Illawarra foodies will be jumping for joy after the 2024 NSW Good Food Guide Awards handed out hats to four local restaurants.
Kevin Duarte, who co-owns Restaurant Santino in Wollongong with his brother Frederick, says it’s about time the big city took note of the emerging food culture in the region.
“I think it’s a bit overdue in terms of recognition for Wollongong and the South Coast,” Kevin told Region.
“We’ve got some amazing operators doing great things up here, and we’ve seen things grow. The landscape’s really changed for the better if you look at what we’ve got on offer now compared to five or six years ago.”
He was very pleased to see that friends in the industry were also awarded hats, and says there are plenty more great places to eat around Wollongong.
“Hospitality in Wollongong is such a tight-knit community, so we’re all friends. The worst part about it is you can’t always visit your friends’ venues as much as you’d like because you’re all working!”
Michelle Bishop owns Bangalay Resort and Dining at Shoalhaven Heads, and is also President of the South Coast Tourism Board. Bangalay Dining retained their one hat status this year, as well as earning a three glass rating in the recent Wine List of the Year awards.
She’s excited to see more people from the city supporting South Coast and Illawarra restaurants.
“It’s great for local foodies and people visiting the region because it just maps out an itinerary for people travelling from Canberra or Sydney,” she told Region.
Michelle says that much of the credit for their win goes to Head Chef and Sommelier Simon Evans, a Welshman who has fallen in love with local Australian ingredients.
“As a chef in Wales he was always taught to use what grows locally, and he’s brought that idea to Australia which has really driven his love for native ingredients.”
Genevieve Digregorio is the owner of Babyface, another Wollongong restaurant that has retained its chef’s hat for a second year. She says these awards have really highlighted how much the hospitality industry has grown in the area.
“Having had Babyface for nearly seven years now, it’s been a journey to see the local landscape change,” she told Region.
“There’s definitely more interest in newer styles of dining out, there’s a higher calibre of restaurants, cafes and eateries in general, and there’s more interest in good wine, cocktails and showcasing stunning producers!
“As a community, we are growing and getting better every year.”
In nearby Berry, South on Albany has also nabbed a chef’s hat. John Evans, the co-owner and head chef, says that while tourism is important in a regional area, he is also appreciative of the local support.
“People often think about regional areas and tourists perhaps being the main supporters of restaurants. But you have to remember lots of people live in our area. Many of them are keen cooks and often gardeners too, they really appreciate good produce and love to eat out and they are as proud of our hat as we are!
“So, the old saying about ‘eating where the locals eat’ rings true.”
Other one-hatted restaurants further afield include Paste Thai in Mittagong, Queen Chow in Narooma, Valentina in Merimbula and the Milton Hotel. Several Canberra restaurants also received hats, including Such and Such, which won Best New Restaurant 2023 (beating out several Sydney restaurants to do so) and Pilot, which remains the only two-hatted restaurant South of Sydney in the NSW awards.
See the full list of awardees on the Good Food Guide website.