I am sitting on the outside deck at Liliana’s with a beautifully made coffee before me. Serious money has been poured into renovating the 101-year-old O’Possum Creek public school, set on a rise at the junction of Friday Hut and Possum Creek roads. The place positively gleams with fresh paint, primary colours, smart chairs and inside a clean clear space with high ceilings and chandeliers. To arrive I threaded my car through rainforest along the sort of treacherously narrow winding hairpin-bended hinterland roads with which we have by now accustomed ourselves, the dampness of the morning wreathing the soft air with wisps of mist.
Liliana’s has not been open long, the latest offering to the Shire’s dining scene and, according to owner/manager Joanne Hammond, already attracting enthusiastic customers, especially on weekends. I have yet to dine there but the well-credentialed chefs, Sydney boys who have worked respectively at Fuel Bistro and Brasserie Bread, have composed an alluring menu of contemporary dishes – chermoula-spiced lamb rump; white chocolate panna cotta; interesting salads – which make the notion of a long lazy Sunday lunch out there enchanting. It deserves to do well – as to be sure do all those restaurants young and old whose single-minded focus is on providing a beautiful experience of true hospitality to their customers; who pour passion into food, decor and service; who work the long hard hours for minimal profit.
And yet, while the prospect of a country restaurant off the beaten track appeals to the romantic in most of us – while memories of travel are often emblazoned with that great dining experience that was stumbled upon (the plain farmhouse, the isolated village, the forest hideaway), the reality of running such an operation is decidedly less rose coloured. The absence of passing trade, the vicissitudes of the weather, the physical distance: these are just some of the challenges.
The ones that persist and survive I simply admire, and return to time and time again. Harvest Cafe is rarely less than lovely, although like Figtree just outside Byron Bay just scrapes in as a destination restaurant – by which I mean that a maxi-taxi might convey a group of you there within financial feasibility. I will aways adore Che Bon at Tintenbar, the barn-like space beside the old church where owner Pascale, a small tattooed pixie, brings house-cured salmon and wickedly divine potato bakes and Cotes du Rhone to your table, explaining the specials in her beautifully flawed English. In another church is 561 Alphadale, a grand and lofty space at a crossroads in the middle, it feels, of nowhere, where young chef Peter Fleming serves grown-up, glamorous food and throws in the occasional sublime degustation nights. Near Mount Warning is the old Queenslander that houses Mavis’s Kitchen, upon whose verandah I have often dined from a menu which celebrates the bounteous garden of produce below, hand-plucked, you may even witness, by a chef with a basket over one arm. There is the Tumbulgum Tavern by the river back of Murwillumbah whose tables must be booked for Sunday lunch, so popular it is. And another pub, the Eltham where, last heard, the incomparable Graeme Stockdale (ex-Utopia) is sending out fabulous, better-than-pub food.
There are more, although not many, and they all deserve to be sought out. Was this not one of the many many reasons we chose a country life over a city life? Destination restaurants need our patronage.