In a devastating week of cancellations in the Illawarra tourism and hospitality sector, multi-hatted chef Simon Evans and the team at Bangalay Dining and Bangalay Luxury Villas at Shoalhaven Heads received a major boost on Monday with a Good Food review ranking the restaurant at hat level.
Mr Evans has previously been involved in eight Good Food Guide of the 15 hat wins at Caveau Restaurant in Wollongong and said the latest recognition was a huge honour.
The high rating was done by Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide reviewer Terry Durack who arrived unannounced as a mystery diner.
Owner Michelle Bishop said the news broke following an 80 per cent cancellation in bookings on Friday and Saturday when the snap lockdown for Greater Sydney was announced.
Restaurant manager Ronnie Gorman said the recognition was great not only for the business but the whole tourism and hospitality industry in the region.
When Mr Gorman, formerly of Saint Peter, Paddington, and Mr Evans arrived at Bangalay in late 2020 to head the new dining team at the prestigious Shoalhaven Heads eatery, winning a hat was not on their mind.
They just wanted to provide the best food and services they could.
"In the back of our minds we always thought winning a Goof Food Guide hat would be a nice thing," Mr Evans said.
"But we were not going for that.
"Our standards are just high and every day we make it a little bit harder for ourselves by raising the bar that little bit more. If I put my name to something I want it to be a certain standard."
Buoyed by the latest recognition Mr Evans is now eager to make it into this year's Good Food Guide.
"This is a very good mark of where we are at," he said.
"It was a very good review which puts us on a one hat level score."
Mr Gorman said it was great to get the recognition from Mr Durack.
"Our main aim was to improve the business and just do really good food, with a native ingredient twist on it, and really good service in a casual environment," he said.
"To get this pat on the back from Terry is outstanding.
"We do seven day trade. We do breakfast, we do lunch and we do dinner. So this is nice acknowledgement that we are doing all right.
"We work so hard and it is great to get such recognition.
"What our team understands now is because we have got this score we could possibly have two or three other reviewers come through the door and we want to make sure the standard is kept.
"It is a nice pat on the back for us and it is also good for all the other restaurants down here."
The review mainly focused on dinner but took into account breakfast the following morning and the whole luxury accommodation experience as well.
Mrs Bishop said the latest lockdown followed a dip in business on the South Coast in March when the borders opened to New Zealand and half priced air fares were introduced.
"But in June we started to see an increase in bookings to the point where we were actually fully booked for these holidays," she said.
"Now we are sitting under 20 per cent for the next two weeks.
"That is devastating and the morale really did drop in the team last week. So having this review this week was really good and we had a lovely celebration lunch yesterday.
"There is a really great buzz here now. While we know it is going to be a tough few weeks. When restrictions ease again we will be busily welcoming everyone back again.
"In the meantime we are just going to try and keep doing business as usual."
Which makes it a great time for locals living in the Kiama, Shoalhaven and Southern Highlands community to come.
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