Port Macquarie is best known for its idyllic climate and its many pristine beaches. But, over the past few years, this town on the mid-north coast of NSW has developed quite the foodie scene. That's partly thanks to the Hastings River, which runs along Port's northern border, creating fertile land for growing crops and raising cattle, sheep and chooks.
It's also thanks to the numerous chefs and baristas who've travelled the world, working in top-notch restaurants and cafes, before settling down in Port Macquarie. Whether you're on the hunt for a good coffee, a tasty burger, some local seafood, a hatted feast or an epic wine list, you'll get it. And if you're contemplating a springtime visit, try to time it with October's Tastings on Hastings festival to experience the full spectrum of regional foods.
The Stunned Mullet
The food at The Stunned Mullet is worth the drive alone. The pale-timber accents, sea-green booths and concertina windows make the most of the breezy beachside location and sweeping ocean views. Among the hatted dishes are creamy oysters ($27 for six, $54 for 12) and Glacier 51 Toothfish ($49): a rarely served species that lives 2000 metres below sea level off Heard Island in the sub-Antarctic. Here, it comes with a shiitake-infused clear soup and black rice wafer. Let sommelier and co-owner Lou Perri choose you a wine from his extremely quaffable list.
Another restaurant that puts you right on the water is the Whalebone Wharf. Perched on the Hastings River, this airy space has been serving up premium seafood since 1971. Every fish on the menu is described according to its source, so you know if you're getting mulloway from Yamba (300 kilometres north); dusky flathead from Wallace Lake (750 kilometres south); or mud crab from Forster (100 kilometres south). There's also a light all-day menu; for anyone short on time, a plate of oysters ($4 each) straight out of the Hastings should do the trick.
Whalebone WharfGo rural at Cassegrain Wines, where the Seasons Restaurant overlooks the rose garden and vineyard. The menu combines French cuisine with local produce. Think terrine made of Macleay Valley rabbit or bouillabaisse crowded with black mussels and local fish. Match your picks with a Cassegrain drop – the French family first made wine in 1643 and, in 1980, descendant John and his wife, Eva, planted Port Macquarie's first vineyards. If you're looking for a more casual feed, then head to the Burger Rebellion for classic burgers or Zebu for pizza made with 72-hour dough.
There are also plenty of excellent cafes in Port Macquarie. Drury Lane, located in a shady courtyard outside Glasshouse Theatre, utilises the local produce to create contemporary dishes, such as Wauchope zucchini with feta and olive-strawberry tapenade. Another champion of local produce is Milkbar, which is the spot for an early brekkie. Grab a seat on the outdoor patio and watch the surf roll in, while digging into house-made beans and baked eggs.
Right near the river mouth is LV's on Clarence, it takes the whole locavore thing so seriously it's even established its own mini-farm. Every egg on every plate comes from one of 500 pet chickens, while all ham and pork started out as a free-range pig. The produce is turned into all kinds of tasty treats, such as char sui sandwiches and pork belly sliders ($17).
First things first, coffee. One of the best brews in town is at Social Grounds. Since July 2014, this graffiti-covered hideaway has been bringing some seriously good beans to Port Macquarie. The house blend, known as The Story, is a complex journey across several continents, containing beans from Ethiopia, Sumatra, Colombia and Rwanda.
Another good option is Blackfish: a welcoming espresso bar, laden with natural timber forms, that looks as though it's been transplanted from the streets of Melbourne. The fruity and caramelly house blend, Cheeky Monkey, comes from Flying West: a roastery based on the Sunshine Coast.
About four kilometres southwest of downtown is Peak Coffee, which is not just a cafe but a retail space and roaster, too. To see the process in motion, jump on a tour. Otherwise, go straight to surfer-barista Kenichiro Seno, to choose from two or three single origins. Peak buys most of its beans directly from a man called Uncle Ravi — who inherited his father's coffee plantation in Southern India, where he now oversees a community of farmers.
To add a baked treat, try Murray Street Bakery which peddles artisanal goodies from Coffs Harbour's K'pane, or Urban Grain Bakery for goodies made by ex-Zumbo chefs — such as lemon myrtle, caramel and chocolate cronuts. For a bagel fix, head to Blackmarket, where bagels are made according to a well-tested 17th century recipe.
Botanic Wine Garden
Cocktail hour should begin at Bar Florian. This 1960s Italian-inspired bar offers an impressive drinks list, from a luxury dry gin martini to wines sourced from all over Australia and Europe. Let your boozy adventures continue at Botanic Wine Garden: a friendly bar with bright murals and creative cocktails.
Also worth sampling are the efforts of local brewers. A name that you're likely to notice frequently on taps around the North Coast is Black Duck — its headquarters are in Port Macquarie. Work your way through a tasting paddle or take a tour with head brewer Al Owen and meet Murphy, an extremely lovable Great Dane. Another local brewer with wide reach is Little Brewing — it's responsible for Wicked Elf beers and winner of more than 150 awards.
Macquarie Waters Hotel
In between all your eating and drinking, you'll need a cosy place to sleep. For that, check into Macquarie Waters. It's in town, so there are cafes, restaurants and plenty of bars nearby. And, when you're hiding out in your room — or self-contained apartment — you'll be treated to a comfy bed, oodles of space and free wifi and, if you so choose, a spa and/or ocean views. Communal facilities include a heated outdoor pool and jacuzzi, a drive-in movie theatre and, on the rooftop, a hot tub overlooking the sea. For brekkie, The Corner Restaurant on ground level does a mean pulled beef benedict ($19) and Campos coffee.
If you're looking for other things to do in Port Macquarie, then check out our weekender's guide.