Gourmet Dining Around NSW's Central Coast

23 November 2015

Once, not so long ago, I ate primarily out of necessity. Any pleasure regarding taste or texture was appreciated, but not sought out.

I've been ruined. Now a McDonald's Big Mac tastes fake; a $5 tray of sausages cheap; and a home-cooked meal, though still heart warming, leaves me wishing for a return to New South Wales' Central Coast.

My recent trip to this part of Australia is to blame. Embarking on a three-day bender of foodie delights at local establishments run by gastronome geniuses has left me, well, a little spoilt.

The present was such bliss, but a future without Berkshire pork belly and pannacotta looks grim. However, if given a second chance I'd sit at the same tables and order the same meals. I suggest you do the same.

 Dinner at Bombini highlighted by Fabbri stracci with a ragu of rabbit, and roast Flinders Island sucking lamb (Image: Ben Stower)

Manfredi At Bells

Headlining the Bells at Killcare hotel, Manfredi at Bells is regarded by many as royalty when it comes to modern Italian cuisine in Australia.

The air is certainly regal when I step inside the large manor-esque dining room. Finely furnished with booths and timber chairs, a table sits in the middle where staff keep patrons' wine bottles on ice, routinely filling their glasses whenever needed.

We are promptly seated with menus and offered  suggestions on local drops, a category which is surprisingly expansive.

 Manfredi's lawn is perfect for events or a casual drink (Image: Manfredi at Bells)

After ordering some antipasto to begin – Tuscan-style asparagus souffle and cured meats – I venture outside onto the veranda overlooking the hotel's gardens.

The landscape is immaculate – hedges, colourful plants and manicured grass – but also functional, housing Manfredi's vegetable garden where chef Stefano Manfredi grows more than 15 percent of the produce on his menu.

I detour through the bar on my way back. More of a Victorian-era lounge, it provides tasting plates, apertivos and a diverse drinks menu from 5pm.

The entree has left me excited for the main course. I opt for the Gnocchi, which carries the torch higher, before being superseded by a light desert of pannacotta that seamlessly ties the three-course meal together.

 Vanilla pannacotta with blood orange, caramel and moscato jelly (Image: Ben Stower)

Recommendations

Antipasto:

  • Tuscan-style asparagus souffle with balsamic eschallots
  • Cured meats – proscuitto di Parma, Pino's smoked ham, fennel salamini & cecina

Main:

  • Potato and saffron gnocchi with spanner crab, tomato and peas

Dessert:

  • Vanilla pannacotta with blood orange, caramel and moscato jelly

Rhonda's

Somehow Rhonda's manages to suit the nightly sights and sounds around Terrigal while still possessing an out-of-towner mystique.

Maybe it's the bar's speakeasy style of bright neon lights and leather-bound booths, channelling 1980s Miami Beach. It could also be the unique cocktail menu of award-winning mixologist Mike Tomasic.

The cocktails are on our minds as we get comfortable in a booth, but the menu leaves us a little lost. The names are foreign – Cheech and Chong; Pirate Flip; Stormy Days – and the descriptions rarely mention what alcohol is included, instead describing flavours.

 Rhonda's inventive cocktails are great for inquisitive drinkers (Image: Ben Stower)

This is intentional, part of Mike's aim to open customers up to new tastes even if it involves alcohol they'd usually avoid. But if you need a more definitive guide, he's usually happy to have a chat and decipher the right drink for your palate.

The menu is primarily tapas that vary most nights depending on theme. We pick from the 'Meat & Wine' menu highlighted by almond crumbed chicken, braised wagyu beef and confit duck. Other themes include Mexican and Spanish.

On weekends Rhonda's also features as Terrigal's late-night venue, benefitting from its special 3am license. The rowdier crowds flow in around midnight, but usually head upstairs where established DJs keep the dance floor active.

 Berkshire pork belly (Image: Ben Stower)

Recommendations

Cocktails:

  • Widow's Kiss
  • Iced Banana Old Fashioned

Meat & Wine Menu:

  • Berkshire pork belly
  • Gorgonzola dolce & ricotta stuffed zucchini flowers

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Woy Woy Fisherman's Wharf

Before now, I'd considered Woy Woy equivalent to the proverbial town of Woop Woop; the kind of place where kids jump over street power boxes for amusement. I never envisioned it as home to one of the best seafood restaurants on Australia's eastern shore.

Family run for three generations, Woy Woy Fisherman's Wharf employs more than a few epicurean twists to the classic fish and chips.

The main restaurant sits at the back of the building, stretching over part of the Woy Woy Channel. Pelicans and other sea birds perch on nearby jetties and fish quickly snatch any food dropped over the side – the ideal setting for enjoying fresh seafood.

 Head around to the back of Woy Woy Fisherman's Wharf to find the restaurant (Image: Ben Stower)

I'm very relaxed, sipping on an IPA from local Six String Brewing Company while watching the passing tinnies return from a morning spent fishing.

The small plates entice with their creativity – snapper and scallop cerviche, and barramundi spring rolls. Conversation disappears while we eat with barely maintained decorum. It's clear we're all secretly wishing we could descend on the meals and devour each within seconds.

We're wise for taking our time and giving our stomaches a break before the main course: the restaurant's specialty seafood platter. It's a feast capable of feeding at least six, comprised of fresh crab, prawns, oysters, chips, calamari and fish displayed beautifully on the plate.

This love of fresh seafood is more than apparent at Fisherman's Wharf, from the restaurant to its sustainability-focused seafood market. It also hosts monthly guest chef dinners who draw on sustainability and local seafood to dish up unique meals.

 A seafood feast (Image: Ben Stower)

Recommendations

Small plate:

  • Snapper and scallop ceviche

Share plates:

  • Whole Szechuan salt & pepper snapper
  • WWFW Platter

Salads:

  • Beetroot, walnut, rocket & goats cheese salad

Bombini

It's easy to feel part of the family when dining at Bombini. The atmosphere is just right in the renovated timber property, whether seated inside or on the large wraparound balcony. Next door is an undercover terrace bar where diners can enjoy an apertivo between 4 and 6pm.

Husband and wife duo, Cameron and Hayley, only allow one reservation for each table on any night, giving you plenty of time to settle in, chat and enjoy the food, which is deserving of the longer seating.

With an emphasis on organic and fresh ingredients, most of which are sourced from Bombini's garden, local growers or Italy, the menu seamlessly combines Australian and Italian cuisine.

 Bombini is welcoming, relaxed and homely, all while maintaining an upmarket fine-dining style (Image: Ben Stower)

This also means weekly, and sometimes nightly, variations to what's on offer. One of our mains, the Fabbri stracci with a ragu of rabbit, changes to lamb or duck depending on the seasons and what's available.

After spending the weekend tasting New South Wales' craft beers, I opt instead to partake in a bottle of Belebula sangiovese from the Hunter Valley. It pairs well with our order of roast Flinders Island suckling lamb and the aforementioned Fabbri stracci.

We face our hardest decision come dessert and end up ordering four to share. Chef Cameron's skill is on display here, sending out one plate after the other that gives pause for admiration. But it's rude to stare too long, especially when the homemade gelati might melt.

 Make sure you save room for Bombini's desserts (Image: Ben Stower)

Recommendations

Antipasto:

  • Buffalo mozzarella with roast eggplant, rocket and salsa rossa

Primi (first):

  • Fabbri stracci with a ragu of rabbit, marjoram & Grana Padano

Secondi (second):

  • Roast Flinders Island suckling lamb with roast potatoes, spring herb salsa & pan juices

Dolce (sweets):

  • Gelato or sorbetti
  • Bombini "raspberry and cream"

Visit your local Flight Centre store or call 131 600 for more advice and the latest deals on travelling to New South Wales' Central Coast.


Ben Stower

I love the kind of travelling that is one part strategic planning and two parts spontaneous adventure. Whether I'm exploring my local city or a small town in the middle of nowhere, I'm always hoping to find something no one else has discovered.