22 December 2023

Chow down on 15 of your favourite food and wine stories from 2023

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Food and wine are booming across the region, capitalising on fresh produce and new ideas for hospitality. These are our 15 top stories about great wining and dining experiences, from authentic Korean barbecue to Wagga’s best chicken parmigiana. But where does Kylie Minogue’s lingerie come into it?

15. Junee’s reopened Loco Hotel celebrates local with a new ‘speakeasy’ vibe
by Chris Roe

Junee’s Locomotive Hotel reopened after three months of renovations. Photo: Supplied.

The wait is over for patrons of Junee’s Locomotive Hotel which officially reopened in October after closing the doors for a major overhaul.

Co-owner Chris Blanchard said he couldn’t wait to show off the new interior.

“We’ve revamped the whole bar with a different appearance and we’ve gone for that kind of 1930s speakeasy style,” he explained.

14. Al Maghrib set to delight Wagga diners with Moroccan cuisine
by Shri Gayathirie Rajen

Mustapha El Mourtazak

Mustapha El Mourtazak is looking forward to serving Wagga diners traditional Moroccan cuisine at his new cafe Al Maghrib. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Much anticipated, Wagga’s newest cafe Al Maghrib opened its doors mid-year to bring the taste and experience of Morocco to the region.

Al Maghrib is the Arabic word for Morocco. Maghrib in Arabic means sunset, hence the logo on the cafe’s entry.

Situated at 32 Fitzmaurice Street, the contemporary Morrocan cafe has welcomed diners since 2 May.

13. Belgian chocolate, coffee and waffles on the way as Oliver Brown cafe brings an all-day option to Wagga
by Shri Gayathirie Rajen

woman in her shop

Farhana Amir, owner of Wagga’s Oliver Brown Belgium Chocolate Cafe, opened doors in early November. Photos: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Chocoholics, prepare to assemble: the ultimate destination for decadent desserts and authentic Belgian chocolate has arrived in Wagga Wagga.

Oliver Brown Belgian Chocolate Cafe opened in November on Baylis Street, outside the Sturt Mall. “Oliver Brown is an authentic Belgian chocolate cafe,” said franchisee Farhana Amir.

12. Habibi Chicken to spread its wings from Wagga with love
by Chris Roe

Mariam Rehman

Mariam Rehman is planning a franchised business anchored in Wagga. Photo: Chris Roe.

Mariam Rehman is proudly Wagga born and raised and while she has big plans for the Habibi Chicken brand, she is keeping it anchored in the Riverina.

The Fitzmaurice Street restaurant launched less than a year ago and has quickly become a popular option for locals in the expanding dining precinct.

“I thought it was about time that we had something a little bit more culturally diverse but also still spoke to the contemporary market that is here, so we created Habibi Chicken just so that we could celebrate Middle Eastern culture and flavours and the local culture too,” Mariam explains.

11. Pastorale Dinner Party exceeds expectations with great local food, wine and music
by Shri Gayathirie Rajen

Richard Moffatt and Grace Gribble organised the Pastorale Dinner Party.

Richard Moffatt and Grace Gribble organised the Pastorale Dinner Party. Photo: David Bardos.

Wagga’s largest outdoor dinner party, positioned under the stars on the iconic Wollundry Lagoon Bridge, was a roaring success this year.

Richard Moffatt of restaurant Pastorale hosted 160 people at the Pastorale Dinner Party on 27 October for a four-course set menu to showcase local produce and promote Wagga as a foodie destination.

“It was a great success. It went better than we anticipated for our first time doing such a thing,” Richard said.

10. Deliciously different new dessert bar hitting the sweet spot
by Jarryd Rowley

woman standing next to sign

Wagga’s newest dessert bar, owned and operated by Dalia Halawani, has already seen customers praise its distinctive atmosphere. Photo: Jarryd Rowley.

Although Wagga’s newest dessert bar has been open for a few months, Sweeties has already won sweet tooths over with its delicious acai desserts, its bright yet relaxed setting and its fantastic balcony.

For Sweetie owner Dalia Halawani, it’s all about creating a unique space for friends and family to relax while enjoying desserts they may have never experienced before.

“I want this to be a family-friendly place,” Dalia said.

9. Griffith mum revamps eatery Tucker Den in first business venture
by Oliver Jacques

Amanda Elvy and Valda O'Bryan outside Tucker Den

Amanda Elvy and Valda O’Bryan, AKA ‘Grandma’, outside Tucker Den. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

A word-of-mouth eatery hidden in Griffith’s industrial district has a new owner for the first time in 34 years.

Amanda Elvy, a 35-year-old single mum with four kids, has embarked on a business venture for the first time – taking over the longstanding Tucker Den at 25 Collier Street from Veronica Anderson, who owned it since 1989.

“Veronica was one of my regular customers when I was working as a waitress at Station 4 Cafe, she mentioned to me she was selling it, I thought I’d give it a go,” Ms Elvy said.

8. Iranian asylum seeker plans to add hookah lounge to new Yenda eatery
by Oliver Jacques

Chef with food trays

Mir Yosef Saadat offers dolma and baklava at his new cafe. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Mir Yousef Saadat, a 36-year-old Iranian who sought asylum in Australia in 2013, has spiced up the heart of Yenda by opening a new Middle Eastern eatery in the small town.

The modestly named Yenda Kebab House features a lot more than shaved meat wrapped in Lebanese bread. The menu includes several Turkish delicacies that are usually hard to find outside big cities, including gozleme (crispy flatbread filled with spinach, chicken or beef), dolma (stuffed grape leaves) and baklava (a layered pastry dessert covered in syrup).

Mr Saadat, who worked as a chef in Iran, decided to open his store when he noticed there were few places to eat out in Yenda.

7. Five minutes with Andrew Gooden, Wes’s Walkabout Cafe
by Shri Gayathirie Rajen

Andrew Gooden

Andrew Gooden, co-owner of Wes’s Walkabout Cafe. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

When Andrew and Joanne bought Wes’s Walkabout Cafe, the plan was to buy the shop and go back to their jobs. Things didn’t work out exactly to plan and they’re still serving up fresh healthy food (and great coffee) to the community.

The policeman and maths teacher moved to Wagga for work and realised there weren’t many coffee shops to buy lunch from. While the two don’t dine out much themselves, preferring a family get-together, they’re still in business 30 years later.

6. Paris journey: Refugee to Kylie Minogue lingerie designer to Griffith’s pho queen
by Oliver Jacques

Paris Floyd with an insert of Kylie Minogue

Paris Floyd has transformed from Kylie Minogue lingerie designer to homemade food queen. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

There’s always been a mystery about the woman who introduced Griffith to Vietnamese and Laotian food, selling and donating delicious spring rolls, bahn mi, pho and spicy curries made from home since early 2020. But the extraordinary life story of Paris Floyd has to be heard to be believed.

As the daughter of a CIA agent who escaped her wartorn country in the 1970s, she settled in Australia as a refugee, then became a lingerie designer for Kylie Minogue’s Love Kylie range before reinventing herself as a homemade food chef who also offers cooking classes and a soup detox diet program.

“It’s taken me a long time to own the answer to that question,” she said when asked to describe who she is. But her life story speaks for itself.

5. Reopened Birdy Bar spreads its wings in style with tasteful makeover
by Jarryd Rowley

four people standing behind bar

Birdy Bar owners Chris Hawe (right), Chelsea Cleary (left), venue manager Jacson Sommerville and mixologist Bailey Busuttil are relieved and excited following the new bar’s first weekend of trading. Photo: Jarryd Rowley.

Having only four and a half weeks to completely revitalise a bar may be a bridge too far for many business owners.

But, for husband-and-wife team Chris Hawe and Chelsea Cleary, it was just the right amount of time to breathe new life into what was formerly known as the Birdhouse Bar and Kitchen, now the Birdy Bar.

Although they did cut it fine and found themselves adding the finishing touches to the venue only 45 minutes before opening the doors in time for Wagga’s annual Aggies Race Day.

4. Dining scene heats up as Wagga welcomes authentic Korean barbecue eatery
by Shri Gayathirie Rajen

Korean restaurant staff

Hanok Korean BBQ Wagga team (from left) Cooper, Hua, Ming, Jimmy, Daniel, Dora and Paul. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

Hanok Korean BBQ has finally opened its doors at 85 Baylis St after two years of planning.

The traditional Korean barbecue method involves cooking marinated cuts of chicken, beef or pork over a charcoal grill. The grill is normally placed in the middle of the table with an exhaust fan above. And best of all, it’s completely delicious

3. Who does the best chicken parmi in Wagga?
by Jarryd Rowley

Chicken parmigiana

With more than 30 pubs, clubs and restaurants in Wagga offering chicken parmigiana, Region has done its best to handpick the best four. Photo: Jarryd Rowley.

There is frequent conversation and commentary over the best way to abbreviate the name of the culinary king of the Australian pub, the chicken parmigiana.

Whether you were born in NSW, and correctly pronounce it as ‘parmi’, or you were born in Victoria and utter the wrong, un-Australian ‘parma’, one thing can be agreed on – parmis are perfect!

A perfectly crumbed chicken schnitty topped with homemade marinara sauce, a little bit of smoked ham and the finishing touch of lightly melted cheese on top just can’t be beaten. We’ve trawled through Wagga’s best to save you the work.

2. ‘The town’s mum’: Griffith’s longest-serving waitress reflects on 43 years in the job
by Oliver Jacques

woman having a coffee

Maria Bianchini is known as the heart of the town. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Maria Bianchini is Griffith’s longest-serving waitress, having worked her way up Banna Avenue’s stalwart establishments over the past 43 years.

She started at Bertoldo’s Bakery in 1980 before opening her own pizzeria, California, then moved on to the cafe Chittery Bit, Italian favourite La Tavola and its reincarnation Giuseppe’s before appropriately ending up on the top block at Griffith’s oldest restaurant, Belvedere, where she plans to serve out the rest of her career.

Her colleagues say her simple job title doesn’t do her justice.

1. Appetite for a challenge sees Belvedere besties revive Griffith’s Ulong Street cafe scene
by Oliver Jacques

two young women behind their cafe bar

Formidable foodies Lisa Senatore and Maria Sergi are best friends and now business partners. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Maria Sergi, the owner of Griffith’s oldest restaurant, Belvedere, has teamed up with best friend and waitress Lisa Senatore to reopen popular sandwich and salad bar Cafe Deli.

Ulong Street once buzzed with two busy eateries, with family-owned O’Donnells Cafe opposite Cafe on U, which was replaced by Cafe Deli. Both establishments closed in the past few years, the latter finally revived by the Belvedere duo in May 2023.

Ms Sergi, 35, who now manages three businesses alongside her household of three children aged five, eight and 11, explained why she decided to branch out.

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