How to Eat and Drink Your Way Around NSW's Stunning Shoalhaven Region

Melanie Colwell
July 06, 2023

Just two hours south of Sydney is a food haven that has flown under-the-radar for far too long. Let's change that.

There’s the Shoalhaven region you know well — or have at least seen plenty of on social media. The long stretches of bright white sand. The winding bush tracks. And a truly spectacular marine park that hosts all manner of sea life, from migrating whales to weedy sea dragons.

While everybody has been paying attention to the Shoalhaven’s natural gems (and rightfully so), a throng of local growers, artisanal producers and world-class chefs have built the foundations of a culinary mecca.

The region is teeming with spots for hungry travellers to visit (and revisit), from acclaimed eateries to brand-new bars. Here are some must-visit businesses that call the Shoalhaven region home.

Quick and Easy Bites

The Shoalhaven stretches down the coast from Berry to Bawley Point and across to Kangaroo Valley. That’s a lot of ground to cover, so ensure your car and you are well-fuelled.

Travelling from Sydney, you’ll hit the quaint town of Berry first. Among the boutique stores selling homewares, artisanal goods, local art and furniture, you’ll also find some stellar food options.

The first is Milkwood Bakery, loved by locals and visitors alike for its tempting lineup of fresh pastries and sourdough loaves. Grab a seat in the courtyard to watch the town wake up as you sip coffee and tuck into a savoury pastry — our pick is the lamb and pine nut sausage roll.

At Milkwood you can stock up on tarts, cakes and sweet pastries for the road, or head further down Queen Street to the legendary Berry Donut Van. This much-hyped spot has been churning out freshly baked doughnuts, served warm and with a generous coating of cinnamon sugar, since 1964. Yes, there’ll be a line. Yes, it’s worth the wait.

A bit further south in Nowra, just off the Princes Highway, you’ll find Hyper Hyper Coffee, a small coffee roastery serving up big, bold flavours. In this unassuming shed, ethically sourced beans are roasted using a hand-built 1959 cast iron roaster from Germany. Coffee is prepared with a vintage hand-pulled Italian espresso machine — yep, owner Pip de Pulford means business. Order a barista shot, a double ristretto topped with milk — not unlike a ‘magic’ in Melbourne. It’s strong (but not bitter) and creamy, perfect to keep you going for a bit longer behind the wheel.

For more substantial meals, we have three stellar recommendations for you.

The first is Pasta Buoy, a new pasta and cocktail bar on Huskisson’s main drag. Handmade pasta is the name of the game here. It’s prepared daily in the open kitchen and paired with a range of sauces including tomato sugo with burrata, pork ragu, and creamy vodka. Place your order, then sit in the Mediterranean-style courtyard to enjoy your feast with a cocktail or Italian soda. And save room for dessert: pillowy gnocchi dusted with cinnamon sugar and slathered with melted chocolate.

Pilgrims in Milton is another top-notch option, particularly for those with dietaries. The long-running cafe is entirely vegetarian and has plenty of gluten-free and vegan options, too — think burgers stacked with marinated tofu or a curry lentil patty, buckwheat pancakes topped with berries and corn fritters served with homemade chilli jam.

In Ulladulla, you can visit the wholefoods cafe, Native. Switch out your usual morning brew for a rosella or turmeric latte. The all-day menu is rich with superfoods — from salad bowls loaded with wild rice, quinoa and organic veggies to raw cakes.

Raising the Bar

Options abound when the time comes for an afternoon beverage. The Shoalhaven region’s reputation for quality vino is well-established, but the past few years have seen its craft beer and spirits trade really blossom.

First up, we have Old Salt Distillery, tucked away in an industrial estate in South Nowra. This small-batch distillery produces its own spirits, fruit liqueurs, beers, seltzers and sodas. That feat is admirable in itself when you learn it’s just a husband and wife team on the tools. But there’s more: owners Terry and Michelle Robinson were head chef and pastry chef respectively of iconic former Sydney restaurant Sepia. So, when the distillery opens its doors to patrons on Fridays and Saturdays, it also fires up a woodfired grill and serves next-level dishes to enjoy alongside your cocktails. We’re talking charred carrots with chimichurri and soft cheese, pork belly with pear and zucchini and a roll stuffed with melt-in-your-mouth roast lamb and gravy.

Down a dirt road in Nowra Hill is Tara Distillery, Shoalhaven’s original craft distillery, established in 2019 by husband and wife team Ben Stephenson and Alarna Doherty. In that short time, Tara Distillery has made its mark, scooping up awards left and right for its core range of gins, vodkas and liqueurs. The couple adopts traditional distilling techniques and some Irish botanicals as a nod to their heritage, including producing Australia’s first legal poitín (a triple-distilled un-aged Irish spirit akin to moonshine). But they all have an unmistakable Shoalhaven flair. The Pot Still Gin includes sea lettuce, foraged from nearby beaches, as one of its 17 botanicals, while the Stern Pony Coffee Liqueur is made with beans from local roaster Hyper Hyper Coffee.

On the craft beer front, Huskisson has two offerings: Flamin Galah Brewing Co and Jervis Bay Brewing Co. The former was founded by husband and wife Sam and Claire Hewson (we’re sensing a theme here) in 2018.

Park up in the beer garden at the Erina Road brewpub to sample from the extensive range of craft brews and seltzers (Husky Weisse Australian Red Plum Sour), alongside some snacks from on-site food truck, The Nest.

A short walk (or stumble) away is Jervis Bay Brewing Co. With its expansive beer garden — scattered with picnic benches, water bowls for the pups, play equipment for little humans and a fire pit — plus a full roster of community events, including trivia, open mic nights and live music, it’s little wonder why JBBCO has been a local favourite since it opened. As well as great beers (our favourite is the award-winning Cow & Calf Tropical Pale Ale), you can enjoy local wines and spirits and eats from the food truck run by local cafe, 5 Little Pigs.

Also in Huskisson, you’ll find Bud’s Tavern. With its retro fit-out, featuring chocolate leather booths, shabby-chic tiling and old-school beer and rugby posters on the walls, this family-run joint oozes 80s nostalgia. Swing by for happy hour (4–6pm daily) to score $7 spirits, wine and beer, $15 cocktails and complimentary nuts and bolts.

Finally, a little further south, The Milton Hotel is home to microbrewery Dangerous Ales. If you like your brews on the experimental side, concoctions here include a vanilla almond latte stout and a lip-puckering raspberry sour ale.

Acclaimed Eateries

Now for the main course: the restaurants proving that the Shoalhaven punches well above its weight in the culinary stakes. No matter what part of the region you’re visiting, there’s a world-class meal within reach.

Starting in Berry, there is hatted restaurant South on Albany. Across two seatings per evening of just 10–12 diners, this cosy spot offers a three-course set menu which is updated fortnightly to showcase the best of local seasonal produce.

On the southern bank of the Shoalhaven River is Ponte Bar and Dining. Executive Chef Thiago Menezes injects his passion for paddock-to-plate cooking into the menu. Designed to share, the dishes reflect Menezes’ varied influences — barbecued haloumi with mint sauce and local honey, crispy duck dumplings in chilli broth, and duck and hazelnut raviolo.

Continuing south to Milton, things really start to heat up. This is thanks, in small part, to The Milton Hotel‘s woodfired oven, which churns out the likes of roasted fish with spiced bouillabaisse, woodfired prawns with curry butter, stout-braised lamb shoulder and more.

Also here is Small Town, a much-celebrated bistro that, with its buzzing atmosphere, punchy share plates, and stellar wine list, would not seem out of place in Sydney’s inner suburbs. Impressed? Pop next door to Small Town Provisions and see how the team’s excellent taste extends to retail goods — truffles, tinned goods, take-home meals and more.

A short drive away is Cupitt’s Estate. This overachiever of a spot not only has a cellar door where you can sample its extensive range of wines and craft beers but also has two stellar dining options. The first is Dusty’s Garden Bar, a casual affair where you can enjoy bar snacks and pizzas al fresco. Inside is the flagship restaurant which showcases seasonal ingredients grown onsite via its two- and three-course set menus. For the full experience, opt for wine pairing to try the Estate’s award-winning drops alongside big-flavoured dishes like pan-roasted monkfish with freekeh, toum and chicken broth.

Finally, we have three examples of spots defying the long-held reputation that regional hotel restaurants should best be avoided.

Huskisson’s popular glamping destination Paperbark Camp has The Gunyah Restaurant, set in an elevated timber-filled space that feels like a treehouse. The Gunyah means ‘meeting place’ in local Indigenous language, and this place aims to deliver a memorable bush dining experience.

In Shoalhaven Heads, just a short walk from Seven Mile Beach, is Bangalay Luxury Villas. The all-day restaurant Bangalay Dining overlooks the property’s pool and gardens. To complement this stunning bush-framed setting is a menu that leverages local and native Australian ingredients as much as possible. Imagine South Coast rock oysters topped with finger lime mignonette, chicken liver parfait topped with pickled quandong and, for dessert, a white chocolate ganache with quince paste, sunrise lime, strawberry gum and honeycomb.

And a place that needs little introduction to food fans but is nevertheless worth mentioning as a feather in the Shoalhaven’s culinary cap: Rick Stein at Bannisters. With its breathtaking ocean views and a menu that pushes seafood to new heights, it’s not hard to see why this restaurant endures as one of New South Wales’ best examples of destination dining.

Unmissable Experiences

If all this first-class eating and drinking has inspired you to upskill, the good news is there are several opportunities within the region to get your hands dirty.

First, there’s Kangaroo Valley’s Hampden Deli Dining and School. Owner Nick Gardner has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants around the world and hatted fine diners across Australia, so you’re in very good hands. Classes change regularly but include bread making, handmade canapés and pastries.

Then there is Milk Haus in Milton. The charming organic eatery, set within a 19th-century converted cheese factory, is the perfect setting for learning classic country cooking in the form of its BakeClub workshops. Led by cookbook author Anneka Manning, the hands-on workshops include a guided walk through the kitchen garden, a light lunch and plenty of invaluable cooking tips.

If your tastebuds are more attuned to the sweeter stuff, consider a DIY chocolate workshop at The Treat Factory in Berry. Or, head to Clyde River Berry Farm in Mogood in January to pick your own strawberries, blackberries and blueberries.


To start planning your dream foodie getaway to the Shoalhaven region, visit the website.

Images: Destination NSW, Visit Shoalhaven

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