Story telling from Australia
Any visitor to the south coast of New South Wales knows the town of Berry. At just over two hours’ drive from Sydney, Berry is the place to stop and grab a coffee.
Of course, if you don’t need a caffeine hit you can shoot through Berry and be out the other side in less than three minutes, whizzing past boutique shops that straddle the Princess Highway and ignoring the cute weatherboard cafes, restaurants and pubs that entice you to stop. There’s something almost French about the beauty of Berry.
I’ve driven through Berry many times en route to Jervis Bay, I even stopped for lunch once when members of my English family were visiting, but I’ve never stayed long, always counting down the kilometres in the rush to get somewhere else. That was until this week, when I gave a book talk hosted by the Berry CWA.
The realisation that we’d both forgotten our anniversary this year (we’re better matched than I thought) made me book an overnight stay in a belated attempt to celebrate, without much idea of what to expect.
Well, hello Berry!
The cottage we rented (Shipton) was just off the main road, a warm inviting place tucked away on a quiet side street within walking distance of shops and restaurants. Owner Kate recommended Leaf for dinner (which apparently stands for Love Eating Asian Food) and the only reason we found a table on that chilly, wet Tuesday night was because we arrived early. By 7.30 the place was packed, and rightly so if their homemade chilli jam sauce with stir-fried veg and aromatic jasmine rice was anything to go by.
Brunch next morning was at the Sourdough Cafe, another Berry gem tucked down another side street. The roasted field mushrooms were everything mushrooms should be – plump, dark and redolent of secret woodland places, enlivened by parsley and enriched by butter.
One street back from the main road the streets of Berry are surprisingly peaceful, outlined by a tracery of winter-bare branches with verges so springy the turf positively bounces along manicured front gardens and painted picket fences. It was no surprise to spot publicity for a Garden Festival in three weeks’ time (11-14 September). Berry must be a garden lover’s paradise.
The big surprise of the day came later, on another side street at the Presbyterian Church Hall, where members of the CWA had arranged for afternoon tea to follow the book talk.
The astonishing array of treats looked beautiful beyond belief. There were rings of freshly picked flowers, lace tablecloths and plates of miniature scones with jam and cream; there were finger sandwiches (I’d lay London to a brick the crusts had been cut off but I can’t swear to it because by the time I’d finished signing books the sarnies had all been scoffed) and delicate tiered stands holding mini fondant fancies, chocolate brownies, lemon cheesecake, nut slices, iced cup cakes, coconut sponges… you get the idea.
I have no idea how many people turned up, I’d guess at least sixty or seventy, and I don’t kid myself they’d all come to hear me talk because I for one would have been there for the tea no matter who had been talking. The Berry CWA high tea wouldn’t have looked out of place at the Ritz Hotel.
So thank you, merci mille fois (mille feuille even) to Berry CWA President Marie, to all the supremely talented bakers and sandwich makers, including Jean, Marcia, Jeanette, Sandra, Robyn and others whose names I forget, to all the organisers and members of Berry CWA and to the visitors who came along to listen to the talk – and to enjoy that splendid tea.
There was a lot of love in the Presbyterian Church Hall that afternoon and if other people enjoyed themselves half as much as I did then they would have had a great time. The crowning glory was undoubtedly that magnificent tea, and CC and I drove away with a box of delicious leftovers that we scoffed on the drive back to Sydney, speeding along on a sugar high.
Exploring the backstreets of Berry was definitely worth it. I have a feeling we’ll be back!