The owners of Newtown's Bloodwood, Claire van Vuuren and Mitch Grady, are set to open a new restaurant, Popla Bellingen, in the heritage-listed weatherboard cottage that once housed landmark regional diner No 2 Oak Street.
"We got sick of the city, and this place charmed us," says van Vuuren of the small town on the mid-north coast of NSW. She is commuting back and forth in the lead-up to the launch, while Grady has relocated.
Smoke and char courtesy of the restaurant's hearth grill will greatly influence the menu - baked oysters will be served with smoked sake, for instance, whole chickens will be wood-fired and goat's cheese Yorkshire pudding will be smoked and served with snow peas. "We've also brought back the original fireplace - which had a microwave sitting in it for 20 years - so we can cook over coals and open flame," says van Vuuren. "The space has all the things we could never have in the city."
Bread and bready things look poised to be highlights, from a chia cracker with red rice miso butter to pretzel bread, a charcoal breadstick number alongside charcuterie, and a yeasted doughnut with mead and kefir to finish. The pair will mill their own flour, ferment everything from kombucha to sauerkraut, and cure their own charcuterie. A small vegetable patch out the back will be supplemented by produce sourced as locally as possible.
Booze-free drinks have been given as much attention as the booze-laden, with the likes of Davidson plum kombucha, a whey-based ginger beer "with an incredible mouthfeel", and house-made sodas and tonics featuring alongside an all-Australian wine list and beers.
While the bones and façade of the site won't change, the pair have enlisted Matt Woods, Bloodwood's original designer, to update the fit-out with a combination of reclaimed and up-cycled furniture, while street artist Georgia Hill has finished the interior walls and ceiling with geometric wallpaper in black and white.
Bellingen's closest neighbour is Coffs Harbour, a 30-minute drive away, but van Vuuren and Grady feel the town isn't a million miles from the kind of vibe characteristic of their Newtown digs. "It's a small community that's all about the locals with a real care for the arts and the environment," says van Vuuren. "It's also one of the best regional towns in the country for great coffee. It's the perfect place to stop."
Popla Bellingen opens on 7 June; 2 Oak St, Bellingen, NSW, (02) 9557 7699, poplabellingen.com. Open Wed-Fri 5pm-late, Sat noon-late, Sun noon-4pm.