Tamworth is a city in regional NSW that is no stranger to tourism. The annual Tamworth Country Music Festival has earned the city the epithet of ‘Country Music Capital of Australia’, a reputation happily celebrated by locals and paid homage to by the Big Golden Guitar (a Tamworth icon).
But beneath all this country music glory lies a city that, at the end of the day, is home to passionate local producers, crafty brewers and skilled chefs. The Taste Tamworth Festival celebrates these individuals by bringing their creations together and placing them on full display for visitors to enjoy.
As someone who has grown up in Sydney and hasn’t spent much time in regional NSW, visiting Tamworth in the lead up to the festival was a real treat. As much as I love Sydney, being constantly surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the city can get a little tiring. An escape to the country is a welcome recharge, especially when you meet such lovely people as the ones who call Tamworth home.
Our tour of the city began with a visit to hydroponic vegetable farm, Paradise Fresh. With fresh, local produce at the forefront of the farm’s business model, Brendon and Vicki North have gained widespread support from the Tamworth community. But local producers in the region have certainly encountered challenges in keeping their farms alive. Larger commercial producers in Sydney offer cheaper produce and this has tempted some businesses in the area to move away from local farms like Paradise Fresh. This is despite vegetables from Sydney being of lesser quality – having to withstand travel times to the region and prolonged shelving. Thankfully, various businesses and restaurants in Tamworth have embraced Paradise Fresh and other local farms in a bid to deliver the finest and freshest vegetables to their customers. Later, when we tried some of the local produce for ourselves we could taste the difference in freshness too.
Brendon really drew our attention to the people and hard work behind the produce – a concept I think is a heavy focus of the Taste Tamworth Festival. Paradise Fresh isn’t usually open to the public, but it is for the festival. Visitors are encouraged to follow the ‘Farm Gate Trail’ and take a self-driven tour of a number of local farms in the region. It’s definitely an activity to consider if you’re interested in the story behind the food.
Our next stop was to Peel Street, the main strip in Tamworth. The street is lined with an amalgam of well-known retailers easily found in Sydney and a few quaint local businesses that drew most of our attention. Aussie Bush Leather, The Lemon House Homewares and The Magic Pudding were stocked with locally-made goods, and naturally charmed us. We also stopped by Addimi Espresso, which the Tamworth locals informed us is one of the best places in town for coffee. After downing my iced latte, I could definitely see the attraction!
Our arrival at the Quality Hotel Powerhouse in Tamworth for lunch was met with a collection of ooh‘s and ahh‘s as we inspected the property. The exterior of the hotel features a grand main entrance, which dramatically contrasts to the rural landscape surrounding the town. Inside, we were even more impressed with the building. Deep hues of navy, dark oak and statement flooring gave the lobby an undeniable air of sophistication and style, which carried on further into the hotel’s newly renovated restaurant, The Workshop Kitchen.
The Workshop Kitchen has become an icon of sorts in Tamworth with its relaxed but elegant atmosphere, extensive wine list and seasonal menus under the leadership of Executive Chef, Ben Davies (a three-time Michelin star recipient). We were treated to the Entrée Tasting Plate, featuring calamari, a tomato tart, Thai beef salad and tuna. While this may sound overly simplistic, the plating arrangements made the dishes look anything but. We were further spoilt with a plethora of desserts, including the Toasted Coconut Rice Pudding and the Peach, Almond and Honey Tart. Served against the backdrop of the marble countertops and copper pendant lights, the food was lovely and the overall experience was pleasant and calming.
During lunch we also had the chance to chat to Ben Rylands of New England Brewing Company, which has a number of its beers available in bars and restaurants across Tamworth. Located in Uralla, about a one hour drive from Tamworth, Ben told us he didn’t think the country music capital would be so big for the brewery. But with a culture that embraces having a beer with mates, Tamworth has indeed embraced New England Brewing Co. In addition to their own beers, the brewery serves local wines and spirits and pizzas boasting of locally-sourced ingredients. As part of the festival, visitors can embark on the ‘New England Foodie Trail’s Tamworth Foodie Trail’ tour, which includes a beer tasting at the brewery.
Our next stop was to Oxley Scenic Lookout, which is well worth a visit if you want to soak in some views of the town from a higher vantage point. You can easily drive to the top or make an event of it and hike up along the road. Either way, when you reach the lookout you’re met with some pretty impressive views over Tamworth.
Venturing 20 minutes drive south of the Tamworth CBD, we arrived at Goonoo Goonoo Station, our accommodation for the overnight stay. I’d had high hopes for this place, after hearing such positive words from the Tamworth locals upon learning that we’d be spending the night there. Honestly, I quickly fell in love with Goonoo Goonoo Station as soon as I stepped foot on the property and had the chance the explore its historic buildings. Our dinner at Glasshouse, the property’s restaurant and most modern addition, further solidified my admiration for the location that I simply had to give it its own blog post (watch this space – blog post coming soon!).
Our second day in Tamworth began with an Aboriginal Cultural Tour with Len Waters, a Tamworth local who has spent the last five years teaching the community and guests about the traditions and deeply spiritual beliefs of the Kamilaroi people. Our cultural tour was packed into a tight schedule, so we only spent a few hours with Len. But in that time we learnt of creation stories, the vital importance of smoking ceremonies, the foundational connection between people and the land and the cruciality of gratitude and spirituality in our day-to-day contemporary lives. To me, it re-emphasised the importance of knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal culture for every individual living in Australia. As a group, we parted ways with Len completely humbled by his culture and experiences and grateful for his role in sharing them with us and the wider community.
Len offers a range of cultural tours and programs for schools, businesses, local communities and for tailored groups. Activities can include spiritual talks, bushwalking, culture camps and even overnight stays. If you visit Tamworth, going on one of Len’s tours is a worthwhile and unforgettable experience.
After the cultural tour, the eating continued. We dined at a local gem, The Pig and Tinder Box. First established in 1848, The Pig and Tinder Box is located in the heritage-listed former bank building along Peel Street in Tamworth’s CBD. It expertly combines a pub vibe with a boutique bar feel, and serves an eclectic mix of classic pub dishes, wood-fired pizzas and more eccentric share plates. While here, we treated ourselves to a cheeky lunchtime cocktail (or two), with my go-to being the highly recommended Spiced Apple Margarita.
The Pig and Tinder Box partly owes its success to the local producers who supply the restaurant’s meats, fish and fresh produce. We had a quick chat to Russell Sydenham of the Arc-en-Ciel Trout Farm, located about a 50 minute drive away in the neighbouring town of Nundle. Russell’s trout is an accomplished award-winner, having recently taken out both the silver and gold medals for the Trout Farm’s Whole Fresh Trout and Whole Smoked Trout in the 2017 Sydney Royal Fine Food Competition, respectively. It’s no wonder that the Arc-en-ciel trout is a named feature not only on The Pig and Tinder Box’s menu, but also Ben Davies’ menu at The Workshop Kitchen.
At The Pig and Tinder Box, we were spoilt with the Arc-en-Ciel Trout in addition to the Smoked Duck and Smoked Chicken from Nundle Smokehouse – also under Russell’s leadership. Both meats are award-winners in their own right, having won respective silver and bronze medals in the Sydney Royal Deli Meats Awards and the Royal Hobart Fine Food Awards. With all this being served to us alongside complementary vegetables and dressings, lunch at The Pig and Tinder was easily my overall favourite feed. All the meats were locally-sourced, rich in quality and bursting with flavour, and combined well with other ingredients to ensure that they were enhanced and not overshadowed by other flavours. Expect to see traces of these dishes in the Pig and Tinder Box’s ‘Tour of Tamworth’ Tasting Menu for the festival, and on their upcoming Autumn menu.
Our last stop before the quick flight back to Sydney was to Dobson’s Distillery at Eastview Estate, located just 15 kilometres south of Uralla on the drive from Tamworth. The distillery is the brainchild of Stephen and Lyn Dobson, whose passion, refined taste and unabashed creativity has enabled them to create a range of high quality gins – that we were more than a little excited to sample. I’d never really warmed up to gin and tonics, but can say after trying Dobson’s gin that I’ve definitely developed a bit of a soft spot for the classic drink. Stephen is a well-rounded and thoroughly enjoyable character, such that you’re pretty much guaranteed a good time at the distillery. I’m not sure what will impress you more though: the gin, the artwork on the bottle labels, or Stephen’s previous career in Hollywood (most likely a combination of all). Festival-goers can enjoy a visit to Dobson’s distillery as part of the ‘New England Foodie Trail’s Tamworth Foodie Trail’ tour.
Every place we visited gave us a strong sense of the passion, dedication and expertise that has continued to make Tamworth a prime location in regional NSW worth celebrating. The Taste Tamworth Festival brings together a range of locals and their creations in order to really showcase the importance of fresh, local produce and regional collaborations. This year, the festival will include the popular ‘Pop-Up Bar’, ‘Taste in the Park’, ‘Dinner in White’ (a new addition to the events list) and the ‘Farm Gate Trail’, amongst other events featuring the restaurants we visited in Tamworth, as well as distillery and brewery visits. It’s worth checking out if you love regional NSW, supporting local producers and businesses, or just food in general, really!
And I must say, Tamworth was never really a place that had been on my radar before this visit, but I left the town charmed, grateful and happily fed.
For more information on Taste Tamworth, event listings and ticket prices, visit destinationtamworth.com.au.
I Ate My Way Through visited Tamworth as guests of Destination NSW