Wollongong – NSW’s third largest city – was once regarded as the destination that rode on the steel industry’s back.
Now that employment from the steel industry has wound down, it’s the region’s changing demographics and multicultural fabric that’s helping to inject a diverse culinary theme into the area’s thriving food scene.
Today, over one in five people living in the Wollongong region were born overseas. So it’s no wonder that the regional location – set in between ocean and mountains – is awash with innovative, international food venues with a focus on locally sourced produce.
“There is a fundamental need for people from across the community to meet over food,”
1. Friday Forage
The Friday Forage markets, held every Friday from 9am-2pm in Wollongong’s Crown Street Mall, is about as authentic as farmers markets come.
Event coordinator, Leigh Nicholls, tells SBS Food all stalls manned by food producers hail from a 160-kilometre radius around the Wollongong CBD.
“There is a fundamental need for people from across the community to meet over food,” says Nicholls. “So this market gathers people together and brings the farmer to the forefront.
“So if you want to support the person pulling the food you eat out of the ground and delivering it to your doorstep, then you’ll want to come to Wollongong markets.”
Linda Galea, a first generation Australian with Maltese heritage, has been a stallholder selling vegetables from her family farm at the Wollongong markets for up to 15 years.
She says the market has helped her business remain sustainable, delivering a better price for her produce than major supermarkets. “We believe, at the markets, if you’re selling good quality fresh produce, then people will keep coming back to buy your product,” she says.
2. Earth Walker Café
You can feel good about what you’re eating by ordering breakfast or lunch at Earth Walker Café, situated in the seaside historic coal mining town of Coledale around 20-kilometres from Wollongong’s city centre.
The café is the local’s choice for food made from fresh ingredients sourced from local, organic, ethical and sustainable producers including Coledale public school. The business, which also doubles as a general store selling pickled vegetables, artisan frozen goods and fresh produce, is certified plastic free.
3. Steamers Bar and Grill
Savour the views of Wollongong’s south beach views with an international, waterfront dining experience at Steamers Bar and Grill.
The restaurant’s seasonal menu is inspired by street food from Europe, North America, Africa and Asia. All the seafood used in the kitchen is local, while many of the ingredients – eggs, fruits, herbs and vegetables – are derived from the restaurant’s own organic farm, situated in the nearby township of Jamberoo.
As the only restaurant in the area with a wood-fired grill, the steaks here are given extra special love – butchering is done in-house every day and the steaks are dry aged for around six weeks.
4. Five Barrels Brewery
Wollongong City’s own craft brewery, Five Barrel Brewing, is a four-year-old family-run business with heart.
It produces a unique range of handcrafted IPAs, stouts and sours, and sells burgers, sandwiches and cheese platters from a food truck for one main reason: to be ingrained in the Wollongong community.
“For us, local brewing is about creating a local culture around what we are doing and then, giving something back to community.”
“We like to think that Five Barrels is a really good representation of the Wollongong community,” says owner-brewer, Phil O’Shea. “We’ve got such lovely people living down here and our beers are a great taste of the Wollongong region.”
The brewery has just started a monthly charity night, where proceeds from the event go towards a local non-profit organisation. The initiative kicked off last month with an evening dedicated to SCARF, a charity supporting refugees to rebuild their lives. “For us, local brewing is about creating a local culture around what we are doing and then, giving something back to community.”
5. Pick and eat apples at Glenbernie Orchard
Situated on a 60-hectare farm on the Illawarra Escarpment in Darkes Forest is the fourth-generation family farm, Glenbernie Orchard. It’s here that visitors can truly experience farm life by hopping on a tractor ride around the orchard as part of a guided fruit picking (and taste-testing) session.
Pick as many apples and seasonal stone fruit as you like fresh from the trees and pay for your produce afterwards at the AppleShack by weight. While you’re at the shack, you can also sample the 80-year-old orchard’s other products – jam, honey, honey wine, apple cider vinegar and award-winning Darkes Cider.
6. Flame Tree Co-op
Bring your own container and go shopping at Flame Tree Co-op, Thirroul: a community-owned business selling eco-friendly food. Get lost in the aisles stocked with everything from fresh fruit and vegetables; organic tempeh and sauces produced by a Wollongong-based Balinese restaurant; kombucha; honey; bliss balls; liquorice and macadamia nuts.
7. South Sailor
The casual seafood restaurant, South Sailor in Thirroul, is a seafood lover’s paradise. It mixes local fish and chip shop fare with worldly flavours – Japanese, Italian, Korean and Mexican – and sustainable, single-use plastic free dining to promote the welfare of our oceans. Menu highlights include shucked to order South Coast Oysters, seafood chowder and lemon myrtle angel hair pasta with pickled blue swimmer crab and salsa.
8. Northbeach Pavilion
No visit to the Wollongong region is complete without a trip to the iconic, heritage-listed Northbeach Pavilion Pizza Restaurant, Bar & Kiosk for Italian fare.
The restaurant’s showstoppers are the wood-fired pizzas made with hand-rolled dough that’s initially rested for 72-hours. So if the coastal vibe of the venue doesn’t entice you, the authentic Italian pizzas definitely will.
Ainsley Harriott traverses The Friday Forage markets in Wollongong during episode 5 of the brand-new season of Ainsley's Australian Market Menu. Catch it at 7:30pm Thursday 7 November on SBS, catch up on SBS Food at 7:30pm Sundays, or stream on SBS On Demand. Visit the Market Menu website for recipes, the episode guide and more.