A new restaurant is opening in regional New South Wales next week – halfway between Sydney and Brisbane – from the pair who brought us Bloodwood.
Claire van Vuuren and Mitch Grady had hoped for a new location in Sydney, but everything changed when they ventured to the mid-north coast and visited the small, riverside town of Bellingen – known for its waterfalls, waterholes, arts and culture. “We just fell in love,” van Vuuren says. “It instantly took away a lot of the stress that comes with living in the city.”
Popla Bellingen will sit in a freestanding, heritage-listed cottage that used to house one of the town’s popular restaurants. They couldn’t (and didn’t want to) make any changes to the outside of the property. Instead, they opened up the kitchen, broke down walls and made the space open-plan, refurbishing it with light-coloured wood. Street artist Georgia Hill has designed a black-and-white, geometric mural for each of the walls.
The house’s old fireplace is up and running again and the entire menu is based around it. Smoked goats cheese, charred greens, wood-fired chicken, and smoked sake all make an appearance, alongside dry-aged rib-eye steak, salt-baked grouper, and oxtail dumplings. Produce will be local – the area is renowned for its dairy and macadamia farms, and the pair has committed to sourcing locally and sustainably.
With a slower pace than Newtown, the pair has been able to branch out – making their own flour, charcuterie, bread and cheese. “We’ve installed this beautiful marble bench, and we’ve got the time, space and now the opportunity to do all the things we didn’t have time to do in the city.”
Beer will come in tinnies only (environmental reasons), and cocktails will feature native ingredients (Saltbush Margarita and Davidson’s Plum Cosmopolitan). Just like at Bloodwood, the wine list is packed with organic and biodynamic options.
The space will hold 60 people, with outdoor deck dining and a wine bar alongside the sit-down area. “It’ll be a bit more refined than Bloodwood – where it’s industrial and noisy, this is lighter, brighter and more floral.”
Popla Bellingen is slated to open on June 7.