If Terrigal is a shining example of the Central Coast’s beautiful beaches, The Reef Restaurant at The Haven is a multi-award winning star in its galaxy of great restaurants writes John Gintowt.
That the Reef at Terrigal caters to a discerning, upmarket clientele is clearly obvious judging from the people walking down its boardwalk, laughing and looking satisfied. As a local resident of Terrigal, I have often wanted to find out why this is the venue of choice for seriously successful international business people and world famous actors. The restaurant has a great reputation for taking the best apprentices on the Central Coast and turning them into the best chefs. But until one tries the food, all this is just talk. So what if Blue Sky Helicopter Tours flies its well-heeled clients there for lunch? It could be just due to the magnificent setting, excellent boat access and ample parking.
Like many of its clients who are moneyrich and time-poor, I turned up feeling under pressure of numerous deadlines and the importance of chasing big contracts. Within half an hour, however, I realised how important it is to take time out with my beautiful wife and children to enjoy the best that life can offer. Whoever designed The Reef has considered
everything, right down to the colour of the original abstract oil painting on the southern wall. This imparts almost as much atmosphere to the dining room as the incredible view over the expanse of shimmering sea broken by sheets of heavy spray from the breakers across to Forresters Beach. At night, I’m sure you’d see the occasional flash of the lighthouse at Norah Head many nautical miles to the north. The serenity of the dining room, with its sweeping views and gorgeous colours creates a strong contrast against the immaculately clean, well-equipped but very busy kitchen. Drawn by the enticing smell, I couldn’t help taking a look on the way to perform an important errand - checking out the wine racks and well-stocked bar. The Reef is run by General Manager, Darrell Watt, who explained the restaurant’s food philosophy as he placed warm, thickly cut, crusty French-cob on our table along with a platter of dips made with Little General’s Olive Oil and ten-year-old Avoral balsamic vinegar. Although the flavours of the dips were carried by the fruity olive oil, the ingredients were perfectly balanced - quite a feat, considering that sundried tomatoes are often swimming in a sea of oil at other ‘top’ restaurants. As we waited for our main course, we enjoyed the classic aromatic profile and restrained nuances of our Marlborough, Braided River Sauvignon Blanc. This is a herbaceous blend of elderflower, gooseberry and crushed lime - some of life’s finer things just cannot be made locally. My wife remarked on the French feel of the restaurant’s timber floors, immaculate linen, and quality of the glassware. She noticed the light streaming through the windows lighting up the straw colours of the Sauvignon Blanc, painting pastels and rainbows on the palette of the immaculately pressed tablecloth. While a pod of dolphins leapt through the silver surface of the bay, surfers carved their reputations on the diabolically tight take off in three-metre walls behind the break wall at the point. I looked at the sea rescue base and thought about the days when this bay was a centre for wooden shipbuilding on Australia’s east coast. How different it must have seemed for those mariners who were shipwrecked at the point the century before last! What would they have thought of the whales that come regularly into this bay on the way south with their calves, or the giant black stingrays that live between the moored fishing boats? We could afford to relax, as the staff treated our children to plates of fresh battered flathead, a fresh salad and perfectly cooked chips. Darrell Watt brought my mind back to the task at hand – to review the restaurant – by saying, “We do proper meals for the children, instead of serving nuggets. Throughout summer, people come back for the fish and chips”. When our five-year-old insisted on having chicken and rice, that was exactly what she received, even though there were no rice dishes on the menu. This service is five-star. No wonder they have won a string of prestigious awards for catering and service. Meanwhile, my Oysters Kilpatrick were fresh, fat and juicy and presented on a bed of rock salt, just to give them the right look. We were impressed by a vermicelli salad of fresh carrot and beetroot, bean sprouts, fresh mint, chervil and snow pea shoots, which, combined with the tender pepper squid, was superb. I was so impressed with the waiters’ manners and presentation that I dared them to match their performance by choosing perfect dishes for our mains. We couldn’t miss, with such an impressive menu.
Mine was a tender fillet steak presented on a bed of mixed mushrooms and asparagus, with sweet caramelised carrots. The Béarnaise sauce was so fresh it was still bubbling on the perfectly cooked steak as it was placed on the table. My wife gently pushed her fork into perfectly grilled coral trout, boasting golden skin and firm, juicy flesh, and topped with paper-thin zucchini slices, all on a bed of green Asian vegetables and pûrée of sweet potatoes. The crispness of the fish’s skin against the softness of the sweet potato provided a satisfying mix of firmness and tenderness.
The cheese platter that later appeared was an example of The Reef’s policy of buying local, and delivering the best produce. The Branxton Brie, Hunter Valley Vintage Cheddar, and Milawa Blue (from Victoria) were served with orange and lime marmalade and homemade Lavash bread.
Dessert was another clue to the chef’s French influences. The raspberry crème brûlée was served with berry compote and chocolate petit fours. The decadent, dark Belgian chocolate pot was topped with a light almond foam and crisp biscotti.
Remarkably, we hardly heard another conversation in this restaurant filled with lunchtime diners, probably thanks to its good acoustics. The lamb shanks must have been brilliant because they kept coming out to other tables.
Oh, well, there’s always next time.