LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE at peats bite, hawkesbury river
What do places like Uepi in the Solomons, Hirifa in the Tuamotus, Nanuya in Fiji, and Marathi in Greece have in common? They are all small island resorts we discovered during our cruising days, anchored off with the idea to stop for a look and a drink, only to end up staying for a while. In every case, we would settle at the bar, meet the owners who would welcome you as friends, enjoy fantastic food and hospitality, and generally have the run of the place as if it was your own.
These places hold a special place in our hearts, and the memories rushed back recently, during a short cruise in the Hawkesbury River.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to Peats Bite, Sydney’s hidden gem.
Located in Sunny Corner, on the Hawkesbury River, and only 1h drive from Sydney CBD, this restaurant is only accessible by boat or by sea plane. I first found out about it thru an internet special, when looking for a weekend getaway and we didn’t have a boat. Peats Bite solved the problem, by offering a shuttle transfer service from Brooklyn.
It is the brainchild of Rod and Tammy Miljoen, who purchased the property in the early 80’s and decided to run it as a restaurant that would welcome guests as though they’d arrive home. Over the years, they acquired a reputation for long lunches and live entertainment, without the need to advertise and have had their share of A-listed visitors.
While Rod passed away a few years ago, his daughter Tanya and partner Geoff, have now taken over the family business.
This trip nearly didn’t happen. I booked over a year ago, planning to visit in May before the winter onset. Then COVID hit, and like many hospitality businesses around Sydney, Peats Bite suspended their operation for 6 months. Rather than cancelling our stay, we rebooked for spring, and in the meantime we got ourselves a small boat!
While it is 1 hour by car from the city, it takes us a good 4 hours to reach Sunny Corner by boat from Port Hacking. No complaints here however, Sydney has turned up fantastic spring weather for us, and it is indeed a very pleasant cruise up the coast and the river.
The initial deal was for a long lunch, followed by a grazing plate for dinner, an overnight stay and breakfast. Concerned about feeling a bit rushed, I asked Tanya if we could arrive in the afternoon instead, move the long lunch to the next day and keep our boat tied up at their berth an extra night. “Of course, that’s a great idea!!” was her response.
So, we arrived mid-afternoon and were able to park our boat at one of the many berths available. We were greeted by Tanya and Geoff, handed a refreshing cocktail of grapefruit, mint and vodka then shown to our accomodation for the night. Ours is one of 6 waterfront self contained bungalows. Rooms are simple and well presented, with a terrific view over the river. In fact, the location is absolutely glorious, with the north facing property enjoying uninterrupted views of the National Parks across the river and non stop sunshine.
While a dozen guests are enjoying lunch in the undercover outdoor area, we spend the rest of the afternoon lounging around, reading, watching the passing boats, playing with Finnegan, the resident dog…basically doing a whole lot of nothing and feeling a million miles away from the bustle of the city.
More relaxing vibes could not be found anywhere else, as it feels like we have been invited in some friend’s backyard for a sunset drink. Tanya grew up on the property and has been involved in the family business “since she was 4!”. She tells us that at their busiest, there would be around 200 people gathered on the lawn, singing along with a live band. Oh the parties you could have here!!!
But in these COVID days, numbers have dropped. The large groups Peats Bite usually caters for, are replaced with couples or small families. And sadly, live bands performances are on hold.
By the end of the afternoon, all the day guests have departed and there are only 4 of us left. The other couple is dining in their room, so we have the whole restaurant to ourselves for the tapas dinner.
We start with simple cheese quesadillas. Most welcome, as we are feeling quite peckish after a Very Happy Hour.
This is followed by scallops ceviche tostadas,
roast beef on toasts,
lamb cutlets on a crunchy cucumber salad, and roasted mediterranean vegetables with haloumi. Each dish is served within reasonable time from each other ( about 15mn ) except for the dessert which takes 45mn.
To be fair, it is bread and butter pudding with vanilla ice cream, so I’ll give the chef credit for cooking it from scratch.
Needless to say that we are grateful our bed is only a few steps away and we quickly fall asleep to the sound of the water lapping under the deck.
I wake up the next morning to a shuffling sound outside the sliding doors. It’s Finnegan, who must have decided our room is the perfect spot to watch the sunrise. Indeed the view is stunning and I quickly grab my camera for a few shots around the property while it is still quiet, …then go back to bed!
Breakfast is served either in the undercover area or in the sunny courtyard.
It is a very solid offering of porridge with strawberries and rhubarb, followed by a chockfull plate of bacon, eggs, sausages, tomatoes and toasts…Mr T is quite alarmed at the idea that it is only 3 hours before lunch, and is considering options to aid with digestion. There are no accessible hiking trails around the property to work up an appetite, but Tanya is happily offering to drop us off at the neighbouring Bar Island to stretch our legs. We give it a thought, but in the end, I settle for a yoga practise on the deck then curl up in the lounge with a fascinating book “ The secret language of birthdays ”. I spend the rest of the morning totally engrossed in reading this personology guide about everyone I know ! Mr T thinks it’s all rubbish and decides to potter on the boat instead.
The shuttle is busy all morning, first bringing in staff and supplies from Brooklyn later followed by guests. By lunch time, another couple of boats have arrived and the restaurant, whilst not full, is quite lively with a dozen anticipating diners.
Anyone wanting to stop by for a quick meal or expecting to order a-la-carte, stop reading now.
I can not emphasise enough that this is a long lunch. A very long one. The kind of lunch that starts at 12.30pm with a cocktail and ends at 4.30pm with dessert. In between, you will be served a degustation menu of 8 courses, each spaced with plenty of time to take a stroll on the lawn or by the pool, relax on the wooden deck chairs by the water’s edge or simply loosen your belt and enjoy the backdrop of the Hawkesbury. Pre-COVID there would have been a live band to dance to!
We started with the signature cocktail of grapefruit, mint and vodka, which tasted just as delicious as it did yesterday.
The first of the food is a creamy soup of roasted cauliflower with parmesan crisp.
Then comes an assortment of tasty nibblies, including scallops ceviche tostadas with chili, passionfruit and avocado cream ( the same as last night, though not leftovers! ); crispy sesame prawns with charred shallots; and duck meatballs with hoisin sauce and crunchy cucumber asian salad.
The entree was a grilled scampi on a bed of pea puree and pickled radishes. It was served with a bowl of beetroot salad with its leaves, pine nuts and garlic mayonnaise.
By then, we are feeling quite full and grateful for the lag between courses. Between dishing out plates from the kitchen, Geoff and his crew are diligent and ensuring our wine glasses are never empty. I watch Tanya from the distance, conduct a site inspection with a would-be wedding couple. Young kids are frolicking on the lawn and playing hide and seek behind the palm trees. Finnegan is hovering, hoping for a pat, a piece of food or both. Chilled music is playing from the overhead speakers. And as Mr T and I stand by the water, I can’t help remembering similar places with nowhere to go, nothing to do but eat, drink and relax…
The main arrives after a while: a thick slice of slow cooked roast beef fillet with celeriac puree, brussel sprouts and enoki mushrooms. It comes with a side of roast potatoes and truffle butter.
Finally dessert was a pretty plate of coconut marshmallow, meringue and strawberry compote. As full as we were, we managed to finish it. Just.
Honestly, we are so glad we don’t have to drive home after this. Walking back to the pontoon is far as I want to go. We watch one last Hawkesbury sunset from the boat, while I can hear Tanya setting up the tables for the overnight guests. Then we fall into slumber!
I wake up the next day, with the firm intent to enjoy our last morning in this piece of paradise. After our lunch, the day before, I asked Tanya if she’d mind me using the floating pontoon for a morning workout. She replied “ Of course, not! Why don’t you come up on the lawn, I will even lend you a yoga mat! I should join you!” While I did borrow the mat, I stay on the pontoon, far away enough to not disturb anyone.
Tanya didn’t join me, she is busy getting breakfast ready for her guests. Still, she finds time later in the morning for one last coffee and a chat, with the offer to come back and drop in anytime. We will definitely take her up on that!