When it comes to Sydney’s dining icons, discussions often begin and end with the Berowra Waters Inn.
From its humble beginnings as an Edwardian teahouse in the 1930′s, the Inn shot to fame in the 80′s as Australia’s first internationally recognised restaurant. It wasn’t until 2007 that the Inn took a new lease on life with the arrival of Dietmar Sawyere.
Dietmar has long had a love affair with the Inn, mesmerised by its history, allure and location. In his cookbook, Table By The River Dietmar recounts taking a hire car to Berowra Waters Inn the moment he landed on his first visit to Sydney. At that time, the restaurant was run by Tony and Gay Bilson who purchased the Inn in 1976 and commissioned architect Glenn Murcutt to redesign the building.
When Tony left the Inn in the 1980s, Gay and chef Janni Kyritsis continued the restaurant’s legacy until the mid 1990s. In 1995, Gay took up operations at Bennelong restaurant and put the Inn up for sale. While Dietmar toyed with the idea of purchasing the Inn then, he decided against it after much deliberation.
The property came up for sale again in 2007, when the Inn’s proprietor at the time, Jeremey Laws spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald about selling the restaurant. Coincedentally, Dietmar was at a turning point: Forty One was 16 years old and while he enjoyed his time in the city, he was looking for a change. Berowra Waters Inn seemed like the perfect next step.
I had read Table By The River cover to cover in preparation for my visit last Christmas. Table By The River is a pleasure to read, it takes you on a journey, anecdote after anecdote, following Dietmar’s journey in transforming Berowra Waters Inn into the two chef hat dining destination it is today. The recipes in the book are just the bonus!
The journey to Berowra Waters Inn alone is worth getting excited over. The scenic drive north takes you past sandstone valleys, oyster farms and winding ranges. The Inn itself cannot be accessed by road, so guests hop onboard a private shuttle boat that takes them to the restaurant at Dusthole Point. There’s something secretive and incredibly cultish about the whole experience.
Our lunch at the Inn began with a crunchy morsel of salmon. The addition of orange and coriander brought bold bright flavours, to the beautifully cured ribbon of fish.
The menu at Berowra Waters Inn is designed to be a degustation, a sensory tour of Dietmar’s best work. The first few courses we sampled showcased his strong repetoire, including the classics (vichysoisse with oysters), the unusual (kangaroo carpaccio) and the unexpected (razor clam spaghettini). Each was a dish of extraordinary flavour and contrast, sneaking in little surprises when you least expect it.
Being by the water, Berowra Waters Inn receives a great variety of shellfish – including mud crab, rock oysters, squid and school prawns. In addition to local product, Dietmar uses Yamba prawns, sea scallops from Queensland, yabbies from Kangaroo Island and West Australian marron. Surprisingly, lobster isn’t an ingredient that Dietmar uses often and he doesn’t miss it much either.
By the time we reached the ‘heavier’ courses, we were well and truly won over – not only by the food but by the Inn itself. I could see how Dietmar, and so many other gastronomes before him, fell in love. Among our favourites was a tender ‘minute steak’ dressed in a peppery paste, a perfect parcel of Murray cod laced in samphire and a juicy quail breast matched with fresh languistine.
Mr. Taste and I also shared the squab which was baked in a salt clay shell. We were even invited to crack open the salt clay mould before the squab was returned to the grill for some crunch and colour. On its return, the squab came beautifully dressed with wood mushrooms, gnocchi and a foie gras cromesquis. It was a hearty combination but suprisingly delicate in flavour at the same time.
The dessert selection showcased the best of summer fruits, including cherries, mango, raspberry and passionfruit. My favourite was the lemon and lime custard, topped with a very eyecatching Aubergine crisp. Other desserts included a rich dark chocolate tart, a brilliant mango souffle with passionfruit ice cream and a creamy parfait.
We ended our meal, several hours later, with coffee and petit fours. Most of the diners had gone at this stage and the working week was staring at us in the face. But just for that moment, as I looked out on the Hawkesbury in all its beauty, I forgot where I was and that was a moment I would forever remember.
The five course lunch degustation at Berowra Waters Inn is priced at $150 and inlcudes coffee and petit fours. Additional courses can be purchased for $25 each.
Berowra Waters Inn
Via East or West public wharves
Berowra Waters NSW 2082
# 02 9456 1027