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Posts tagged “tourism

FAT tipple trips to Megalong Valley

Can you have your cake – and wine – and eat and drink them too? Indeed you can with the new Fantastic Aussie Tours (FAT) high tea and winery shuttle in the Blue Mountains and Megalong Valley. 

The charter and tour bus company rerouted its itinerary to close to home locations after the COVID-19 pandemic forced interstate tours off the road. 

From Saturday, September 5, passengers will be transported from Katoomba into the verdant Megalong Valley and the picturesque vineyards and cellar doors of Dryridge Estate and Megalong Creek Estate. 

Alight at one and walk to the other before boarding the FAT bus back to Katoomba. 

Passengers can also hop off the bus at the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath for high tea and a history tour before continuing on the Megalong Valley on a later bus. 

One of Australia’s best kept secrets, the Megalong Valley features tranquil rural landscapes and native forests ringed by towering sandstone escarpments. 

Next to the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area at the centre of Sydney’s water catchment, the Megalong Valley teems with wildlife. 

Operated by Simon and Emma McMahon since 2015, boutique vineyard Dryridge Estate was founded by Bob and Barbara Tyrrell in 2000 and produces distinctive crisp mineral-flavoured wines from the pink granite soil. 

Indulge in a leisurely cheese platter and wine tasting before strolling to the nearby kerosene shale mine ruins and Megalong Creek Estate and single vineyard wines. 

​Established in 2002 by the Draguns family, all grapes are grown onsite and handpicked and transported to Mudgee for wine making by highly regarded third generation winemaker Jacob Stein. 

As well as viognier, pinot grigio, pinot and shiraz, Megalong Creek Estate also produces a sparkling they have named Prozzante, a lightly sparked Prosecco-style wine, and a late harvest unique dessert-style wine. 

​Both wineries are located along the famous Six Foot Track, an important Indigenous pathway linking southern parts of the Hunter Valley with the Blue Mountains and western tablelands for the past 20,000 years. 

Blue Mountains Explorer Bus managing director Jason Cronshaw said: “The Megalong Valley has been linked to the Blue Mountains for millennia yet is largely unknown today. 

“Our new shuttle service is a fantastic opportunity to reintroduce the area to a new generation of visitors.’’ 

The Megalong Valley high tea and winery shuttle “means you can have a tipple and we’ll navigate the road for you’’. 

“We also have large storage bays under the bus, so don’t be shy about stocking up on your favourite drop.’’ 

Fantastic Aussie Tours coaches leave Katoomba at 10.15am, 12.15pm, 2.15pm and 4.15pm and Megalong Creek Estate and Dryridge Estate at 11.10am, 1.10pm, 3.10pm and 5.10pm each Saturday and Sunday. 

Buses stop at the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath in time for a history tour and high tea or continue to the Megalong Valley on a later service. Alternatively, stay aboard and continue straight to the wineries. 

Book the shuttle and receive complimentary pick-up and drop-off to any hotel in Katoomba or Leura on the famous red double-decker Blue Mountains Explorer Bus circuit. 

Tickets: $59pp return shuttle. 


Blue Mountains businesses adapting to “new normal’’

Blue Mountains businesses are adapting to the “new normal’’ by creatively embracing new business practices and digital technology.

Blue Mountains Tourism president Jason Cronshaw praised the ingenuity and flexibility of businesses, especially small enterprises.

Blue Mountains Tourism president Jason Cronshaw at Echo Point. Photo: David Hill, Deep Hill Media.

“The response has been fast and enthusiastic,’’ he said.

“Of course there’s been tears and tantrums as people are understandably upset to see their business and livelihood evaporate literally overnight as government restrictions come in that they weren’t prepared for and can’t control.

“But we’re so blessed to have a creative community that is pragmatic and innovative and steps up to a challenge.’’

“[But] we’re so blessed to have a creative community that is pragmatic and innovative and steps up to a challenge.”

Jason Cronshaw – Blue Mountains Tourism

Many Blue Mountains businesses sell online vouchers to redeem when restrictions are lifted, encourage forward bookings and direct customers to online sales platforms.

Here are just some examples of how tourism and hospitality businesses in the Blue Mountains continue to operate under the strict new opening hours and social distancing regulations:

CafeXpresso (Katoomba) station is one of numerous examples of fast food shops, cafes and restaurants offering takeaway food only.

– Blue Mountains Cultural Centre (Katoomba) has a Virtual InSight program featuring staff insights, tours of the space, art classes with local creatives, tutorials, recipes from the cafe and more. Details: BlueMountainsCulturalCentre Facebook page (a new page will be available on the website soon).

– Mount Vic & Me (Mt Victoria) takes online orders and posts a swag of quirky Australian Made items, including the Blue Mountains Socks range, tea towels and greeting cards. Details:

– Josophan’s Fine Chocolates (Leura) takes online store orders at and has a page of simple but indulgent recipes at

– Avalon Restaurant – Katoomba ( offers takeaway meals, along with most cafes in the Blue Mountains. Several such as the Ori Café & Bistro ( and Finn & Co ( at Springwood offer a home delivery service.

– GalleryONE88 Fine Arts – Katoomba (, Talisman Gallery – Hartley ( and other galleries have uploaded many photos of artwork to their website and social media and have restricted sales to those platforms or email.

– Blue Mountains Chocolate Company (Katoomba) serves takeaway food and drinks, with a home delivery service within a 20km radius of Katoomba. Details:

“New normal” for Blueys

Blue Mountains Explorer Bus: Locals Ride Free

By Ellen Hill for Blue Mountains Explorer Bus    Photos: David Hill, Deep Hill Media

What’s big, red, the only one of its kind in the world in a national park and the only one that doesn’t live in a city? The hop-on/hop-off Blue Mountains Explorer Bus.

And Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Oberon locals can use it to explore their own backyard for free for one weekend only – September 22 to 23.

The Locals Ride Free weekend will be a chance to check out secret swimming holes, waterfalls and lush rainforest as well as cafes and restaurants offering special locals-only deals along the route of 29 stops around Katoomba and Leura.

Owned by the Katoomba-based Fantastic Aussie Tours (FAT), the buses run 15 times a day between 9.15am and 5.30pm, 365 days of the year.

FAT managing director Jason Cronshaw, whose father John started the Explorer Bus in 1986, said the free weekend would also help locals connect with community and familiarise them with facilities and attractions available to them and their visitors within their neighbourhood.

“The Blue Mountains has seen a mass migration of new residents, mainly from Sydney, and this is an opportunity for us to extend a hand of welcome and show our new neighbours around,’’ he said.

“It’s also a chance to experience what the four million tourists from around the world do each year and appreciate the fantastic blessing of living within the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area

“I recommend bagging a seat on the top deck for a truly inspiring perspective, and make sure you jump off at Echo Point to see the Three Sisters rock formation to remind yourself of the extraordinary patch of earth we all call home.’’

Environmentally conscious locals can trundle the highway and byways with a clear conscience after Blue Mountains Explorer Bus became the first tourism operator in Australia to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to a big fat zero last year.

It was the first tourism operator in the country to be certified under the Australian Government’s Carbon Neutral Program as 100 per cent carbon neutral. The company also signed the pledge to join the Climate Neutral Now initiative run by the United Nations.

Locals Ride Free will be held during the September 22 – 23 weekend. Simply show proof of residency (eg: driver’s licence, rates notice) when boarding. Register your interest on the Locals Ride Free event on the @bmexplorerbus Facebook page.

  • Blue Mountains Explorer Bus is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media

    Explorer Bus promo pics. Client: BMAG.

Blue Mountains, NSW: Snow-dusted Yulefest

By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group       Photos: David Hill, Deep Hill Media

The enchantment of opera performed within a legendary party palace, fine dining, the intimacy of crackling fireplaces and even the possibility of snow-dusted landscapes this Yulefest with Escarpment Group.

High tea with a view at the Hydro Majestic Hotel

Locals and sojourners are warmly welcomed into any of its boutique hotels for steaming drinks, fireside dining and rousing entertainment to celebrate the season for which the Blue Mountains is most famous.

Walk up an appetite by wandering sumptuously refurbished, exotically-named spaces like Cat’s Alley and Salon du The on a guided history tour of the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath while listening to saucy tales of indiscretion on a luxurious scale.

Then, indulge in a traditional high tea repose featuring nostalgic flavours such as ginger, cranberry and roast pork in the elegant Wintergarden Restaurant overlooking the Megalong Valley.

Alternatively, sink into the refined surrounds of the 5-star Lilianfels Resort & Spa lounge at Echo Point to nibble on delicate finger sandwiches, fluffy scones with homemade jam and fresh clotted cream, and a selection of Yulefest sweet treats beside a cosy fireplace.

High tea in plush comfort at Lilianfels Resort & Spa

The decadent Yulefest theme continues with degustation dinners each Friday and Saturday throughout July in the historic Darley’s Restaurant on the Lilianfels property, as well as in the adjacent Echoes Restaurant and the Wintergarden Restaurant at the Hydro Majestic.

Escarpment Group guest services manager Meagan Iervasi encouraged locals to immerse themselves in the festive atmosphere by attending an event.

Hatted decadence at Darley’s Restaurant

“Yulefest in the Blue Mountains offers the European-style atmosphere people associate with Christmas – a chilly landscape outside and cosiness inside with roaring fires, hot food and drinks, traditional decorations and festive music, but without the stress and frosty relatives.

“It’s also a great way for people who have made a recent tree change to mingle with their neighbours and make new community connections.’’

On July 21, one of Australia’s favourite adopted sons, Mark Lizotte (aka Diesel) will celebrate with a special performance at the Hydro Majestic, 30 years since he literally stepped off the bus with his band Johnny Diesel and the Injectors and set off on a chart-topping 15-album career. Cost: $150pp dinner and show, $40pp show only.

Tenor Brad Cooper brings to enchantment of opera to the Hydro Majestic Hotel

On August 18, relish the romance and nostalgia of Austria’s golden age with a program of crowd favourites from the best Viennese waltzes, gorgeous Wienerlieder (Vienna songs) and operetta to the wild world of the 1920s and `30s Berlin cabaret with a splash of comedian harmonists.

Opera Australia, Oper Köln, Opéra Comique & Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris and English National Opera tenor Brad Cooper and Johann Strauss Ensemble Vienna leader, violinist Russell McGregor, will be joined by Austrian accordionist Pavel Singer in the Wintergarden Restaurant performance, which will be matched with a five-course degustation dinner. Tickets: $135pp. Bookings: (02) 4782 6885.

Then, on August 25, experience opulence and history on a grand scale when the Hydro Express vintage train returns to the Blue Mountains.

Travel from Central in your choice of class carriage (standard, premier or lounge) aboard a heritage train hauled by restored 1950s diesel locomotive 4201. After a scenic two-hour rail journey to the Blue Mountains, be guided to the beautifully refurbished Hydro Majestic Hotel for a luxe afternoon high tea.

Go to or phone (02) 4780 1200 for more information about accommodation packages, dining options and events.

*Escarpment Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media

Fireside dining at Darley’s Restaurant

Blue Mountains hospitality apprenticeship opportunities

Free 5-star training available for would-be hospitality workers in some of the best hotels in the Blue Mountains

By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group     Photos: David Hill, Deep Hill Media

Would-be hospitality workers can receive 5-star training in the region’s top hotels for free after the State Government scrapped TAFE fees for 100,000 apprentices, saving students about $2000 per course in order to combat the national trades drought.

Escarpment Group of hotels will contribute to the training investment, to be facilitated by the Skilling Australia Fund from July 1, and has invited applicants to submit their details.

The company operates the most awarded resorts in regional NSW including Lilianfels Resort & Spa, Darley’s Restaurant, Echoes Boutique Hotel & Restaurant, the iconic Hydro Majestic Hotel and Parklands Country Gardens & Lodges in the Blue Mountains. Further north, it also owns the historic Convent in the Hunter Valley and the multi award-winning paddock-to-plate restaurant Circa 1876.

Apprenticeships are available in various roles

With 10 busy dining outlets, the need for skills is significant.

Escarpment Group operations manager Adam Holmes said training trades and tourism workers under an apprenticeship enrolment with TAFE would help top up falling worker numbers in the industry.

“Over the past five years the numbers of apprentices has reduced year on year to almost nil and we need more motivated skilled staff for regional tourism to thrive.

“Escarpment Group is a dynamic operator of premium hotels and resorts and needs trainees to future-proof the region for economic growth.’’

Apprenticeships are available in the roles of chef, housekeeping, food and beverage service, customer service and reception.

Mr Holmes, originally from Cronulla and recently returned to Australia from Mauritius, said: “Escarpment Group is the largest tourism employer in the Blue Mountains with numerous staff with experience in some of the top restaurants and hotels in the world, ready and willing to share their knowledge and skills with trainees.

“With five luxury properties across two mature tourism regions, there is plenty of opportunity for growth and diversity in a versatile career that can take you anywhere in the world.’’

Potential apprentices have been invited to submit details to

*Escarpment Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media

Apprentices will learn on the job from experienced staff

Aussie Outback cruising with purpose

Experience the amazing Horizontal Falls on the Kimberley Coast cruise


By Ellen Hill for Christian Fellowship Tours

Towering waterfalls, rugged Outback landscapes, ancient Aboriginal art and abundant wildlife. Discover the remarkable Kimberley Coast on the Christian Fellowship Tours (CFT) cruise of the West Australia area in August.

Tour passengers will see the most recognisable natural and manmade attractions of the Kimberley Coast during 10 escorted, unforgettable days cruising between Darwin and Broome.

King George Falls is an awe-inspiring part of the trip

In the north, discover the majestic King George River with its towering 80m twin falls and the mysterious Bradshaw paintings of Bigge Island.

Explore the Mitchell plateau and cruise the Kimberley’s “big’’ rivers before experiencing beautiful King Cascades, remarkable Montgomery Reef and the amazing natural phenomenon of the Horizontal Falls in the south.

With two landings most days by the unique “Explore’’ excursion vessel or inflatable zodiacs, passengers will have more opportunities to fully immerse in the spectacular setting.

Each evening, passengers will retire to comfortable accommodation with private facilities after dining together.

Immerse yourself in Aboriginal art

The tour will include a Christian tour leader throughout the entire trip, daily devotions and Sunday worship, a 10-day cruise, accommodation, most meals, airfare and transfers.

CFT managing director Jason Cronshaw, who will lead the tour, said: “Exploring the remarkable Kimberley Coast by small ship helps you grasp the majesty of the landscape and the awesomeness of our Creator’s handiwork by being amongst it.

“It’s such a privilege to be walk across the salt flats to view the wreckage of a US Air Force DC3 which crash landed on the beach during World War II and visit secluded spots not many other people get to see.’’

Recharge in comfortable accommodation each night

More than a leisure cruise, the Kimberley Coastal Cruise will be an opportunity to learn about the history, culture and landscapes of each location visited through on-board commentary, presentations and briefings.

Past travellers have come from varied backgrounds and churches, yet enjoyed the shared experience of travelling with likeminded people.

One said they appreciated the care and support they received on tour, while another enjoyed the bond they formed with fellow travellers.

“The drivers and tour leaders are always helpful especially for those who have physical or other issues or who travel alone.’’

See towering waterfalls amid rugged Outback landscapes

Others also commented that travelling with CFT was an excellent way for single people, especially women, to explore the world in a safe group where they could make new friends.

Travellers on the Kimberley Coastal Cruise tour will have the opportunity to worship together on board the ship on Sunday and take part in the daily devotions for which CFT has become renowned.

The Kimberley Coastal Cruise tour departs from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane on August 1 and returns August 14.

Bookings and information: or 1300 635 358.

  • Christian Fellowship Tours is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media

    Marvel at the Creator’s handiwork at locations such as Mitchell Falls

Great fat rail coup for Blue Mountains tourism

A Fantastic Aussie Tours bus at Echo Point Lookout

By Ellen Hill for Fantastic Aussie Tours

Rail riders can experience a great fat look at the Blue Mountains when the Indian Pacific pulls into Mt Victoria each week.

The optional off-train excursion for passengers travelling from Perth is the result of a new partnership between Fantastic Aussie Tours (FAT), Great Southern Rail which owns the iconic Indian Pacific touring train, Scenic World, Blue Mountains Guides and the Trippas White Group which owns The Lookout Restaurant at Echo Point.

FAT managing director Jason Cronshaw said the Blue Mountains excursion would be an option each Wednesday, with passengers alighting the train at Mt Victoria after breakfast.

A FAT bus would then transport them to Scenic World to experience the range of thrilling rides or a trek through awe-inspiring landscapes along Prince Henry Walk with Blue Mountains Guides.

All passengers would then assemble for lunch at The Lookout Restaurant near the Three Sisters rock formation overlooking the Jamison Valley before being returned to the Indian Pacific in a FAT bus and continuing their rail journey to Sydney.

(l-r) Fantastic Aussie Tours managing director Jason Cronshaw, Indian Pacific manager Penelope Milne and Jay Yip from Trippas White Group celebrate the official tour package launch at The Lookout Restaurant overlooking the Jamison Valley. Photo: David Hill, Deep Hill Media

“For many years, Indian Pacific passengers caught glimpses of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area as they hurtled through the bush and the villages,’’ Mr Cronshaw said.

“Now, whatever activity they choose to do here they will experience what we are blessed with every day.’’

The package had taken five years to finalise, with the main challenge reserving a rail pathway in the increasingly busy Blue Mountains rail line timetable.

“This is a fantastic coup for the businesses directly involved in this package including us of course, but it has the potential to bring hundreds of visitors to the region who will hopefully return to stay at least one night in a hotel or B&B, eat out in our cafes and restaurants and visit the attractions and retail outlets throughout the area,’’ Mr Cronshaw said.

Each train had a potential load of 252 passengers.

Indian Pacific manager Penelope Milne said the daytrip option would be expanded to an overnight stay by 2019.

In the meantime, the excursions would encourage longer return visits among passengers.

In fact, one passenger on the inaugural trip on April 4 spent the night in the Blue Mountains before returning home via the public rail network.

Click HERE to book a seat on the Indian Pacific. Click HERE for information about Fantastic Aussie Tours.

  • Fantastic Aussie Tours is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media

    (l-r) Fantastic Aussie Tours managing director Jason Cronshaw and Indian Pacific restaurant manager Stacey Chau celebrate the official tour package launch. Photo: David Hill, Deep Hill Media

Blue Mountains, NSW: KCC redevelopment to solve parking, noise

An artist’s impression of the proposed redevelopment of the KCC auditorium and bookshop space

By Ellen Hill for Katoomba Christian Convention

A multi-million dollar upgrade of the Katoomba Christian Convention (KCC) site would solve parking and noise problems and provide a state-of-the-art venue for large conferences and sporting events for Christian and secular groups alike.

A development application before Blue Mountains Council outlines the plan to revamp outdated facilities at the bushland property next to Scenic World in Cliff Drive and Violet St.

Costing an estimated $25 million, phase one of the redevelopment would replace the existing 2100-seat auditorium with a 3500-seat structure, re-orientated to funnel noise away from neighbours.

There would be a new bookshop and modern toilet facilities and seven breakout spaces/meeting rooms.

Future plans include a new reception, administration and laundry building; replacing the 200-seat volunteer-built dining hall and kitchen with a 500-seat one; and a new café fronting Violet St.

Existing accommodation buildings would be replaced and include six eco lodges each with 56 beds and three 18-bed eco chalets, boosting accommodation capacity by 170 beds to a total of 390 beds.

There would also be new internal access roads and 75 car spaces, landscaping and revegetation.

The development application before the council only seeks approval for works at the Cliff Drive section of the site.

The KCC property also includes Clairvaux Oval in Cedar St, which is used for car parking and has three dormitory-style accommodation buildings, a playground and basketball court.

(l-r) KCC executive director Jonathan Dykes and operations manager (functions) Shelley Taylor in front of the existing bookshop. Photo: David Hill, Deep Hill Media

KCC executive director Jonathan Dykes said the upgrade was needed to bring the “tired’’ facilities up to standard and visitor expectation.

“Things have been adapted and updated as finances and resources have allowed, but we can only stretch that so far for so long.’’

Works conducted over the years to ensure standards compliance (including asbestos removal) had reduced the capacity of the site yet still did not deliver accessible accommodation for people with a disability, he said.

The redevelopment would actually lessen the site’s impact on surrounding residents – aside from its long-time alcohol ban which ensured more moderate patrons, Mr Dykes said.

A larger auditorium with breakout spaces and seminar rooms would contain such events to the property and lessen the number of traffic movements coming and going from the site.

The new facilities had been designed to be respectful of the location and its significant environmental values and the upgrade would be a more environmentally sensitive facility.

“We are pleased that a staff report to the council recommends approval of the DA subject to conditions,’’ he said.

As well as being the largest conference venue in the Blue Mountains, the property was a valuable resource for the region, used as a staging base for emergency services and community information meetings during the 2013 bushfires.

The proposed upgrades would expand the site’s potential as a venue for secular not-for-profit organisations like schools and events such as the annual Ultra Trail Australia running event and corporate groups seeking low-cost accommodation, although its main purpose would remain as a place of worship for Christian groups.

KCC also held seven worship events a year, the largest being its Easter Convention (3100 people attended last year) and the KYCK youth events.

A not-for-profit interdenominational Bible-preaching convention ministry that relies on volunteers, donations and financial support of visiting delegates, KCC was founded in 1903 in the tradition of the Keswick Convention in England.

​Growing from a small gathering of Christians in a children’s playroom in Katoomba, the first convention was held at Khandala, a house at the end of Katoomba St.

By the 1930s, 800 people attended the annual gatherings each Christmas.

In the 1940s KCC operated from a site in Forester Rd near Echo Point and in the 1950s the current site was acquired and several developments have taken place.

The site was zoned Special Uses 5ACU (Church) in 1985 and includes a baptismal pool carved out of rock.

* Katoomba Christian Convention is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media


New Hillbilly Cider Shed just apples

Hillbilly Cider maker Shane McLaughlin tests his latest batch at the Hillbilly Cider Shed

By Ellen Hill for Hillbilly Cider       Photos: David Hill

Hillbillies at heart can escape the big smoke and experience nature for real at the newly opened Hillbilly Cider Shed in the heart of Bilpin apple country.

Wend your way up the famed Bells Line of Rd and follow the comforting aroma of fermented apples into the Hillbilly Cider Shed to discover a hidden refuge of Prohibition-era speakeasy ambience overlooking a working apple orchard.

There, you can escape the foot-stomping winter chill outside and imbibe in a belly-warming mulled cider and munch on fresh salted popcorn while learning about the cidermaking process and the Hillbilly philosophy from Hillbilly Shane or Hillbetty Tessa McLaughlin themselves.

Filling a 1.854 lt growler straight from the barrel at the Hillbilly Cider Shed

In 2007, the couple shifted to a bohemian existence on 35-acres at Bilpin, where fourth generation farmer and Canonbah Bridge winemaker Shane (“Dodge’’ to his mates) set about making a cider in a cellar he dug by hand under the house.

The result? Just apples. With altitude. And a squeeze of good old Hillbilly magic.

We don’t add sugar, we don’t pasteurise and we don’t add artificial flavours,’’ the Cider Australia treasurer says.We’re all about keeping it real and honest – 100 per cent crushed fruit fermented with minimal intervention for an easy bohemian bubble.’’

Dedicated Hillbillies can seek out the uninhibited honest earthiness, mountain air, memories of good times with friends and fermented fruit of Hillbilly Cider straight out of the barrels at the new cider shed.

Tasting cider straight from the barrel is but one experience available exclusively at the inner Hillbilly sanctum.

In season, pick the very apples that go into the cider.

Stock up on the new Scrumpy and Sweet Julie ciders – the ones you don’t see around too much outside the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury, and grab new ciders the moment Hillbilly Shane releases them.

In fact, the Sweet Julie is the only cider in the world made from the Julie apple, discovered and grown at the orchard onsite and the newest apple discovered in the area since the Granny Smith 100 years ago.

Hillbillification begins at the Hillbilly Cider Shed at Bilpin

Environmentally conscious cider lovers can reduce packaging purchase to zero by investing in their own 1.854lt Hillbilly Cider growler, only at the Hillbilly Cider Shed.

It’s also the only place in the country to buy a cider canimal. Filled with nearly a litre of Hillbilly liquid goodness, canimals “are mini kegs so they’ll keep you going for a while – you won’t lose your place around the bonfire’’, Shane says.

Have your canimal filled on the spot with your choice of cider straight off the barrel and pressure sealed by the first and only canimal machine used for cider in Australia.

Hillbillies can picnic under the trees with the company of cider shed dog Star or sit on the deck and soak up the vibes of raw Hillbilly music, meaningful conversation and the nostalgic scent of crushed cider on the breeze.

After tasting the award-winning alcoholic and non-alcoholic apple and pear ciders, cleansing the palette with salted popcorn, stocking up on your chosen flavour of bottled bohemian lifestyle, be sure to proclaim your Hillbillification with pride on clothing and other items available at the cider shed.

Hillbilly Cider is also available throughout the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury and beyond via independent bottle shops, funky bars and restaurants, or catch the Hillbillies at farmers markets and music festivals.

The Hillbilly Cider Shed, Shields Orchard, 2270 Bells Line of Rd, Bilpin, is open from 12pm to 5pm Friday and 11am to 5pm Saturday and Sunday (check website for extra open days during school holidays). Go to for more information.

  • Hillbilly Cider is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media

    Customers soak up the Prohibition-era speakeasy ambiance of the Hillbilly Cider Shed

Everglades opens closet of secrets

Born Free will be part of Rod McRae’s Wunderkammer exhibition at Everglades Historic House & Gardens, Leura

By Ellen Hill for Everglades Historic House & Gardens

Everglades Historic House & Gardens will provoke and challenge environmental change by opening its closet to a secret stash of exotic animals in June.

The Wunderkammer exhibition of ethically-sourced taxidermied animals by artist Rod McRae will be displayed at the Leura landmark from June 10 to August 27 (11am to 3pm), with one of the exhibits to be displayed at the Hydro Majestic Hotel at Medlow Bath.

Each exhibit explores an animal issue using real preserved animal bodies to tell their stories

Wunderkammer, which means “closet of secrets’’, has been on the regional art gallery circuit since 2013 and consists of 15 portals into what was, what is and what could be.

Each work explores an animal “issue’’ using real preserved animal bodies (taxidermy) to tell their stories including trophy hunting, displacement, poisoning.

A polar bear teeters on a refrigerator, a zebra is in a shipping crate on which is written a “shopping list’’ of animals available for hunt, there are penguin skeletons alongside shards of plastic and a list of harmful chemicals, a faceless baboon holding a mirror towards its head and the king of the jungle playing on a bed – with a chain around its neck.

However, no animal was harmed to make the artwork. The skins were the result of death by natural causes, medical euthanasia, hunting, culling and food production and had been traded on, sometimes multiple times before they became part of Wunderkammer. The skin of the baboon is a by-product of trophy taking.

McRae aimed to provoke thought, discussion and, ultimately, change through the sometimes hideous displays.

“I would like to believe that art can make a difference,’’ he said.

“Using the real thing creates art that is both authentic and empathetic. I argue that sculptures of animals rendered in resin, plastic, stone, wood or metal cannot speak as directly to us as the real animal.

“Each work touches on a different aspect of the human-animal relationship including biodiversity, pollution, climate change, conservation and stewardship. Each work asks us to examine our responsibilities as fellow travellers on this planet.’’

Wunderkammer will be hosted by Everglades Historic House & Gardens, Leura

A floor talk will be given at the official opening on June 10 by a curator from the Western Plains Cultural Centre. Then, on June 24, Everglades will be hosting a faux fur luncheon with Rod McRae giving another floor talk.

Everglades manager Scott Pollock said: “This exhibition is an opportunity to meet these exotic creatures up close in ways we could never do while they are alive.

“While this exhibition is provocative and even confronting, our environment surrounding us here in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area with its vast wilderness of rare, unknown and thought-to-be-extinct plant and animal species demands that we give it consideration.’’

The art deco-style of the 1930s property and squash court building which is now used as the gallery is an apt venue to showcase the unusual.

“Visitors already expect the unexpected at Everglades. We have a manmade waterfall and bathing pond, exotic landscaped gardens amongst the native bushland, unusual columns, niches and drystone walls and live Shakespeare productions, so coming across a zebra in the a squash court or Polar bear wrapped around a refrigerator won’t be too extraordinary.”

“The exhibition is very Blue Mountains of the 1930s and the local community is very comfortable with the concepts of it today actually.’’

Everglades Historic House & Gardens, 37 Everglades Ave, Leura, is open from 10am to 5pm daily during daylight savings and from 10am to 4pm during autumn and winter. Entry: $13 adults, $8 concessions, $4 children, National Trust members free.

Contact: : (02) 4784 1938 or email

The works included in Wunderkammer are managed by the Western Plains Cultural Centre, a facility of Dubbo Regional Council.

Rod McRae began his visual journey as a children’s book author illustrator in the 1980s producing more than 50 books.

In the `90s he experimented with photography and was twice a finalist in the Blake Prize for Religious Art.

Since 2008, McRae has explored sculpture and installation art concentrating on conservation and human-animal themes and has been a finalist in several art prizes including the Wynne Prize for Australian landscape/figurative sculpture, Fishers Ghost Art Prize and Sculpture by the Sea.

Wunderkammer is McRae’s first travelling show. It has been on the regional art gallery circuit since 2013.

* Everglades Historic House & Gardens is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media

The beautiful Everglades Historic House & Gardens at Leura. Photo: David Hill, Deep Hill Media

Blue Mountains: Cheeky fun returns to Hydro Majestic

Opera singers (l-r) Damien Whiteley and Brad Cooper will perform at the Hydro Majestic Hotel

By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group            Photos: David Hill

Seat-swapping, hand-crossing bravura, drama, passion and cheeky fun will return to the original Blue Mountains party palace as a string of musical events rolls out during the next few months.

Tenor Brad Cooper performing at the Hydro Majestic Hotel last year

The music program will see the return of popular opera and classical instrumental performances, reviving the traditions established by original Hydro Majestic Hotel owner, Mark Foy, in the early 20th century.

General manager of Escarpment Group, which owns the Hydro Majestic, Ralf Bruegger said: “The Hydro Majestic and Foy himself were famous for their revelry and decadence and we’ve reignited the celebration by filling the calendar with festivals, events and performances and an endless round of public and private parties.

“Guest are welcome to swap seats, cross hands and indulge in cheeky fun but please keep the passion and drama to yourselves.’’

Choose one or more from the following performances:

Cellist Teije Hylkema performing at the original Blue Mountains party palace recently


Le Grand Tango, June 11: Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra principal cellist Teije Hylkema and internationally-awarded pianist Grace Kim will present a program to ignite passion and fire featuring Le Grand Tango by Astor Piazzolla.

4 hands, 2 pianists, 1 piano, August 19: One of the busiest pianists in Australia, Kristian Chong, will team up with Grace Kim to present a brilliant program of seat swapping, hand crossing bravura. You will see why four hands are better than two.




There will be plenty of operatic humour from bass Damian Whiteley

2017 Blue Mountains Opera Festival, September 30 – October 1:

  • High tea, Saturday: Mozart’s magnificent masterpiece, his Clarinet Quintet, will begin the weekend on a high note featuring Sydney Symphony Orchestra clarinettist Frank Celata with the Enigma Quartet.
  • Opera Gala Dinner Concert, Saturday: After a glowing inaugural success last year, Opera Australia tenor Brad Cooper, mezzo/soprano Sally Wilson and bass Damian Whiteley will take guests on an evening of drama, passion and cheeky fun.
  • High tea, Sunday: The festivities crescendo when eight of the finest string players perform with the ever popular Mendelssohn Octet.

Teije Hylkema will return to the Hydro Majestic

Each high tea concert package ($85pp) includes a glass of sparkling wine on arrival with a sumptuous three-tier offering including an indulgent selection of gourmet sandwiches, warm fluffy scones, delicate pastries and the finest selection of handmade desserts served with Vittoria Coffee and La Maison Du The teas. The concert will be from 12pm to 1pm.

The Gala Dinner Concert package from 5.30pm to 9.30pm on Saturday, October 1, will include drinks and canapes on arrival followed by a two-course dinner with beverages. Cost: $150pp.

Go to or phone (02) 4782 6885 to book concerts, accommodation and dining.

  • Escarpment Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media


Majestic celebration for Year of the Rooster

By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group          Photos: David Hill

Respect your elders, celebrate the holidays and begin the Chinese New Year of the Rooster afresh with Asian street food, music, lanterns, lights and lions at the Hydro Majestic Hotel on Sunday, January 29.

The original Blue Mountains party palace will celebrate its Asian heritage past and present with all the sights and sounds of the Orient.

The Hydro Majestic Pavilion at Medlow Bath will be adorned with colourful lanterns, and cherry blossoms and cumquat trees will stand at the doors with lucky red money bags for children to tie to the trees as offerings to respected ancestors.

Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said: “Our Lunar New Year will recreate the romance of the East and be reminiscent of Oriental opium dens and cigars, although our guests these days will have to make do with dreamy sunsets and cocktails.

“We will, however, adopt the tradition of respecting our ancestors. In our case, we will pay homage to Louie Goh Mong (nicknamed `Charlie’), who worked as a cook at original owner Mark Foy’s home and managed the mayhem at the Hydro Majestic for 35 years.’’

Charlie Goh Mong was just one of many Chinese workers who reverted to their traditional skills across the Blue Mountains post-Bathurst gold rush era around the turn of the 20th century, with many working as butlers, cooks, nannies, maids and produce suppliers to inns, guesthouses and manor houses during that time.

Decades later, people from all over the world continue to work at the grandest of the grand Blue Mountains hotels.

Chinese New Year celebrations will wrap-up a weekend of celebrations of cultural diversity at the Hydro Majestic, after World Degustation Day revels in the flavours of all continents on Earth with a seven-course feast on Friday, January 27, after Australia Day.

Locals can mingle with international visitors to watch the exciting lion dance troupe performance and nibble on Asian street food such as dumplings, barbecued meat and seafood skewers, Banh Mi, fresh spring rolls, rice paper rolls, fried noodles, roasted corn cobs, Asian desserts and more.

Mr Bruegger encouraged visitors to fully immerse themselves in cultural diversity and stay at least one night to experience World Degustation Day from 5.30pm to 9.30pm Friday, January 27; explore the spectacular Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area on the Saturday; and then attend Chinese New Year celebrations from 12pm to 3pm on Sunday, January 29.

Go to to book accommodation and dining options at one of the four Escarpment Group properties in the upper Blue Mountains (the Hydro Majestic Hotel, Parklands Country Gardens & Lodges, Lilianfels Resort & Spa and Echoes Boutique Hotel & Restaurant).

* Escarpment Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media

Blue Mountains: Hydro Majestic serves global dining palette

Hydro Majestic sous chef Max Vloet

By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group               Photos: David Hill

Traditional dishes from exotic global locations infused with local flavours served by staff from around the world: the Hydro Majestic Hotel in the Blue Mountains represents the modern face and cuisine of Australia – as it has for more than a century.

The original Blue Mountains party palace will celebrate its history of cultural diversity during the Australia Day week with a World Degustation Day feast on Friday, January 27.

Hydro Majestic head chef Mate Herceg

Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said: “The Hydro Majestic has always embraced cultural diversity, not because its first owner Mark Foy was politically correct but because he genuinely loved people of all races, their culture, art and food – just as we do today.

“In fact, what is seen as progressive, even outrageous today, has always been normal at the Hydro Majestic. I mean, what was normal for a man who liked to dress in his wife’s clothing and held cross-dressing parties for his friends?’’

With the means to satisfy his every whim, the well-travelled Foy had the famous hotel dome pre-fabricated in Chicago and shipped to Australia. Dr George Baur of the Shoeneck health spa in Switzerland was hired to devise and supervise a program of diets and weird and wonderful treatments. Turkish coffee at the Hydro Majestic was served by Turkish waiters, Chinese tea by Chinese waiters.

Louie Goh Mong (“Charlie’’), centre, at the Hydro Majestic

Fascinated by all things Asian, Foy employed many Chinese workers who sold their traditional skills across the Blue Mountains during the Bathurst golf rush era around the turn of the 20th century.

One was Louie Goh Mong, nicknamed “Charlie’’, who worked as a cook at Foy’s Sydney home and managed the mayhem at the Hydro Majestic for 35 years.

Today, staff from 16 language groups work at the Hydro Majestic including English, French, Canadian, Russian, Chinese (all dialects), Portuguese, Vietnamese, Spanish, Italian, Indonesian, Thai and more. Mr Bruegger is German and head chef Mate Herceg has a Croatian background.

People visit the Hydro Majestic from all over the world and we must understand and accommodate their cultural needs,’’ Mr Bruegger said.In an internationally renowned destination such as the Blue Mountains it is expected of us and certainly received by our guests in all other mature tourism regions of the world.’’

Jazz singer Evelyn Duprai

Guests at the World Degustation Day banquet will be treated to global gastronomy through a decadent five-course food safari featuring flavours from all seven continents on Earth infused with the distinctive tastes of the Greater Blue Mountains and NSW Central West.

“We’ll also have a dish that’s quintessentially Aussie, because after all that’s our shared experience and we all love being here in this fantastic country of opportunity and diversity,’’ Mr Bruegger said.

The multicultural feast at the grandest of the grand hotels in the Blue Mountains will be designed and prepared by chefs from various cultural backgrounds with experience at internationally-recognised restaurants around the world including Michelin star restaurant-trained sous chef Max Vloet.

Guests can fully immerse themselves in the sumptuous theme with the dramatic colours and sensual textures of the hotel, the unrivalled views over a jaw-droppingly beautiful landscape set to the dulcet tones of African-Australian jazz songstress Evelyn Duprai.

World Degustation Day will be held at the Hydro Majestic Hotel, Great Western Hwy, Medlow Bath, from 5.30pm to 9.30pm on Friday, January 27. Cost: $145pp includes seven-course dinner, sparkling lychee and mint cocktail on arrival and entertainment. Bookings: or (02) 4782 6885.

* Escarpment Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media

The famous dome over the Casino Lobby

Spirit of King of Pop to thrill Lithgow Halloween ‘16


Join Jason Jackson at the Thriller dance-off at Lithgow Halloween `16. Photo: David Hill, Headline Publicity

Join Jason Jackson at the Thriller dance-off at Lithgow Halloween `16. Photo: David Hill


By Ellen Hill for Lithgow Tourism        Photos: Ben Pearse and David Hill

The spirit of the late King of Pop will inject a thrilling spark into Lithgow Halloween `16 when hundreds of Michael Jackson fans take part in a dance-off in Main St on Saturday, October 29.

Jason Jackson performing at Lithgow Halloween `15. Photo: Ben Pearse

Jason Jackson performing at Lithgow Halloween `15. Photo: Ben Pearse

The national record bid for the greatest number of costumed people to dance to the song Thriller will be a highlight of the annual community festival.

Organised and hosted by Lithgow City Council, with support from local sponsors including Lithgow McDonald’s, Centennial Coal and Energy Australia, the event will again feature spectacular Vivid-style lighting displays and spooky decorations, the main shopping strip will be transformed into a fun-filled pedestrian zone with themed precincts, non-stop entertainment and a community Trick or Treat activity for children.

Lithgow City Council Tourism Manager Kellie Barrow said: “We do like to party here in Lithgow, especially when it involves themes and dressing up.

“But our parties are not exclusive: everyone is invited, everyone is welcome and everyone is catered for.’’

Lithgow Halloween is a family-friendly community event. Photo: Ben Pearse

Lithgow Halloween is a family-friendly community event. Photo: Ben Pearse

As in previous years, the family-friendly Lithgow Halloween `16 will include something for everyone, with a range of free community events in public spaces through to ticketed events at private venues.

“We’re proud of our history and what the council, local businesses and residents have achieved together in beautifying Lithgow in recent years and we want to share our town with visitors.’’

Ms Barrow encouraged locals and visitors to fully immerse themselves in the festival spirit and dress up for the occasion as a ghoulish zombie, monster, freaky vampire, fantasy character or loveable fairytale personality, goblin or fairy.

Lithgow Halloween is a family-friendly event. Photo: David Hill

Lithgow Halloween is a family-friendly event. Photo: David Hill

She also urged everyone to take part in the Australian record attempt for the largest number of costumed people to dance to the Michael Jackson song Thriller.

“The record currently stands at about 500 people. Let’s beat it!’’

She recommended visitors stay overnight in the area to fully explore the surprisingly diverse range of scenery, dining options and activities available in Lithgow and surrounds including the Back to Hartley event at Hartley Historic Site on the way to Sydney on Sunday, October 30.

  • Lithgow Tourism is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media and Headline Publicity

    Jason Jackson will lead the Thriller dance-off at Lithgow Halloween `16. Photo: David Hill

    Jason Jackson will lead the Thriller dance-off at Lithgow Halloween `16. Photo: David Hill

Blue Mountains: Burlesque to seduce Hydro Majestic Hotel

Burlesque performer Jacqueline Furey. Photo: Joel Devereux

Burlesque performer Jacqueline Furey. Photo: Joel Devereux


 By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group

Sheer enchantment, chimera and intrigue will herald a modern era of breathtaking drama for the original Blue Mountains party palace when the Australian Burlesque Festival performs at the Hydro Majestic Hotel in May.

The Australian Burlesque Festival featuring Shake-O-Rama will offer three hours of cheeky variety entertainment with more than a dozen buxom burlesque artists.

Shake-O-Rama promises a glamorous night of classic tease and modern neo-burlesque that will dazzle, delight and stimulate the senses featuring some of the best and most entertaining international and local performers.

Dolores Daiquiri. Photo: 3 Fates Media

Dolores Daiquiri. Photo: 3 Fates Media

Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said: “The original owner of the Hydro Majestic, Mark Foy, held legendary parties here, so this kind of saucy entertainment is not new for the hotel – all performed with the famous Hydro elegance of course.’’

The sizzling adults-only show will celebrate traditional burlesque arts, vintage-flavoured tease, sensual cabaret and variety entertainment.

Guests will be delighted, tantalised and pleasantly entertained as they experience jaw-droppingly glamourous exotic and neo-burlesque seduction and titillating strip-tease shows from leading stars of the genre.

Directed, pro­duced, owned and operated by burlesque star and producer Dolores Dai­quiri, the Australian Burlesque Festival is the largest touring burlesque festival in the world.

Established in 2009 to cel­eb­rate the bur­lesque com­munity, the avant-garde troupe of performers deb­ut­ed in 2010 to sell-out audi­ences.

The Australian Burlesque Festival will seduce at the Hydro Majestic Hotel, Great Western Hwy, Medlow Bath, from 8pm to 11pm Saturday, May 28. Tickets: $75 + booking fee show only, $160 + booking fee dinner and show. Age restriction: 18+. Bookings and details: or (02) 4782 6885.

  • Escarpment Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill MediaAust Burlesque Festival 2016_Logo_SocialMedia

Blue Mountains: Met Orchestra returns romance to Hydro Majestic

Cocktails and Serenades 15

By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group              Photos: David Hill

The first in a series of classical music concerts at the Hydro Majestic Hotel last Saturday re-established Mark Foy’s “Palace in the wilderness’’ as the definitive destination for romance and elegance.

Chief conductor Sarah-Grace Williams

Chief conductor Sarah-Grace Williams

The Metropolitan Orchestra played to critical acclaim in the world-famous hotel’s Majestic Ballroom after guests supped on specially created cocktails and canapes followed by dinner and wines showcasing local and regional produce.

Editor of prestigious classical music publication Limelight Magazine, Clive Paget, who attended the concert, wrote a glowing review of the occasion.

“The sumptuously appointed Majestic Ballroom with its bowed ceiling turned out to boast a rather good acoustic for what proved to be a very classy concert.

“Eschewing the tendency for throwaway `pops’ on such occasions, the Hydro and the Met opted to properly engage its audience with two meaty masterworks for string orchestra by late romantics, Dvorak and Tchaikovsky.’’

Cocktails and Serenades 07As well as the two string serenades, Paget praised the orchestra’s rendition of Rojas’ Little Serenade for Strings and encore piece Piazzolla’s Libertango, along with the fascinating’’ vintage fashion show by The Darnell Collection of International Vintage Courture andtoe tapping sets from smoky-voice’’ jazz singer Evelyn Duprai in the nearby Majestic Marquee space.

The entire event was a captivating, invigorating experience that I expect would have delighted the Hydro’s original, eccentric host’’.Thoroughly recommended.’’

The Metropolitan Orchestra will perform again at the Hydro Majestic when the original party palace hosts the masquerade Winter Ball to officially launch the Yulefest season in the Blue Mountains on Saturday, June 18.

Cocktails and Serenades 36Under the baton of artistic director and chief conductor Sarah-Grace Williams, more than 50 musicians will perform O’Boyle’s Rhapsody on a theme of Mendelssohn, Horn Concerto no 1 by Strauss, Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Symphony no 4 Italian by Mendelssohn.

Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said the concert series harked back to the Mark Foy days when events were not merely concerts but opulent occasions.

“The feedback from this first concert has been very positive. The combination of exquisite music by some of the most talented classical musicians in Australia, fine regional food designed and prepared by award-winning chefs, this beautiful hotel and the magnificent surrounds of the Blue Mountains World Heritage Area re-establishes the Hydro Majestic as the venue for romance and elegance in the region.’’

The final concert will be Symphony Under the Stars on November 19 featuring Mendelsson’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Overture, Kats-Chernin’s Ornamental Air (for basset clarinet and orchestra) and Symphony no 7 by Beethoven. Guests will also indulge in a sultry evening of canapes and cocktails followed by a two-course dinner.

Cocktails and Serenades 34




The Metropolitan Orchestra comprises Sydney’s most dynamic musicians and is recognised as one of the country’s most versatile orchestras delivering accessible, first-class and vibrant concert experiences.





Jazz singer Evelyn Duprai

Jazz singer Evelyn Duprai

The orchestra’s seven-year history features a star-studded array of highlight concert and/or album performances along with several world premieres and special events such as BBC’s Blue Planet and Planet Earth in Concert, Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular, Opera in the Vineyards, the National Rugby League grand final; and sailing the high seas as resident orchestra aboard the Bravo! Cruise of the Performing Arts.



Go to to book Majestic Concert Series tickets, dinner and accommodation.

  • Escarpment Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media Cocktails and Serenades 50

Lithgow, NSW: Historic club sets table for changing food scene

35By Ellen Hill for Lithgow Workies Club                       Photos: David Hill

The oldest registered club in NSW is serving a modern era of upmarket dining for the home of Australia’s first industrial hub, Lithgow.

The new Esk Restaurant at Lithgow & District Workmen’s Club was part of a recent $6.5 million revamp which also included a new 36-room 4-star (self-rated) motel with two disability access rooms, a refurbished showroom, conference centre, art gallery and more.

27Established in 1887, the club (known affectionately as “the Workies’’) is located just west of the Blue Mountains at the gateway to the NSW Central West, an historic food bowl of the state and latest foodie hotspot.

Esk Restaurant was added to complement the existing successful Cino Café and club bistro, both of which will continue to serve traditional food and beverage favourites.

Armed with a diverse background ranging from mobile fast food to fine dining, club executive chef Tim Standing plans to gradually infuse the Esk Restaurant contemporary Australian cuisine menu with a growing amount of local and regional produce to tempt local tastebuds and attract visitors to the area.

Diners have already reviewed positively to the menu since Esk opened in January.

Club members and guests can expect a contemporary blend of traditional favourites with multicultural influences from Asia and Europe presented with the unique flavours of ingredients from the NSW Central West, Blue Mountains and the wider Sydney region.

“People’s expectations of club food has really risen,’’ Standing said.

26“They still expect to be able to get basic meals at a reasonable price like rissoles, sausages and mash, schnitzels, a good steak and pot pies but the quality has lifted a lot.

“Our first menu is not too intimidating but we’ll develop it into a very modern, contemporary restaurant using many local products over time.’’

Raising the culinary stakes has been the result of innovations in farming techniques and crop choices, manufacturing of boutique products and a migration of top chefs from Sydney onto the central plains.

Standing himself made the shift two and a half years ago.

“There’s loads of great chefs and restaurants out here in the west now,’’ he said.

“I want to be one of the best restaurants in town because I’d like all the restaurants in Lithgow to be good because that makes a food destination.

“If people drive up here Friday night and stay until Sunday, they’re not going to eat here every night, so we need other places in Lithgow to be good too, and they are.’’

(l-r) Head chef Aaron Engler and executive chef Tim Standing

(l-r) Head chef Aaron Engler and executive chef Tim Standing

Standing’s culinary passion began as a child. His mother was a cook and the family trawled the show circuit in fast food vans throughout Victoria.

Young Tim started his career as a hotel dish washer before an apprenticeship at the Dromana Hotel in Dromana. From there he worked at the best restaurant in the region, Moonlight Bay Resort.

When he was 24, Standing went to London and worked for agencies and hotel groups in upmarket areas as well as the large Slug and Lettuce group at the forefront of cutting edge pub food at the time.

Returning to Australia, he worked as executive chef with Captain Cook Cruises in Cairns then at the Union Hotel at North Sydney and The Watershed at Darling Harbour.

He was executive chef at the 500-seat Japanese restaurant Zenbu at Darling Harbour, Bamboo at Circular Quay, Liquidity at Rose Bay, The Zettle Room at The Exchange Hotel at Balmain and Il Baretto at Surry Hills.

25Standing opened his own pizza restaurant, Rialto Restaurant at Narrabeen, and Bar Rialto at Surry Hills before joining Lithgow Workies Club in 2013 where he is executive chef to about 35 staff at the Esk Restaurant, Cino’s Café and the club bistro.

Cooking is the one thing I was always good at,’’ he said.I cook at home. To me, going to work and cooking is not a job, its fun.’’

Most of Standing’s kitchen staff at Lithgow Workies Club are young locals. There are also four apprentice chefs and the club has two hospitality trainees.

Head chef Aaron Engler, 23, returned to his apprenticeship training ground 18 months ago after gaining experience throughout NSW and Canberra including in a 500-seat café, as a function chef, at the 5-star Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley near Lithgow and the hatted Darleys Restaurant at Katoomba.

24You go to Katoomba, Sydney and Bathurst and there’s great food everywhere,’’ he said.Esk Restaurant could be the beginning of a new contemporary Australian food scene for Lithgow.’’

Lithgow Workies Club general manager Geoff Wheeler said: “We’ve never had a dining venue at the club before where you can have table service and enjoy quality wines and food in a quality environment with lovely views and décor.’’

Esk Restaurant at Lithgow Workies Club, Tank St, Lithgow, is currently open for dinner from 6pm (last orders 8.30pm) Friday and Saturday. Bookings: or (02) 9682 3807.

Singer Lisa Hunt. Photo: supplied

Singer Lisa Hunt. Photo: supplied

The official opening of Esk Restaurant, the new club motel and associated works will be hosted by media and sporting identity Mike Whitney in the new showroom from 7.15pm on Saturday, March 19.

The evening will be rounded off with spectacular entertainment from Australia’s “Queen of Soul’’ Lisa Hunt and her band in the revamped showroom. Tickets: $20.

Go to or phone (02) 6350 7777 to book and for more details.

Lithgow, NSW: Curtain raiser for state’s oldest club

Workies Showroom 05

By Ellen Hill for Lithgow Workies Club                    Photos: David Hill

The oldest registered club in NSW will take centre stage when the curtain officially goes up on the revamped showroom at Lithgow & District Workmen’s Club on March 19.

Club audi/visual manager Allan Gregory.

Club audio visual manager Allan Gregory.

The showroom is part of a $6.5 million refurbishment of the club, known affectionately as “the Workies’’, along with a new 36-room 4-star (self-rated) motel, art gallery, restaurant, conference centre and more.

The former Irish tavern space has been transformed into a new entertainment venue featuring a new stage and audio visual technology and table seating ideal for dinner shows.

The 3.12m wide dropdown screen over the stage allows for a diverse range of activities from business conference presentations to movie screenings for children down the track.

Lithgow Workies Club general manager Geoff Wheeler said: “Our showroom is one of the largest venues of its type in the area suitable for a dinner show, and we can more than double the capacity by removing the tables.


Club audio visual manager Allan Gregory

Club audio visual manager Allan Gregory

“It also offers flexibility to conference groups looking for venues with large presentation rooms, small breakout spaces and tabled meal areas. It even has its own full bar.’’

The showroom, which has already hosted capacity crowds for Tom Jones – the Australian Experience and other gigs, will be officially opened by media and sporting personality Mike Whitney along with the motel and other works from 7.15pm on Saturday, March 19.

The evening will be rounded off with spectacular entertainment from Australia’s “Queen of Soul’’ Lisa Hunt and her band in the revamped showroom. Tickets: $20.

Hunt, whose soulful style began in an African American gospel church, has had songs on numerous compilations around the globe as singer and songwriter and has sold more than a million records.


Singer Lisa Hunt. Photo: submitted

Singer Lisa Hunt. Photo: submitted

The Can You Feel It songstress debuted with her album A Little Piece of Magic and was on the international chart topper CD Soulsation by Lovestation.

Hunt’s American soundtrack compositions include Subway Stories and Goodnight Moon with Lauryn Hill, Natalie Cole, Pattie Labelle, Billy Crystal and Susan Sarandon, while her studio credits include sessions with famed producers Jellybean Benitez (Madonna), Toni C (Whitney Houston), Frank Farion (LaBouche, Milli Vanilli) and The Berman Brothers (Amber, Ultra Nate).

Her voice can be heard on several top 10 dance tracks all over the world including as “the voice’’ of Lovestation (UK), Club X (Germany) and D1 (USA). In Italy she has been the featured vocalist on tour and recordings of Zucchero Sugar Fornaciari for many years and has worked with a range of artist from Opera tenor Pavarotti to Ray Charles and has shared the stage with musical greats such as Eric Clapton, James Brown, Dionne Warwick, Brian May, Randy Crawford, Joe Cocker, Miles Davis and Andrea Bocelli.

In Australia Hunt has toured and recorded with Jimmy Barnes, Diesel, Radio Freedom, Midnight Oil and Johnny (B Good) Johnson as well as Ronan Keating, Macy Gray, Mouse T, Delores O’Riordan of The Cranberries, Tina Arena and Cheb Mumi.

Hunt has also appeared as an actress in Off-Broadway musicals, produced and starred in her own “bluesical’’ production The Roots Of My Soul and, for the past few years, toured the rhythm and blues retrospective Forever Soul in Australia and the Middle East and released more original music including the single Music Makes Me Free.

Workies Showroom 10The entertainment continues at Lithgow Workies Club with Jalapeno Deluxe playing the showroom on March 4 and the Lady Gaga & Katy Perry show coming up on April 15.

Mr Wheeler said the showroom entertainment line-up would be varied, with comedians to appear on the program in the future.

“We want people to come out of the city and other regions and enjoy our hospitality and see that there is so much to see and do in the area.

“Members and guests can now dine at our Esk Restaurant while watching the sunset over the mountains and Tuscan garden, watch a show, have a nightcap in the bar and then retire to their motel room just one minute’s walk down the corridor.’’

Lithgow Workies Club, Tank St, Lithgow, has regular entertainment in the showroom. Go to or phone (02) 6350 7777 for details, tickets and to book into the new motel.

  • Lithgow & District Workmen’s Club is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media and Headline PublicityWorkies Showroom 02

Lithgow, NSW: State’s oldest club sports newest facelift

Lithgow Workies Club general manager Geoff Wheeler

Lithgow Workies Club general manager Geoff Wheeler

By Ellen Hill for Lithgow Workies Club                    Photos: David Hill

The oldest registered club in NSW will unveil the newest facelift among its state peers when Lithgow Workmen’s Club Motel is officially opened on Saturday, March 19.

Renowned media and sporting identity Mike Whitney will be guest of honour at the event.

11Providing excellence in service, entertainment and leisure for almost 130 years, the Lithgow & District Workmen’s Club (known fondly by locals as “The Workies’’) is the oldest registered club in NSW.

Founded in 1887, the Workies has grown to more than 10,500 members with its backbone entrenched in the strong community ties of Australia’s first industrial hub – Lithgow, just west of the Blue Mountains at the gateway to the NSW Central West.

3Despite being the original stalwart of the state, the Workies boasts the newest club refurbishment in NSW.

A $6.5 million injection has resulted in major upgrades to the club including a new 36-room 4-star (self-assessed) motel with two disability access rooms, a refurbished showroom, conference centre, new restaurant, an art gallery and more.

Motel guests can access myriad first-class club facilities such as a kids’ centre, eateries and conference facilities via the Long Wall Gallery featuring local artworks just one minute from their rooms.

Club general manager Geoff Wheeler said the club’s top notch facilities catered for visitors from “across the world, across the state and across the road’’.


35Already an established leader in quality entertainment, dining, functions, weddings and conference facilities in the Lithgow region, Mr Wheeler was confident the improvements would further elevate the reputation of Lithgow Workie’s Club.

“We’re more than just a club.

“The new motel, facilities and Esk Restaurant means motel guests, conference groups from around the country can focus on business and bridal parties on the joy of their wedding while we look after everything else during their stay with us.

9“Lithgow has a rich history, is surrounded by beautiful country and has a friendly and growing community.

“The Workies is proud to have played a major part in the life of Lithgow for almost 130 years and is looking forward to being at the coalface as the area strengthens and grows as a tourist destination.’’


The motel will open for general bookings on Monday, February 29.

The official opening of the new motel and associated works will kick off with the official opening with Mike Whitney in the new showroom from 7.15pm.

The evening will be rounded off with spectacular entertainment from Australia’s “Queen of Soul’’ Lisa Hunt and her band in the revamped showroom. Tickets: $20.

Lithgow Workies Club Motel, Tank St, Lithgow, is now open for bookings. Go to or phone (02) 6350 7777 to book and for more details.

* Lithgow & District Workmen’s Club is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media and Headline Publicity15

Blue Mountains: Hydro Majestic turns old Shanghai

Moon Festival 11

By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group                    Photos: David Hill

Celebrate the rich prospects of 2016 on the eve of the Chinese lunar New Year when the most fabulously famous hotel in Australia celebrates its Asian heritage with a special Shanghai Nights event on Saturday, February 6.

The event will be part of Roaring 20s Festival events to be held at the Hydro Majestic Hotel, to celebrate the 1920s era when Australia’s first tourist destination kicked up its heels for a decade-long party.

Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said: “The Hydro Majestic has been blessed with a long connection with Asia.

Many Chinese workers such as Louie Goh Mong, nicknamed `Charlie’, worked at the Hydro Majestic Hotel during the Mark Foy era.

Many Chinese workers such as Louie Goh Mong, nicknamed `Charlie’, worked at the Hydro Majestic Hotel during the Mark Foy era.

“Around the turn of the 20th century, the hotel became the good fortune of Chinese workers disillusioned with the Bathurst goldfields and stranded in the Blue Mountains with no money to return to Sydney.

“Mark Foy, the great Sydney retailer who built the Hydro Majestic Hotel, was fascinated with all things Asian and happily employed many Chinese workers such as Louie Goh Mong, nicknamed `Charlie’, who worked as a cook at Foy’s Sydney home and managing the mayhem at the Hydro Majestic for thirty-five years.’’

The Shanghai Nights event will wrap up Roaring 20s Festival events at the Hydro Majestic, which will kick off with a Gangster Casino Night on Friday, February 5, and also include on Saturday, February 6, the Hydro Charleston Challenge world record attempt for the largest number of costumed people to dance the Charleston and the Majestic Long Lunch featuring local and regional food and wine.


Shanghai Nights will include an evening of exotic cocktails and canapes, lights, lanterns and jazz music to celebrate on the eve of the Chinese lunar New Year.

“This will be a very beautiful event which reminds people of the romance of the 1920s and the elegance of the Hydro Majestic rather than just the flappers and gangsters,’’ Mr Bruegger said.

“We will recreate the softness of the lighting, the reds and greens and golden colours, the feathers and fabrics, the sophisticated lines of the architecture. Guests will feel like they have slipped into a fantastic dream.’’

Guests are encouraged to dress in 1920s-style Asian fashion to help create an authentic atmosphere of old Shanghai.

For women, that could include kimono-style coats and robes or cheongsams and richly embroidered fabrics accessorised with carved bone, ivory and mother-of-pearl jewellery and high heeled shoes.

Men could wear a western-style three-piece business suit which became popular in China during the 1920s or the tradition Chang Pao and Ma Gua long shirts over traditional drawstring “lantern pants’’ and finished with a top hat.

The Roaring 20s Festival celebrates the sumptuous architecture, saucy clothing, outrageous dancing and jazz music of the hedonistic heyday of Australia’s first tourist destination, the Blue Mountains. The festival will continue throughout February at other venues around the area.

Go to to book for Shanghai Nights ($150 per person), the Gangster Casino Night, the Majestic Long Lunch, to register for the Hydro Charleston Challenge and for more event, accommodation and dining option information and bookings.

* Escarpment Group is a commercial client of Deep Hill Media and Headline Publicity

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Blue Mountains, NSW: Majestic Long Lunch a tasty festival event

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By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group                  Photos: David Hill

Retro foodies can indulge in some of the most delectable regional fare in true Roaring 20s style when the Hydro Majestic Hotel hosts the Majestic Long Lunch on Saturday, February 6.

Dressed in their most elegant 1920s-style finery, guests can indulge in a generous picnic hamper packed with scrumptious locally-made and sourced fare.

The Majestic Long Lunch will be one of four Roaring 20s-themed events to be held at the original Blue Mountains party palace, including a Gangster Casino Night on Friday, February 5, and the Hydro Charleston Challenge and Shanghai Nights on the Saturday.

The festival will celebrate the sumptuous architecture, saucy clothing, outrageous dancing and jazz music of the hedonistic heyday of Australia’s first tourist destination, the Blue Mountains.

Majestic Long Lunch in the Hydro Ballroom.

Majestic Long Lunch in the Hydro Ballroom.


Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said: “The food and wine of the Greater Blue Mountains region is absolutely on a par with anywhere in Australia.

“With some of the best chefs in the country, it’s no wonder – and we have more than thirty of them working with us across our four Escarpment Group properties including Mate Herceg who is creating the main course for the Majestic Long Lunch.

“Many of the chefs in this region bring to their menus influences from multicultural backgrounds and training but incorporate the local and regional produce found from a one hundred mile radius of the Blue Mountains. That all creates a flavour unique to the region.’’



Long LunchGoodies packed into the luxury picnic boxes at the Majestic Long Lunch will include antipasto by Princess Pantry; a main course of Holmbrae chicken marinated in Pig In The House cabernet sauvignon certified organic wine from Orange for 24 hours, house-cured speck, local braised champion mushrooms served with Bakehouse on Wentworth four-hour garlic croutons, crusty French baguette and fresh tossed salads created by Hydro Majestic Hotel head chef Mate Herceg; mouth-watering regional cheeses from The Carrington Cellars & Deli; and a wickedly indulgent dessert by Josophan’s Fine Chocolates.

Each course will be matched with locally produced wines available for purchase from The Majestic Marquee Bar.

John Calton and Lyndey Milan hamming it up at the Majestic Long Lunch in the Hydro Majestic Ballroom.

John Calton and Lyndey Milan hamming it up at the Majestic Long Lunch in the Hydro Majestic Ballroom.


Add the most famous hotel in Australia and the magnificent Megalong Valley as a backdrop, a line-up of special guests and leading food identities Lyndey Milan OAM and Joanna Savill, live jazz music, dancing and a fashion parade, and Majestic Long Lunch diners are set for the most deliciously saucy event of the season.

The Roaring 20s Festival will continue throughout February at other venues around the Blue Mountains.

Go to to book the Majestic Long Lunch ($95 per person), other Hydro Majestic Hotel events and to register for the Hydro Charleston Challenge.

Main course served at the 2015 Majestic Long Lunch in the Hydro Ballroom.

Main course served at the 2015 Majestic Long Lunch in the Hydro Ballroom.


Blue Mountains: Holiday at home this summer

Holiday at home in the Greater Blue Mountains this summer

Holiday at home in the Greater Blue Mountains this summer

By Ellen Hill                Photos: David Hill

From magical adventures among history and making your own fire poker to thrilling mysteries and gourmet delights, frazzled parents and bored kids can holiday at home in the Blue Mountains these holidays.

Take your pick from this list of local activities:

TalismanTalisman Gallery, Hartley Historic Site, Hartley: make your very own fire poker in an authentic blacksmith’s forge under the tutelage of expert metal artists Ron Fitzpatrick and Steve Cunningham. Sessions will be held from 10am to 12pm and 1pm to 3pm from December 26 to 29. Cost: $15 includes materials and tuition. Participants must wear closed in shoes. Bookings essential: Ron 0407 723 722.


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Hartley Historic Site, Old Bathurst Rd (just off Great Western Hwy), Hartley: Soak up the atmosphere of one of the best examples of colonial Australia when you picnic among the 17 historic buildings, wander the Kew-Y-Ahn sculpture walk and visit the Kew-Y-Ahn Art Gallery, the only dedicated Aboriginal art gallery in the NSW Central West. Cost: Free. Details: (02) 6355 2117 or


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Everglades Historic House & Gardens, 37 Everglades Ave, Leura: Children can learn about heritage conservation and the natural environment at one of the most enchanting historic properties in the region through the My Adventure at Everglades program. Activities include matching, drawing, colouring, identifying component parts, labelling and drawing from their surrounds along with counting, exploring and contemplating. Entry: $13 adults, $8 concessions, $4 children, National Trust members free. The children’s activity books cost $10 and $5 per subsequent book. Bookings and information: (02) 4784 1938 or email



Mystery Tours 01Blue Mountains Mystery Tours: Shiver in ghoulish delight at deliciously dark tales of the rich and sometimes bloody history behind the ruggedly beautiful landscape of the Greater Blue Mountains as you explore haunted buildings, abandoned cemeteries and other bereft locations. The experience can be tailored to suit children during the day or, for the more daring adults, conducted at night for spine-tingling effect. Cost: from $75 to $200 per person, includes all fees and charges. Bookings and details: phone 0418 416 403 or (02) 4751 2622, email, website or Facebook.


ChocolateBlue Mountains Chocolate Company, 176 Lurline St, Katoomba: Treat yourself to the ultimate sweet indulgence with a visit to this scrumptious venue. Just minutes’ walk from the world-famous Echo Point Lookout and Three Sisters rock formations, the shelves are dripping with an extensive range of luscious hand-made goodies. Sip a hot chocolate drink melted over a romantic candle and nibble on a luxuriant cake while watching the in-house chocolatier create mouth-watering decadence.



Locals and visitors to the area can also take advantage of longer days to explore their own backyard by taking to one of more than 400 bushwalking tracks through the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area; hunt for tadpoles or dip their toes in fresh alpine waters at one of the many watering holes, waterfalls and lakes.

Those looking for a more urbane pastime can trawl the eclectic shopping strips for unique post-Christmas bargains and indulge in leisurely dining at one of the numerous cafes and restaurants, each with their own special flavour.



Leura Garage Summer Menu 09Check out the spectacular painted panorama of famous Australian destinations at Aitken’s Panorama in the Round at Glenbrook; try a takeaway food box filled with wholesome rustic mountain food from Vesta Blackheath (open Christmas Day); the new summer menu of regional delights at Leura Garage; dine where local identities gather at the legendary Victory Café at Blackheath and enjoy breakfast at any time of the day; and be sure to recharge the senses with a visit to Dry Ridge Estate Wines in the magnificent Megalong Valley to stock up on local wines and take in a gulp of pristine air and the soothing sight of rural countryside.

* All businesses mentioned are commercial clients of Deep Hill Media and Headline Publicity

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Try a takeaway box filled with delicious rustic mountain food from Vesta Blackheath


Blue Mountains: Naughty dance-off set to raise world record

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By Ellen Hill for Escarpment Group                 Photos: David Hill

A little bit naughty, a little bit scandalous, a little bit sexy but ooh so majestically classy: the Hydro Charleston Challenge will high kick the original Blue Mountains party palace back to its famous roots on Saturday, February 6.

The annual Guinness World Record attempt for the largest number of costumed people dancing the Charleston will be held on the lawn in front of the Belgravia accommodation wing at 11am.

Hydro Charleston Challenge co-ordinator Angela Corkeron said: “There’s plenty of room. If the lawn fills up or you prefer to dance on a hard surface, step into the historic tennis courts overlooking the exquisite Megalong Valley.

Hydro Charleston Challenge co-ordinator Angela Corkeron leads the successful 2015 attempt

Hydro Charleston Challenge co-ordinator Angela Corkeron leads the successful 2015 attempt

“It’s crucial that we have at least 520 dancers to reclaim our title (let’s aim for 600 to really smash the record), so we’ll even spill into the carpark if we have to.’’

After holding the title for two years in a row, the Blue Mountains relinquished the mantle in August after a successful challenge by the Town of Bexhill in the UK with 503 people.

“It’s lovely to share it around and give someone else a turn but really, recognition for the biggest naughty knees-up belongs to the Hydro Majestic. We want it back and we’re going to take it back in true art deco style.’’

Anyone can take part in the Hydro Charleston Challenge. All participants need do is wear a costume and be able to follow the dance for five minutes.

“Assembling a costume could be as simple as wearing a boa, a drop-waist dress and some Mary-Jane shoes (the ones with the straps, buttons or ribbons across the top) for the ladies and a loose suit and a Fedora for the fellas.’’

Gold coin donations will be collected for the Rural Fire Service Blue Mountains district on entry.

Escarpment Group general manager Ralf Bruegger said: “Events such as the Hydro Charleston Challenge is what this fabulous hotel was built for – the chance to let your hair down and show off.

“Original owner Mark Foy was famous for his outrageous parties. We are proud to announce now that the most famous hotel in Australia is well and truly back on the party scene with the flare and style of its first heyday – all with the trademark Hydro Majestic elegance of course.’’

The 2016 Hydro Charleston Challenge will be held at 11am on Saturday, February 6, followed by the Majestic Long Lunch from 1pm to 5pm featuring food and wine and special guest Lyndey Milan OAM.

12304298_10153738764324029_660090830147222258_oGuests in 1920s finery will graze informally from picnic hamper boxes packed with regional delicacies, promenade on the lawns and dance the afternoon away to the strains of a 1920s-style band.

The Roaring 20s-themed weekend will begin on Friday, February 5, with the Gangster Casino Night to celebrate the era of breaking with tradition, crooks and prosperity – and this time there’s no prohibition. Net proceeds from the adults-only event will go to CareFlight aeromedical charity.

The weekend will close with the uber sophisticated Shanghai Nights of cocktails and canapes, lights, lanterns and jazz music to celebrate on the eve of the Chinese lunar New Year.

The Roaring 20s Festival will continue throughout February at other venues around the Blue Mountains.

The Hydro Charleston Challenge and other Roaring 20s events at the Hydro Majestic Hotel pay homage to the decade when the region cut loose in an endless round of hedonism – sumptuous architecture, costume balls and high teas, saucy clothing, outrageous (for the time) dancing and jazz music.

Go to for more event, accommodation and dining option information and bookings and to register for the Hydro Charleston Challenge.


Blue Mountains: Historic oven chef’s secret ingredient

Vesta chef Misha Laurent checks a loaf he has baked in the antique woodfired oven

Vesta chef Misha Laurent checks a loaf he has baked in the antique woodfired oven


By Ellen Hill for Vesta Blackheath                           Photos: David Hill

She’s warm and gentle with a loving embrace: the honorary maître’d of Vesta Blackheath has been at the heart of the popular eatery for more than a century.

Executive chef of the upper Blue Mountains restaurant, Misha Laurent, said the 120-year-old Scotch oven influenced the menu and set the tone for the atmosphere and décor.

Vesta Oven 06“This oven is gentle, loving, warm, a matriarchic, an oversized mama. But she’s not temperamental at all. We just put the fire on and she warms up and ten hours later the food is cooked. Literally, the lamb shoulder is always perfect.’’

Guests’ first experience of Vesta is crusty bread made daily in the oven and served complimentary with homemade labne and local olive oil.

In fact, most dishes on the menu are cooked in the oven.

“It would be ridiculous not to because it’s there,’’ Misha says.

Vesta’s use of the enormous oven harks back centuries when wood-fire ovens were present throughout Europe in Italy, Tuscany, Spain and even Turkey and North Africa.

“They would kill the goat and put it in the red wine from their own vines and then add vegetables from the garden and shove it into the oven and come back ten hours later after a hard working day and serve it up to the family.’’

Misha uses the same techniques with local and regional produce at Vesta.

“You’ve got this amazing cut of meat from Rydal and it’s soaked in wine and vegetables for 24 hours, then it’s put into pots and covered with that liquid and vegetables and herbs and put in the oven for 12 hours and pulled back out.

Vesta Oven 03“Then you’ve got all this fresh organic local vegetables with it that has been roasted or blanched and this amazing sauce that you’ve got from cooking this lamb for 12 hours.’’

The Vesta oven is part of one of the first buildings in Blackheath, the bakery.

“They would make their bread and distribute it around town door-to-door and people would bring dishes into the bakery and cook them in there in return. It was a sort of barter system.’’

When the bakery closed the oven was ignored for many years. The building was used as a retail shop before it became Vulcan’s Restaurant in the 1980s.

Current owner David Harris was adamant that the oven would become a crucial feature of Vesta Blackheath when he opened the restaurant in 2011.

Built of double brick with a wall of sand between its layers to retain the heat, the oven can hold 180 loaves of bread.

Vesta Oven 07The fire is lit on Wednesday morning when it heats to about 180 degrees Celsius ready for service. It is kept going until Sunday.

Food served from the oven’s belly is infused with the smoky flavours of a century’s subtle perfumed woods and ancient coal.

By embracing the historic oven and allowing her to dictate the food style and influence the menu, Vesta (meaning “goddess of the hearth’’) has become a second home for many locals and substitute Grandma’s kitchen for those searching for the warmth and comfort of rowdy family oven dinners of hearty food in intimate spaces rather than frigid venues offering plates of absence and pretention.

“Who wouldn’t want a slow cooked local lamb shoulder with vegetables grown in Hartley and great wines and good service?’’ Misha says.

This kind of thing is actually missing in Australia, whereas in Italy they have Agriturismo which promotes local food experiences at farms. It’s phenomenal food and it’s everywhere.I want to try to recreate that in regional Australia: an extension of home combined with a special occasion of going out while not being posh and uptight.’’

The oven at Vesta allows Misha and his team to “cook from the heart’’ rather than rely on modern gadgets and technology.

Vesta Oven 05“Unfortunately these days chefs rely on electronic devices monitoring humidity, temperature, time of cooking etc and it removes the feeling part of cooking – looking, smelling, tasting, touching.’’

Diners are also steering away from the complicated eating of the past 20 years and craving a return to the simple, wholesome cuisine of the past, Misha says.

“The trend is to go back to the early days of cooking, all the old recipes are coming back.


“I like to bring in a modern touch, not so much in the decoration but old style cooking was quite heavy so I modernise it by keeping it light.’’

Food has always been at the heart of French-born Misha’s life. His father Toma who is now a Blue Mountains food supplier, is an avid cook and owned restaurants and espresso bars in Germany.

While food on his mother’s side of the family “wasn’t very relevant’’, Toma was on a perpetual food safari.

“My dad used to grab us on the Friday after school when I was a child, drive from Munich to Modena four hours away, to his favourite restaurant. We’d have dinner, amazing stuff, and then drive back.’’

Outings and holidays centred on eating – golf and food.

Vesta Oven 08“We’d go skiing in Austria, we’d go to Faro in Portugal, we’d go to Italy, Switzerland. It had to have good food.’’

Friday evenings were spent at the table of Misha’s Jewish step-grandmother Rachel.

“She’d prepare homemade breads and duck and chicken and fish and there would be porcelain and crystal glass on the table. She spent two days in the kitchen preparing for what we call shabbat.’’

Misha began his career with an apprenticeship at the Sheraton Hotel in Munich followed by positions with the Eastern Oriental Express luxury train through South East Asia and The Road to Mandalay river cruise in Burma.

He then solidified his techniques in his father’s upmarket Italian restaurant, Il Borgo, in Toronto, before being the opening chef at Leura Garage in the Blue Mountains where he created the menus, its concept of shared food and designed the kitchen.

Misha took over the Vesta kitchen in 2014.

Vesta, 33 Govetts Leap Rd, Blackheath, is open for dinner from Wednesday to Sunday. Details and bookings: (02) 4787 6899 or

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