There's nothing like an invigorating walk to work up an appetite and with some time to kill before dinner. I decide to head down to Seven Mile Beach to stretch my legs. I'm staying at Bangalay Luxury Villas in Shoalhaven Heads, the beach is literally a stone's throw away, and for the first time ever, whilst filling out the details box which accompanies our reviews, I almost write "Noise: No problem", unless the sound of waves crashing against the sand bothers you. But who is bothered by that glorious noise?
Walk done, I head back, only to notice a young lad carrying a basket full of greens. He's wearing a Bangalay Dining T-shirt so I can only assume he's the keen apprentice, sent to collect a few things for tonight's menu. My later enquiries reveal he's been sent to find some salt bush and samphire which grows along the beach front and will be used on the menu later that night.
I ponder whether, on other occasions, he's sent to bring back fish that he's pulled from the sea, or if he has to prise oysters from rocks, wrestle with an octopus which is later marinated and served fresh.
Working under executive chef Simon Evans I wouldn't be surprised if he did. Evans, formerly of Wollongong's Caveau, which won a Good Food Guide hat each of the 15 years it was open, has long been a champion of local produce. Now a little further south on the south coast, he's formed strong relationships with local producers and the menu reflects that.
He's also been working with native ingredients for many years and here they are used with finesse. Finger limes, quandong, lemon myrtle, river mint among others. There is nothing token about their use in any dish.
We start with oysters. I've already decided they represent freedom this summer. There's a shortage apparently, so order them when you can. And order south coast ones too. For so many reasons. These ones, from Wapengo Lake, about three hours further south, are served with a finger lime mignonette ($5 each). They are fresh and plump, there's a delicious saltiness about them, the citrus burst from the finger lime refreshing and tart.
There's a happy hour menu available at Bangalay, seven days from 3-5pm. Oysters are on the menu, alongside some other little plates and a fun drinks menu. What a super way to end a day at the beach, or see off a long week if you happen to be lucky enough to live and work in the area. Bangalay Dining is open to the public as well as guests and tables are hard to come by, even midweek.
For regular hours, the drinks list is broad, though wines by the glass are limited. I notice a bottle of Lark Hill, a Capital Brewing ale, Heaps Normal is even on the list. With a group it would be worth lashing out on a full bottle of something recommended by floor manager Patrick Rodgers.
For mains our choices include a lamb rump with onions, smoked yogurt and river mint ($48) and the Murray cod with leeks and warrigal greens ($45).
I love the presentation of the onions with the lamb, the wedges forming little boats which hold the yoghurt and the river mint oil. There's still a little bite to the onion too. The lamb itself is tender and flavoursome. Thinly sliced off the rump, pink in places but with a good caramelisation around the edges.
The cod is a treat. It's a thick portion, the skin perfectly golden brown atop the flaky white flesh. I love fish with the skin on, as it adds texture and flavour. It sits on a selection of greens and tiny baby leeks, cooked in a buttery sauce.
I've been on the search, during this trip, for the perfect fish and chips, so I order a serve of the hasselback potatoes with a buerre noisette ($10). Big fat spuds, cut to the core, golden and crispy and flecked with salty. A bit fancier than the takeaway but it still counts right?
And so to dessert. Dessert became the forgotten course during lockdown - in my house at least. I may have occasionally gone all out on a dinner for myself, but to do the same for dessert was beyond me. Perhaps I had forgotten about the pleasure a dessert can bring, how it should wrap up a meal, how it should leave you with a memory of not only the dish but the whole meal. I'm happy to say the dark chocolate mousse ($18) did all that. I'm also happy to say that in a year of reviewing, this dessert moved straight to the top of the "favourite dish" list. Velvety dark chocolate mousse, studded with white chocolate shards dusted with Davidson plum, textured with ruby chocolate crumbs. This dish is worth the three-hour drive on its own.
And so is Banglay, with the villas tucked away in a line so close to the ocean's edge. It's luxurious and private, almost an anomaly in a sleepy south coast village that boasts more than one caravan park.
If there's one thing we should take from the past few years is that we need to spoil ourselves occasionally, and we need to support local and regional businesses that have been through some tough times too.
That's the excuse I used when I popped up for some more oysters and another serve of mousse on the second night of my stay. Pack your bags.
Address: Bangalay Luxury Villas, 30 Staples St, Shoalhaven Heads
Hours: Lunch, Friday to Sunday, from noon; dinner, Monday to Friday, from 6-9pm
Owner: Michelle and Tom Bishop
Chef: Simon Evans
Vegetarian: Good choices on the a la carte menu and a full vegetarian tasting menu available
Noise: No problem
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