Harvesting dreams

I remember several years ago when Tristan Grier confided his plans for Harvest. The very old bakery was going to be restored. They would bake their own bread on the premises. Then there would be a delicatessen alongside the restaurant. A private room for dinner parties. Vegetable gardens which would supply the kitchen. Listening to this tall, lean and polished young man I mused wryly to myself at the extent of his ambition, about the reality of country life and the hospitality industry’s place within it.

How misplaced were my reservations – how middle-aged my cynicism. Sitting opposite Tristan now in the Krug Room at the back of the extensively refurbished 100-year-old bakery prior to a tour of the kitchen gardens and a browse in the deli, I can almost see the triumphant ticking off of all those ambitious achievements.

Tristan and his equally leggy slender wife Kassia – they sound like a ballad, or characters out of a a 19th century bodice- ripper – took over Newrybar’s Harvest Cafe a little more than five years ago. They were working there at the time for former owners Gary and Emma Sharman, having met and fallen in love at The Bower Room in Byron Bay, forerunner to The Balcony. ’At a certain point,’ Tristan tells me,’ Gary suggested we buy the place – within six weeks it was ours.’

Harvest, a mere twist off the Pacific Highway as you head south from Bangalow, has always been a charming destination restaurant, especially for lunches out on the wooden verandah of the century-old cottage. They started doing dinners a couple of nights a week over summer and I recall my enchantment at fabulous food, city-slick service by gloriously, funkily-attired waitstaff and an atmosphere almost lyrically romantic.

The bakery is manned by Frenchmen Pierre and Dimitri – Saturday mornings the queue for fresh loaves is almost legendary – but it also serves as a function area for Sunday afternoon events like roasts or seafood feasts or live music. At its back and cosily warmed by its wood-fired oven is the Krug Room where for $400 a group of eight people are presented with a bottle of Krug champagne and a butler and of course the absolute privacy of their own room.

The deli and the raised-bed gardens are the latest developments. At the launch of the former I had to remind myself that I was not, in fact, in inner-city Sydney or Melbourne as chic strangers waving champagne flutes picked at platters of charcuterie and imported cheeses while at the room’s rear an entire cow was suspended, fashionably, to dry-age. With cheeses costing up to $100 a kilo I wonder aloud to Tristan how might such an operation be sustained. ’We know it’s a bit of a push’, he replies, ’but people are ready and open to it.’ And despite the fact it costs them $10,000 a week just to keep it open, it’s ticking over, he says.’ People come in and drop $100 without blinking.’ Deli manager Ben Hickson adds, ‘if something’s good people are willing to pay for it.’

Like the gardens, it feeds into the restaurant: this was always part of the dream, that they be completely self- sufficient. ’It’s only now,’Tristan says, ’that we are harvesting our own stuff – being true to our name.’ It’s that and the offering of fundamental hospitality which drive Tristan and Kassia – a holistic approach to it all, perhaps. ’It’s growing your own veg, baking your own bread,’ he tells me. ’It’s getting across the festival of food, food as celebration. That’s what gives Kass and me the most kick.’ As I drive away I reflect that this stylish pair have not finished yet.

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