22 December 2023

Your favourite dozen tasty food and wine stories from Region Illawarra in 2023

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The Illawarra abounds with great restaurants, hip bars and hidden cafes – here we’ve pulled together 12 of your favourite food and wine stories. Put these places on your must-visit list.

12. Slice of history served up in new life for old farming favourite in Wongawilli
by Kellie O’Brien

new cafe in old dairy

Blessed with glorious surroundings, Smiths Ln Dairy is a cafe and general store in an old dairy in Wongawilli. Photo: Smiths Ln Dairy.

With a paddock-to-plate philosophy, the new owners of a cafe housed in a former dairy plan to expand the business to match the growing Wongawilli community it’s based in.

11. Five minutes with Karen Hall, Passionate Palate, Kanahooka
by Jen White

Karen Hall and her crew at Passionate Palace.

Karen Hall (centre) with her crew at Passionate Palate. Photos: Jen White.

Meet Karen Hall, owner of Passionate Palate at Kanahooka. She reckons if she had a dollar for every time someone asked for one of her recipes, she’d be rich. What’s your favourite?

10. Hidden gem parked in suburban garden planning to expand into the city
by Eileen Mulligan

Lena Zakharova with her community garden scarecrow dressed to support the Matildas.

Lena Zakharova dressed the community garden scarecrow in green and gold to support The Matildas in the Women’s World Cup. Photo: Eileen Mulligan.

Saltie Dog Coffee & Crepes is tucked out of the way in a community vegetable garden at East Corrimal but it’s well worth seeking it out for its scrumptious Eastern European menu.

Lena Zakharova and her son Dan Zakharov opened Saltie Dog Coffee & Crepes on 1 April this year at the end of Thalassa Ave near Bellambi Lagoon. Like the garden, it is thriving.

9. Papi’s owners crack open the vault to bring ‘fun fine dining’ to Thirroul village
by Dione David

Boveda co-owners Andrew Juskiw, Amy Boatwright and Barry Pearson at the front of the restaurant

(Left to right) co-owners Andrew Juskiw, Amy Boatwright and Barry Pearson are transforming the restaurant formerly known as Para. Photo: Dione David.

There will be music, cocktails, lobster and tacos, and perhaps even outdoor dining. Amy Boatwright shares what’s planned for the space formerly known as Para.

8. Award-winning Relish on Addison restaurant still tantalising tastebuds 21 years on
by Kellie O’Brien

Relish on Addison Tom Maria Laws

Relish on Addison owners Tom and Maria Laws. Photo: Supplied.

From humble beginnings as a breakfast cafe 21 years ago, award-winning modern Australian restaurant Relish on Addison has ensured its long-running success through a fusion of hard work, fresh quality produce and a loyal Shellharbour clientele.

Owners Tom and Maria Laws worked around the world before moving to Shellharbour to open the much-loved Shellharbour Village restaurant.

7. The not-so-poultry chicken salt product Shellharbour residents are flocking to
by Kellie O’Brien

Shellharbour chicken salt

Sales of Actually Chicken Salt have soared since the business opened in June. Photo: Kellie O’Brien.

Chicken salt has become a must-have addition when ordering hot chips from the local fish and chip shop, but capturing the same flavour at home can be as elusive as grabbing a headless chook.

However, a Shellharbour duo – one a sales manager and another a traffic controller – set about cracking the code and discovering why chicken salt from your local supermarket doesn’t taste quite the same as it does at the local takeaway.

In doing so, Luke Fierro and Robert Archer found their own set of secret herbs and spices, which residents of Shellharbour are flocking to buy.

6. Batter up! Fish and chip shop owners leave incredible legacy as they head into retirement
by Keeli Royle

Jimmy and Vera Mitrevski in front of menu sign at Tarrawanna Fish and Chips.

Jimmy and Vera have owned Tarrawanna Fish & Chips for 37 years. Photos: Keeli Royle.

An iconic fish and chip shop in Tarrawanna has held a special place in the heart of the community for decades as a popular stop for the whole family to grab a bite to eat and see a familiar face.

But now after owning Tarrawanna Fish & Chips for 37 years, Vera Mitrevski and her husband Jimmy are about to hang up the frying basket and head into retirement.

5. Wollongong’s chicken king returns to his throne
by Zoe Cartwright

Tony Gregoriou with a cake

Tony celebrates his birthday at his famous chicken shop. Despite attempting to retire, he’s back in business. Photo: Tony Gregoriou.

Tony’s Chicken Shop has something of a cult following in the Gong, so when it looked like closing the original owner – Tony Gregoriou – jumped straight back into the frying pan.

4. Illawarra’s only coeliac baker the best thing since sliced bread for gluten-free customers
by Kellie O’Brien

Sans Gluten Sheri Smith

Sans Gluten owner Sheri Smith is the Illawarra’s only coeliac baker. Photo: Supplied.

The Illawarrra’s only coeliac baker believes no one should miss out on the happiness that comes from indulging in a regular club sandwich or a simple birthday cake without falling sick.

Shellharbour’s Sans Gluten owner Sheri Smith has been baking since she was a child with her grandmother, but started having health issues about age seven.

3. Delicioso Dessert Bar owner turns her sweet dream into a reality with new Port Kembla shop
by Keeli Royle

Kiara Ortega in Delicioso Dessert food van holding desserts.

Kiara Ortega is expanding her dessert business from a food truck to a permanent home in Port Kembla. Photo: Keeli Royle.

Delicioso Dessert Bar is set to become the popular new sweet spot in Port Kembla with the local business expanding into a permanent address on Wentworth Street.

Kiara Ortega had dreamed of running her own dessert business from when she was young and at the end of last year, after being passed down a food truck from her uncle, it started to become a reality.

2. Award-winning chef turning up the heat on Shell Cove marina restaurants
by Kellie O’Brien

Executive chef David Beus

Executive chef David Beus is transforming the restaurants at the Shell Cove marina. Photo: Supplied.

Award-winning executive chef David Beus is transforming Shell Cove’s marina boardwalk restaurants into a smorgasbord of unique dining experiences centred on fresh, quality food.

David took on the role to transform the food experiences at The Waterfront Tavern and Georgia Rose in Shell Cove, open the 800-seat Willowdale Hotel in Denham Court in Sydney and now redesign the marina’s Salty Squid into a new fresh seafood dining experience called Punk Fish.

He said the goal of the dining venues, which were sold by developer Frasers Property to hospitality operator Balmoral Hospitality Group, was to give each its own identity.

1. Wollongong’s new champagne bar ready to pop the cork
by Kellie O’Brien

man and woman standing outside their business

Sharon Arrow and Michael Graham are the brains behind the new Balthazar Champagne Bar in Wollongong. Photo: Kellie O’Brien.

Wollongong’s long-awaited champagne bar has popped the cork two years after the idea first bubbled to the surface.

Former Steelers Leagues Club boss Sharon Arrow and experienced entertainment and event professional Michael Graham teamed up to open Balthazar Champagne Bar in early December.

Prominently located in the Lang’s Corner Building, opposite the Wollongong Town Hall, it’s one of the few true champagne bars in the country showcasing Australian and international bubbly and sparkling wines.

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