The dining scene across the Central Coast is really hitting its stride, with a bunch of restaurants and cafés changing what locals and and visitors can expect from the region. Thanks to some seriously talented young chefs, excellent refurbs and creative spaces, there are restaurants and cafés in Long Jetty, Avoca, Terrigal and Woy Woy that are well worth a road trip. Whether you’re looking for a healthy brunch, long seafood lunch or a date-night dinner, here are our recommendations.
A guide to eating and drinking on the Central Coast
Cam Cansdell was one of the first chefs to really put the Central Coast on savvy diners’ radars thanks to his inclusive Italian dining institution, Bombini. Situated on a two-acre property between Avoca’s main beach and the hilly Picketts Valley, the restaurant is divvied up into two sections. Inside the heritage homestead building you’ll find a formal but light dining space, where the menu is seasonal and produce-driven (much of which is sourced onsite – there’s chooks and a full kitchen garden). Outside is Bombini Pizza, where woodfired pies are served in a courtyard that could be mistaken for a Balinese eatery. Huge fire-stick succulents, palm trees and frangipanis grow around the perimeter and the smell of a wood fire permeates the air. The pizzas are Neapolitan style: the dough is rested for 48 hours, resulting in fragrant, bready bases that act as a luxurious vehicle for classic, four-ingredient combos, such as the salumi, replete with slices of smoky ham, pepperoni, pancetta and blobs of fior di latte. Make sure you ask for the chilli oil – they make it in-house from fermented chillies and they give your crusts some extra kick. Add in housemade gelati, stirred-down Negronis, ultra-warm service, and you’re living la dolce vita, in the centre of the Cenny Coast. 366 Avoca Dr, Kincumber 2251.
Bryce Gleeson and Danielle Mills are responsible for this excellent pasta-focused restaurant on Woy Woy’s main drag. The partners in life (and dough) met at Bells at Killcare before moving to Sydney where they both worked at the Boathouse on Blackwattle Bay. Gleeson – who’s also a musician – focuses on front of house and curating the wine list to include a mix of drops that sits well with the excellent housemade pasta menu devised by Mills. She uses tried-and-true Italian recipes to showcase beautifully made fresh egg pasta, the sort of pasta that provokes excitement when it lands at your table. We had to ask just how they get their gnocchi so pillowy soft. It’s the result of using creamy Charlotte potatoes, and they opt for older ones so that the moisture content is lower, meaning only a small amount of flour is needed to bind the mixture, keeping each gnocchi nice and light. The sauce – capers, olives, basil and tomato sugo – speaks to the ability of Italian food to be simple but still special. Same goes for the rigatoni (served al dente, giving the pasta great bite and texture) with tomato, a just-sweet fennel-imbued sausage and sautéed brassica greens. 73 Blackwall Rd, Woy Woy 2256.
While incorrigible city slickers feel like they’ve left Sydney as soon as they hit the upper north shore, you haven’t technically left the city until you’re on the motorway. From here, just after you cross over the Mooney Mooney Bridge, it’s well worth taking a detour off the freeway to Mount White where you’ll find Saddles, a beautiful country town bakery channeling some Americana ranch vibes. Here you’ll find still-warm sourdough loaves, flaky sausage rolls with housemade tomato sauce, and one of best (and fanciest) meat pies we’ve ever had, packed out with rich, slow-cooked beef hunks and button mushrooms. No expense has been spared on the fitout here – there are sprawling marble tables, a custom-built lake, an old-school pianola and a grand sandstone-lined fireplace. In a nod the the name, you’ll find several intricate leather-bound horse saddles that double as bar chairs. Add in a mini larder selling local cheeses, freshly picked organic veggies, a dog-friendly deck and a mini gardening shop, and you’ve got a day-trip destination well worth hitting the motorway for. 20 Ashbrookes Rd, Mount White 2250.
If you’re after one of the best BLATs on the Central Coast then Green Tangerine needs to be on your map. The classic breakfast sandwich may be simple, but this corner bakery café does a ripper version, packed with a housebaked, not-too-sweet brioche bun, bacon that’s equal parts crisp and soft, loads of avo mash, garlicky aioli and slices of fresh tomato. In fact, all of the breakfast sandos here are great, courtesy of all the different kinds of bread (baps, brioche and thick cut loaf slices), which each acts as a vehicle for capturing runny egg, oozy cheese and baked beans. Coffee comes by the way of Little Marionette in Sydney, and is served by staff members with seriously big smiles. Green Tangerine was one of the first cafés to help earn Long Jetty its ‘Newtown of the Central Coast’ status. Moreover, it has cemented itself as a must-visit in its own right thanks to excellent and tasty bakery offerings. 393 The Entrance Rd, Long Jetty 2261.
This Woy Woy institution will let you do seafood in a number of ways – fish and chips from the kiosk, fresh market to go, or (our pick) head out the back to the restaurant, which got a huge renno in early 2018. The light-filled dining room juts out onto the calm waters of Empire Bay, and has floor-to-ceiling windows so you can see pelicans zoom in and out. The creaminess of freshly shucked Sydney rock oysters is cut through with citrus vinaigrette. A rich coconut milk snapper ceviche comes served in a coconut shell, and barbecued prawns arrive riding a crisp taco shell with a chopped salad and chipotle mayo. You’ll also find mud crabs doused in a Singapore-style sauce, golden fried fish and chips, baskets of bright orange prawns and whole Szechuan salt-and-pepper snapper. This the sort of place you want to book in for a long lunch with a big group so you can taste a bit of everything by ordering loads of small plates and mains, or opting for a shared seafood platter. The Blvd, Woy Woy 2256.
On the rooftop above the Bayview Hotel, this street-food inspired diner comes to courtesy of chef Matty Bennett and his partner Rupert Noffs. Bennett honed his skills at Surry Hills’ Longrain before moving to NY, where he cooked at the Fat Radish before striking out on his own with the encouragement of his partner. The Lower East Side incarnation of the Lucky Bee hosted fashion influencers, industry parties and celebs, but family drew them back home for a simpler life. It’s by no means a downgrade. You’ll find many of the dishes that put the NY restaurant on the map, including numbers that throwback to Bennett’s early days at Longrain. One of these is the pork hock bao buns, which fuses a Taiwanese-style bao, with rendered down slow cooked pork; or the betel leaves, dotted with prawns, chilli and shrimp paste, toasted peanuts and slices of kicking fresh chilli. Pork larb is true to its northern Thai origins, offering a flavourful heated kick, while also nailing the Thai-fecta of flavours, balancing salty, sour and sweet. Their curries are also earning them a following – they make the their pastes from scratch weekly using a sausage grinder and locals are such fans that Bennett and Noffs are considering doing a line of take-home pastes. 2 The Boulevarde, Woy Woy 2256.
Taking its name from its prime position on Ettalong’s estuary, this beachy bistro offers panoramic views and Australian produce-focussed share plates and mains. With three glass-panelled walls and a stretch of waterfront outdoor seating, it’s hard to get a bad table here. Every dish has a matched glass of wine, so with your whole fried tamarind snapper you can enjoy a skin fermented Muddy Water Pinot Gris Chardonnay; while your roast pumpkin salad will go down nicely with a glass of organic chianti. While the atmosphere is like a jazzed-up beach kiosk the food is definitely restaurant standard. The confit octopus is so tender it takes on a slow-cooked meat-like texture, and comes seasoned with oregano and lemon; while the pork belly takes hunks of meat with just crisp skin and rendered down fat, and pairs it with sautéed red cabbage. Veggos don’t get left behind either, with a plate of roasted pumpkin, which is elevated by playing texture like creamy goat curd, zippy preserved lemon and crunchy hazelnuts. Ettalong Beach Waterfront Reserve, The Esplanade, Ettalong Beach 2257.
As the name indicates, this absolute waterfront restaurant is a true hidden gem on the Central Coast. It’s been serving up swish plates of food, glasses of crisp white wine and decadent desserts for more than 16 years, overseen by chef and owner Scott Fox, and managed by Melissa Fox. The pair focus the restaurant’s ethos around a relaxed Central Coast vibe, but still prepare fine-dining standard plates. Try delicate bites of Jerusalem artichoke with roast mushrooms, onion, cavolo nero, sultanas, malt barley and an earthy porcini crumb. Or the playful pumpkin ‘parmy’, which sees a slice of orange gourd coated in crunchy panko crumbs and served with smoked portobello mushrooms, a rich tomato ragù, provolone cheese and a pepita purée. Sweet tooths will want to save stomach real estate for the texturally adventurous black sesame sponge cake, served with ice cream, halva, puffed rice, blackberry curd and a gel of hibiscus meringue. 1 Tourmaline Ave, Pearl Beach 2256.
This sprawling café and woodfired pizza palace located on a back street of Gosford’s main road is one worth seeking out. Housed in an old garage, Ooomph fuels the local community with bright lunch plates, house-baked ginger brûlée creme tarts and well made coffees. There’s also a fridge where you can grab organic veggies and Saint David Dairy non-homogenised full cream milk and black radish kombucha. More recently they have also started doing after-hours nights, so you can pop in for an early evening woodfired pizza and Peroni. In the day you can order up stacks of pancakes, loaded Aussie-style burgers and tempting pastries, and the young and friendly staff take great pride in make you a latte with just the right coffee-to-milk ratio. 26A Adelaide St, East Gosford 2250.
A taste of craft beer can be found on the Central Coast by the way of Erina’s Six String Brewery. Inspired by a love of craft brewing and acoustic guitars, Chris Benson transferred his home brewing skills to a profession back in 2012 with the help of Adam Klasterka. Since launching, Six Strings have created a range of preservative-free and unfiltered brews that pay homage to the Coast’s beautiful beaches and the people that live here. If you head into the tasting room at the brewery you’ll be able to try their core range straight from the cask, like the Coastie Lager (a nickname given to locals) or the Tropical Pale Ale, along with one-off collabs and special kegs. If you really want an in-depth look (and taste) of the brewery, book in for one of the brewery tours, which run at 11am every Saturday and include a tasting paddle, matched food and a guided walk through of the brewery; or head along to one of the monthly brew days, which coincide with the launch of seasonal beers. If you just want a stickybeak, the brewery is open Wednesday through Sunday, and local pop-up burger purveyors Donnie Eats are currently manning things on the food front, so you can enjoy a mega cheese burger with your Dark Red IPA. 4/330 The Entrance Rd, Erina 2250.
This coastal-chic boutique hotel and spa is a great getaway all year round. In the springtime the orchard and fruit and veggie patch (from where the restaurant gets around 20 per cent of the produce they use) is plush with herbs, kale and tomatoes; while come summer the lush pool area and white wooden deck chairs are coveted real estate. In autumn the day spa is the perfect place to relax and rejuvenate, and in winter your very own cabin’s log fire will amp up the cosy factor. Each of the rooms is a private bungalow complete with a living space, desk area, kitchenette and swish bathroom. Breakfast is included and worth waking up for. Bells is a serious springboard for great talent, with many former staff members going on to open up some of the Central Coast’s best restaurants, include Fish.Dining, Bombini and Young Barons. 107 The Scenic Rd, Killcare Heights 2257.