JOHN ROZENALS picks a delicious Berry on the NSW South Coast.
It's fair to say that there's still a bit of an argument over the benefits or otherwise of the bypass that diverted through traffic around the NSW South Coast town of Berry and off its historic main street.
You won't get much argument over the benefits though from Alison Hayes-Chessell, who bought a rather run-down business in Queen Street in partnership with her husband Gareth Chessell about three years ago and brightened it up considerably into The Garden Berry, which is open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch and on Fridays and Saturdays also for dinner.
It's become something of a social hub in the town, especially by virtue of its gorgeous garden.
All she has to do to support her case is point to the Saturday winter's lunchtime crowd milling on the footpath outside and to the double doors she quite eagerly throws open in summer to let in the breeze.
"You wouldn't have been able to do that before because of the dust and fumes generated by the trucks as they lumbered noisily by," she says.
"Shop owners have had to adapt for the diversion, but those who have done so are doing pretty well out of it."
It's certainly a charming, pleasant place to spend a few hours reading the paper and relishing a glass of Peppertree Chardonnay and a bowl of fettuccine carbonara.
It all works very nicely.
There's some fine dining to be had in Berry as well, as I discover that evening at South on Albany, which is popular enough to easily fit in two sittings when I visit.
The menu isn't extensive, but it needn't be. Anything it lacks in length it sure makes up for in quality.
The oysters, from a bit further south near Clyde River, are served with a delightedly refreshing citrus dressing and are just so, so creamy.
The rump of lamb in my main course - served with parsnip purée, roasted bay carrots, green beans and red-wine jus - is sliced, just pink and intensely flavoured.
It is perfect and goes perfectly with a couple of glasses of Canberra-district shiraz by Nick O'Leary.
And I easily catch my cab home by 8pm, when my dinner sitting officially finishes.
Home in this case is Bangalay Luxury Villas, established by Michelle Bishop right next to a golf course and not all that far away at Shoalhaven Heads.
The accommodation, whether golf-course-view or garden-view, is impeccably designed, appointed and set up.
Dinner and breakfast is in the hands of Brent Strong, trained at the South Coast's acclaimed Hungry Duck and Wharf Road, and a passionate advocate for both sustainability and local "bush" tucker.
I thoroughly enjoyed Brent's opening-night salvo of a six-course tasting menu with matching local wines, especially the barbecued scampi, served with lemon myrtle, leek and watercress.
A word of warning though. The menu is a challenging one and some dishes don't work as well as that. I found, for instance, the pork too tough and the accompanying coffee flavouring a bit overwhelming.
There were absolutely no problems when I dined at Bangalay a couple on nights later.
The entrée of kangaroo, served with bunya bunya and salt bush was spot on, the grass-raised wagyu to die for, especially when paired with dauphinoise potato, bone-marrow-pudding and Coolangatta tannat, a local red of brooding proportions made just up the road.
And talking of wine, there is plenty of interest between Berry and Shoalhaven Heads.
Coolangatta Estate is definitely the champion and arguably the area's elder vinous statesman. Its aged semillon is legendary and has a show record of multiple trophies and gold medals as proof.
The local speciality seems to be chambourcin, a hybrid red variety that thrives in the moist coastal climate and makes some handy wines, especially those with bubbles through them.