a wonderful location for breakfast or lunch, no matter the season, and would make an ideal place to celebrate a birthday or special occasion.
We couldn’t leave without letting Baby V have a go on the Saddle, he enjoyed it more than this picture lets on!
Bianca: Fish Dining, opened late last year. With an emphasis on sustainable and seasonal seafood. You have two options, for a more casual affair during the hours of 11am -5pm, you can eat in or takeaway Crumbed Fish Sandwiches or Scarlett Prawn Omelettes. We were more interested in their finessed take on modern ‘fine dining’ Australian seafood.
The menu is somewhat limited, with only 5 entrees and 4 main options as well as 1 shared seafood platter. High-quality seafood comes at a cost, so expect to pay Sydney prices.
Berkshire Pork & fennel dumplings with soy, ginger & Sichuan $24 immediately set the tone for our meal, plump and meaty with the main flavour coming from that bold accompanying chilli mixture. Grilled Freemantle octopus with grilled onions, quinoa, avocado & chimichurri $26 was probably one of the best octopus dishes I’ve ever had, both texturally and flavour wise I could find no fault. The tender octopus having a slight charcoal flavour and accompanied wonderfully by the creamy avocado, charred onions, black quinoa and that zesty chimichurri. A must order!
Highlights were the Grilled Western Australian Marron -w/ samphire, braised heirloom carrots, cumin, lemon & herb butter 44. Utterly divine, sweet marron, paired with that rich buttery sauce. I couldn’t help but mop every morsel with the Herb Salt Chips $9.
Grilled whole Red Snapper with herb salad, lemon & mayonnaise was quite the sight, flakey and easily pulling away from the bone. Very fresh, well seasoned with a muted ‘fishiness’ and paired well with the citrusy side salad.
Most surprising of all, the incredible the Warm cauliflower salad -w/ macadamias, tahini, lemon & parsley 12. This is the ‘Porteno Brussel sprouts dish’ of the cauliflower world. The real gems were the crispy florets, mopping up all of that delicious tahini & lemon cream.
Perhaps not the most ideal time to be visiting the beachside town, we made the most of it with an early walk. Our Airbnb was an easy 15-minute walk to Avoca Beach. It was a touch too cold for these softies but the sand was golden and the beach crystal blue.
I came across Like Minds Cafe on my Instagram searches…of course, if there was a hipster cafe to be found, you’d be damn sure we’d sniff it out.
For quite a health-focused cafe we were a little surprised by the lack of Almond Milk. My Skim cappuccino was particularly milky. The Croissant -w/fig jam and butter completely defeated the purpose of our early morning waddle but was delicious. Loved the fit-out and easy-going vibe.
Vanessa: Bombini was our final destination on our food safari. Having opened its doors in 2014 and demonstrating a committed approach to sustainability and use of local and Italian produce, Bombini has earned its place as a must-do dining destination on the Central Coast food scene. The team is committed to their ongoing project of producing an abundant supply of fruit and vegetables from their garden to use within the restaurant.
Bombini has a lovely, elegant yet relaxed vibe to it so it makes for a great location for a leisurely weekend lunch. Set amongst an abundance of greenery it almost has a plantation feel to it.
There is a choice of degustation or al a carte menu for lunch of which we chose the latter. Our meal commenced with a basket of sourdough baked fresh and served with ricotta and salt. The bread had that perfect crunchy exterior and soft centre, in fact, it was so good we purchased a few loaves to take back to Sydney with us.
The Bombini salumi features thick-cut slices of calabrese & fennel cacciatore served with grissini, pickles and a reggiano ($29). The cacciatore was fairly mild and the regianno had the kick, although we wished there was a bigger portion of the reggiano to make for a better sharing option.
The Italian olives ($9) are natural go-to for me so we ordered some for good measure.
The Acquerello risotto with southern calamari, squid ink & radicchio ($30) was well cooked but not a standout. However, I personally am not a fan of squid ink and is not something I would normally order.
The braised suckling pig with cannellini, apera & green chard ($44) sounded very promising although we were slightly surprised that it was cooked as a stew. It was a hearty dish but it just wasn’t how we expected it to be served and the absence of any type of crackling was disappointing.
I was very pleased with my choice of the crumbed veal involtini with pecorino Calcagno, braised peppers, olives & radicchio $38. Three succulent portions of perfectly cooked medium rare veal were delicious and the pecorino was the right choice of filling. I felt the radicchio did nothing really for the dish and could do with not being on it but the braised peppers made up for that with their sweet yet slightly acidic flavour.
Potato gnocchi with mushroom & chestnuts ragu, Pecorino $36 is a must order! This was a standout and gave everyone food envy. The gnocchi was perhaps one of the softest we had ever had and the mushroom and chestnut rage had a wonderful creamy texture and nutty flavour to it that just made for a superb dish.
The roast potatoes with rosemary ($12) are a no-brainer to order on the side. Everyone loves a potato!
Although we were full and opted to skip dessert, our lovely host said he couldn’t let us leave without at least trying the Amedei chocolate truffle ($19). We were all thankful as this was a beautiful, elegant dessert that did round off the meal well and was just enough for a bite of sweetness each between the four of us.
Baby V’s antics signified the end of his patience for dining out and our cue to leave so we settled up to make the journey back to Sydney.
Although we only scratched the surface of what the Central Coast has to offer in terms of its dining scene, what we experienced was enough to demonstrate the level of food quality and diversity that is on offer in this coastal region just a short distance from Sydney. Avoca makes for an ideal spot for a weekend break or if you are after a road trip for the day then put Saddles on the top of your list for a visit.
Bianca and Vanessa
*For Food’s Sake dined as guests of Saddles, Fish Dining and Bombini.