A slew of new cafes and restaurants popping up across the Illawarra shows the creativity of the region’s new wave. Take a look at some of the brightest – and what sets them apart.
SKETCH – COFFEE AND ART
Come for the double shot Vienna, stay for the coastal art. This sparkling Towradgi gem is part cafe, part gallery, with the vibrant work of artist Jaqueline Burgess gracing the walls. Burgess operates a gift shop inside, while her South African parents Hennie and Eve take care of the cafe. A family affair, underpinned by good, nourishing food like freshly made organic acai bowls, light fritter stacks, salad rolls and “Green Goddess” smoothies.
What’s to love: A Lady of the Sea mural (perfect backdrop for an Instagram selfie), six-dollar brekkie deals for on-the-go tradies and Mummy Monday meet-ups.
Point of difference: Customers are encouraged to get creative. Grab a pencil, paper and get sketching.
Corner of Towradgi Road and Carter Lane, Towradgi
One of a growing number of little venues opening out onto Kembla Street in Wollongong, this unassuming but stylishly decked out pizzeria also serves antipasto, a couple of salads and four variations of soft, light, hand-made gnocchi. The drinks list is a mostly Aussie and Italian wine, and an interesting crop of Italian beers.
What’s to love: Well there's the pizza. Of course. Six red (tomato base) and seven white (bianco) pizzas, all cooked in a woodfire oven. Biting through the margherita’s soft and chewy base, which gave way to a sweet, well-seasoned san marzano sauce and fior de latte cheese, we wondered if this could be Wollongong's best pizza.
Point of difference: Sure, it’s the dough. But in classic Italian style, there are only three desserts: a tiramisu, gelato and FRIED RICOTTA DOUGHNUTS. Get the doughnuts. Did I mention the doughnuts.
1/74 Kembla Street, Wollongong
PILGRIMS VEGETARIAN CAFE
Word spread last month that the legendary South Coast cafe with its mouth-watering vegie burgers was opening in Corrimal. Now Pilgrims don't have to travel to Milton, Huskisson or Cronulla for the famous Bliss burger, with its mixed-grain pattie, fried onion, avocado, cheese, tabouleh, sprouts, special sauce and peanut sauce on a toasted wholemeal roll. No need for meat when it’s this tasty. Open 9am to 3pm seven days a week.
What’s to love: See above. Bliss.
Point of difference: Once you've had your Bliss fix, try a curry lentil pattie – topped with fried onion, avocado, lettuce, beetroot, cucumber, sprouts, tahini dressing and sweet chilli sauce.
2/242 Princes Highway, Corrimal
Three restaurant stalwarts have come together to deliver unapologetic comfort food to the southern Illawarra. Lesley and Stefano of Graze Cellar & Deli and Frank from The Happy Barista created a canteen-style menu that offers cafe choices and coffee during the day, before switching over to Wagyu burgers, fried chicken, sticky BBQ packs, American-style sandwiches, loaded fries and ice-cream sundaes at night. The portions are big, the prices are low and you’ll be left licking your fingers afterwards.
What’s to love: The owners chose their location to service Lake Heights, Cringila, Warrawong and Berkeley, suburbs often overlooked for eateries of this kind. Now there's no longer a need for locals to drive into town for good food.
Point of difference: You can't go past the Crank Frankie burger with its Wagyu patty, American cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickles and “special sauce”.
20-22 Weringa Avenue, Lake Heights
MR AND MRS SMITH
A stone's throw from the Coledale coast, and yes, the cafe is actually run by married couple Chris and Bianca Smith. Be the envy of passing Sydney drivers as you sit and enjoy the sea breeze – and a vivid rock mural by Jaqueline Burgess – in a stylish but relaxed setting. The menu is a mix of classics (think Eggs Benny and a Big Brekky burger), but the Smiths have taken inspiration from travels to Japan and Indonesia, to feature weekly specials including the Nippon Nourish Bowl and Kimchi Nasi Goreng.
What’s to love: An all-day menu means you never miss out. The coffee's the best going round – and the golden latte (aka “a hug in a mug”) is a must on a cold day.
Point of difference: Try the Roasted Pumpkin Smash, with poached eggs, salsa verde and dukkah on a harvest grain sourdough.
748 Lawrence Hargrave Drive, Coledale
Good coffee. Fresh food. Angela and Lee are keeping it simple –and ever-changing – at their new Fairy Meadow cafe, with a seasonal menu of delicious burgers, interesting salads and to-die-for sweets. Early birds can get award-winning White Horse brew, cake and toasties from 5.30am, and after 6.30am winners like scrambled eggs with bacon on a fresh croissant.
What you'll love: Customers rave about the avo stack with mushrooms, bacon, poached egg, haloumi and chilli flakes on sourdough.
Point of difference: How about three - nutella croissants, salted caramel muffins and chocolate donuts. Drool.
Shop 4/19-21 Princes Highway, Fairy Meadow
TWO SISTERS GARAGE
Quite literally. What we have here is an old garage transformed into a chic cafe in Bulli by two sisters, Tammy Johnston and Kim Hinds. The siblings have stayed true to the original character of the industrial workshop, polishing the concrete floors, tidying up the exposed brick walls and re-purposing old objects to create a look that’s a little bit French, a little bit rustic country. Like the atmosphere of this lovingly restored cafe, the menu is charming and relaxed with a focus on fresh, tasty meals.
What’s to love: A colourful dish made up of smoked salmon and smashed egg with house-made pickled onions looks beautiful on the plate, while the weekly nourish bowl with fresh seasonal ingredients is another crowd-pleaser.
Point of difference: Al fresco dining in the beautiful garden courtyard and a real sense of community in the cafe.
233 Princes Highway, Bulli
Enjoy the specialty coffee (“whatever you drink, as you like it”) and the mouth-watering eats by Millers Local Bakehouse, a new venture by the folks behind Sandygoodwich. The cult sandwich makers shut up shop in February, before reopening a wholesale bakery in the back of the old Sandygoodwich site, and subletting the space out the front to Goodies Coffee House. The cafe operators stock Millers’ baked goods including bagels, cakes, biscuits and pastries.
What’s to love: From rum and orange glazed donuts to roast veggie baguettes with cashew butter, this place is all about the dough!
Point of difference: You can buy the trendy White House and Everyday coffee beans to take home.
2/363 Crown Street, Wollongong
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE ...
- Earth Walker & Co, Coledale
- Reub Goldberg, Tarrawanna
- The Timbermill Cafe, Bulli
- Eat At Sandy’s, Bulli
- The Health Hut, North Wollongong
- The Arthouse Cafe, Port Kembla
- Servo Food Truck Bar, Port Kembla
- Silca, Kiama
Read more: 32 hidden Wollongong spots the locals love