It’s taken many journeys to get to Potager: the 15-minute drive up the hill from Coolangatta, the journeys of owners Peter Burr and Gareth Leslie from Sydney and Ireland and, most of all, our journey away from manufactured culture to a more harmonious, grounded lifestyle and cuisine.
You could live a lifetime on the Gold Coast yet never go to Carool. If this is the case, you’d be missing out. Though this area is only one ridge over from Currumbin, we’ve crossed the state border on the journey and are now officially in the Tweed Shire.
On a 10-acre property, the restaurant is set in the middle of an expansive vegetable and edible flower kitchen garden. Greeted at the door by Peter, whose personalised service is rarely seen in larger restaurants, we’re ushered to our table in a venue that jumps out of the pages of Country Life magazine. It’s wholesome, soul-nourishing and practical: blankets to hold fresh breezes at bay hang on pegs on one wall, pots hang from the kitchen window holding produce for use in the kitchen, and vintage prints of vegetables are warm reminders of the origins of our food.
We’re half expecting to see Maggie Beer emerge from the kitchen, a pheasant hanging from one hand. Instead it’s Gareth, the chef we’d first met at From Earth and Water and later at Gwinganna.
At Potager, his skills, previously applied to vegetarian cuisine, find a wider audience using seasonal produce from the ‘potager’ or kitchen garden together with produce bought from local markets, together with Tweed seafood and locally-sourced meat in his world-influenced rustic fare. It’s food loved by locals, many of whom patronise the restaurant at least once a week.
The local theme extends to the timber tables, handmade by Tweed’s Lobo Workshop, and serving ware crafted by Buringbar’s Chez Pottery and Murwillumbah Potters.
On our visit, our meal choices lean towards Tuscan and French provincial, beginning with two entrées: delicate handmade Moreton Bay Bug ravioli in a rich seafood bisque, and a Tuscan terrine of pork, rabbit and chicken, served with radishes and cornichons.
Mains, such as our Peruvian fish stew (Sudado de Pescado) or the Sticky lamb ribs, are really generous serves and, for some, two starters could form a meal, especially with wine and a shared dessert.
We cannot resist the Salted caramel and chocolate tart with poached pears, homemade ice cream and caramel popcorn. It’s fabulously rich, and perfect to share.
It’s a glorious mid-season day as we relax over our food. In the distance beyond the rolling hills and fifty shades of green, planes are taking off carrying travellers on their own journeys.
The proximity to the airport was a reason why the guys bought this property ten years ago, Peter tells us, as well as being closer to his parents on the Gold Coast. Although they’d planned to start a bed and breakfast, the runaway success of their pop-up at the nearby Ilman Estate Winery persuaded them to open a permanent restaurant early in 2016.
For Peter, the journey is not yet complete. The restaurant’s foyer holds a railway Sydney station board, memorabilia of daily travel from the suburb where Pete grew up in Sydney. He’s still commuting to his business in Sydney for several days at a time, a journey that for now bridges two very different lives.
Away from city life Potager may be, but there are sophisticated touches on the wine list, the strong collection of boutique Australian wines including a couple from local Ilnam Estate, with organic, vegan, and preservative-free wines a feature. The restaurant also serves Zeta’s Coffee from Carool’s Wirui Estate.
As we dine, we contemplate why the Gold Coast, with all its valleys and green pasture edges, has no restaurant quite like this. Perhaps it is all about the journey we make. It’s part of what makes Potager so special.
502 Carool Rd, Carool NSW Ph: 07 5590 7403
Open: Fri, Sat 12noon – 4pm, 6pm – 10pm; Sun 10:30am – 4:30pm
While in Carool, why not visit…
Ilnam Estate Winery
750 Carool Rd., Carool Ph: 07 5590 7703 Open: Wed – Sun 11am – 4pm
You enter Tweed’s only winery through a stately poinciana-paved driveway, vineyards on either side. Former teacher and Charles Sturt winemaking graduate Mark Quinn planted the vineyard in 1998, with 2000 being his first commercial vintage.
“I was born in Murwillumbah and have always loved the Tweed. After many years of teaching, I dreamed of a quieter lifestyle; one which I could run on our own property,” Mark tells us.
We join Mark for a tasting of his wines at the cellar door. While the greatest problem with winemaking in this area is the amount of rain all February, he tells us, we’re very pleasantly surprised by the quality of wine he produces.
Ilnam Estate’s unoaked chardonnay carries quite lovely soft fruit. The Jimmy Shiraz 2015 has lifted spice, forest berries and undertones of mushrooms – a great drop to accompany pasta or meat. The Carool Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, which spent three years on oak, is now for sale as well, following a long maturity. Wines are available for purchase at the cellar door, and are also on the menu of nearby Potager and Fins, Salt Village.
“It’s like kids,” Mark comments of his winemaking. “You give them the same care and attention and they all turn out different!”
Ilnam has an idyllic location with incredible views from the café adjoining the tasting room. We enquire about whether many people visit the winery and stay for coffee.
“We can do eighty walk ins for lunch on a weekend day,” Mark laughs. So much for the quiet life!
119 Blissetts Rd., Carool Ph: 0458829107
Wirui Estate is the home of Zeta’s Coffee. They run tours by arrangement, with a few days’ notice required, on Thursday to Saturday each week, beginning at either 9.30am or 1.30pm.
If you’re a coffee lover, there’s lots to learn about the humble bean. Tours takes two hours and includes welcome coffee and morning or afternoon tea, an explanation of the history of coffee in the region and the estate, a tour of the plantation with information about growing, plant growth and fruit cycle, farm practices, harvest of the coffee and processing.
The group then proceeds to a guided tasting and ‘cupping’ of local and international coffees after which each person receives a complimentary 100g bag of coffee to take home. Retail packs of coffee and other products are available for purchase on the day.
Cost is $44 per person (age 15 + please) with a minimum of 2 people and maximum of 8 per tour. Enclosed footwear is a must. For full conditions see the Wirui Estate website.
NOTE: This review has also been published in Blank GC.