South Coast of NSW – A road trip to Mollymook, part 1

We’ve been meaning to go on a road trip for ages, Terry and I. Since selling the boat, it seems that life has turned very static. Though we are busy with a new business venture, kids in high school mean staying put lest their social scene be disrupted. Still, when we became land based, we promised ourselves to keep moving, even if it meant short escapades in the city or along the coast. But beside a short skiing trip down the Snowy mountains last year, we have not managed to get away. Something always gets in the way!

So these school holidays, I decided to try harder at making it happen, and started to plan a getaway down the South Coast. Marc opted out, citing a heavy study load, with his HSC exams looming later this month. Anne was quite hesitant, only keen if we could take either the dog or a friend along so she would have some company. Things didn’t look good!
Then, Moo, one of Anne’s girlfriends invited her to spend a couple of days over. As she happens to live an hour south of us, it was perfect for us, and in a “stars are aligning” kind of moment, I quickly finalised accomodation and restaurant reservations. ( I know it sounds too organised for a getaway, but since we don’t do it that often, I want to maximise our time away). The destination is Mollymook, a once sleepy village 3 hours south of Sydney, where Terry tells me he used to drive decades ago for surfing and spearfishing weekends. I am more interested in the relaxing vibes and the food scene, especially since reading reviews from Lorraine of Not Quite Nigella ( one of my favourite blogger lately).

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So we drive off on tuesday morning, leaving Anne at Moo’s along the way, and with the GPS all set we settle for the easy 2 hour drive along the Princes Highway. It is over a year since we’ve taken a road trip and I had forgotten how beautiful the Australian countryside is. We hug the coast to Kiama then head inland winding our way along green rolling hills, passing old farms, some restored to a picture perfect condition, others left neglected…it is quite a pastoral region, with so many cows I lose count. We traverse the popular and picturesque town of Berry, the much bigger agglomeration of Nowra, to finally make our first stop in Milton. By then, it is way past lunch time and I am ready to chew on the door handles. Luckily, we park opposite Flour Water Salt Bakery, in the main street, and feast on a lamb sausage roll and caramelised onion and feta tart.

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Sadly I have no pictures to show (beside the shop counter), as we were too eager to devour them, but let me tell you, these were the tastiest morsels we’ve had in a long time. The sausage roll is heavy with lamb mince, flavoured with rosemary and mint, while the tart rich custard-like filling, sweet onions and salty specks of feta make for a very satisfying meal indeed. We both agree to stop by on the way back and buy enough to bring home! I suggest we need to walk off lunch, and what better way than window shopping. Milton is notorious for its small quirky shops, ranging from cool surf shops, to vintage items, trendy homewares…I soon realise that I will need more than the 30 minutes Terry is prepared to indulge me, so I quickly do a reconnaissance of where the interesting places are, forewarning him that we WILL come back and shop, and drive off to Mollymook, only 5km away.

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We check into our accomodation, a spa suite at the Mollymook Shores Motel. While the view is not as expansive as we were expecting, the location is great, across the street from the beach and the Golf Club. The newly renovated room is quite comfortable, with a kitchenette, separate lounge area, a king size bed, 2 Tvs, spa bath and a balcony looking over the ocean ( as well as the road, the golf club and the apartments next door). This will be our base for the next 2 days.

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After reading one of Lorraine’s reviews of the area, I had wanted to try out dinner at Millard’s Cottage in Ulladulla, a few kilometres down the road. I checked their website and made a booking online, patting myself on the back for being so organised, though I never received a confirmation. Imagine my disappointment when Katrina, at reception, tells us that the restaurant is closed permanently and the building now occupied by a real estate agent!
Terry isn’t that overly worried, deciding we’d wander around town and pick a place. Indeed there is no shortage of places to eat, from Bannisters on the Mollymook side, to the cafes and Asian eateries in Ulladulla. Tuesday however is a quite night in that part of the world, with many restaurants closed, so after debating the merits of the Ulladulla Oyster Bar, Rooftops at Bannister’s and the Ulladulla Indian Restaurant we agree to go Indian.

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One day, when I am hungry, I will try the oysters there!

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Ulladulla fishing wharf

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Hiking along Ulladulla’s Northern Headland

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Lost for choice, at Ulladulla’s South Coast Vintage

By then, we have hiked around the headland, strolled thru the Plaza (and found another Vintage shop for me to browse, poor Terry), and discovered the Fine Wines and Ales shop, so judge it wise for a taxi to take us to the restaurant. Now, I assumed there was only one Indian restaurant in Ulladulla, so expected to be driven to the Ulladulla Indian. Instead, the driver takes us to the Bay Leaf Cafe, another indian restaurant, which he highly recommends, adjoining the taxi ramp. Standing on the footpath I am utterly confused, wondering if we should not cross the road and look for the “right” restaurant, but Terry thinks it would look rude, and besides, a lady walked out from the Bay Leaf, arms loaded with take away and enthusiastically telling us this is the best in town. So we walk in, warmly greeted by the owner and a young man around Marc’s age, as her shadow ( new on the job we are told). No sooner have we sat down, that Terry gets up again, as we realise the restaurant is unlicensed. Luckily, the Marlin Hotel is next door, so by the time he comes back with some libations, the menu has been ordered.

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Photo courtesy of The Bay Leaf Cafe

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We start with Paneer Pakora, cottage cheese deep fried in chickpea flour batter. While a little bland in flavour, it is a good snack to have with drinks, especially when dunked in mint sauce.

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Next comes the tandoori chicken served on a bed of lettuce. The spicy marinade is delicious, and it would have been great if the meat was not so dry. Terry comments that the dish looks a bit like a road kill, I guess a result of the bright red colour, but that doesn’t stop him from digging into it washing it down with beer!

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The best part of the meal is undoubtedly the curries: we ordered lamb rogan josh and Goan Fish curry, accompanied with Jeera (cumin) rice. The meat is very tender and deliciously coated in spices. The fish is still firm, swimming in a heady sauce of onions and tomato gravy, finished with coconut cream. This is my favourite dish. The cumin seasoned rice is a nice change from the usual plain version, and I wish I could eat more, but by then we are quite full (in hindsight, we could have ordered one less dish!)
As I pay the bill ( a reasonable $60 for 2), the lady at the counter offers us tiny multicoloured beans from a very small dish, explaining they are fennel candies, similar to after dinner mints. Except they are made of fennel seeds, sugar and dyes. They are said to aid with digestion after a rich meal while acting as a mouth freshener. Always keen to try something new, I grab a handful, so does Terry who thinks they are menthols. That’s when I push him out the door before the lady sees his reaction, as you see, he hates anything to do with aniseed or liquorice, and these little candies are like mini cluster bombs of aniseed exploding in his mouth! He can’t wait to spit these seeds soon enough, no matter how beneficial I tell him it is ! I sincerely hope the indian lady didn’t see his face, though as embarrassing as I find the situation, I can’t stop laughing!
That is until I look up the taxi ramp, to discover the last cab left a long time ago and it is now 9.30pm, a cold and windy night, and no other option than walking 2.5 kms back to the motel. Just in case, I check out the Uber App on my phone, but I guess they have not made it to Ulladulla. So we stagger along the road, giggling at Terry’s attempts to spit out the last of the fennel seeds, thinking how the kids would hate having to walk back in the dark, though personally it is reminding me of many hikes and dinghy rides back from shore in our cruising days. We used to like the adventure…

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We make it to the room 20 minutes later, not having crossed a single soul along the way. End of day 1. To be continued…

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