With its elegant décor and theming, Tweed River House takes us back to a bygone era when expatriate life was at its peak. Reflecting the colonial bastions of Raffles Hotel in Singapore or the East India Trading Company, when we cross the threshold of Tweed River House the scene is set for long lingering lunches and evenings heralded in with twilight gin slings and martinis.
In fact, the magnificent ‘Camelot’ has other tales to tell, a century old story of love under the Southern Cross, looking over the Tweed River to Mt Warning. For many years, the mansion was a place of community celebration as Greenhills Reception. It was here that teens came of age, birthdays were celebrated and lovers took both their vows and final goodbyes, its many untold stories winning it a place in locals’ hearts.
Having moved to the Northern Rivers in 2017, owners Gregory Lording and Phillip Hepburn looked past the languishing disrepair of the building, clearly seeing a possible future for their well-positioned ‘Tweed River House’. Newly retired from an international career spanning across the fields of travel, entertainment and logistics, Gregory took on the task of restoring the Tweed River House to its former glory, Phillip continuing his own stellar career in accounting and finance. For the partners, the emerging bistro and bar became a mission of love.
Preserving its original character and charm, there’s a layering of historical tradition and exploration that adds beauty and charm to the grand interior. From the emerald-green lushness of the private dining room with its glittering chandelier, pressed metal ceiling and well-chosen prints we move onto the verandah, travelling through history to the timelessness of landscape. Before us is the Tweed River, as constantly in motion as time itself. Beyond the foreground of cane fields, the majestic Wollumbin and Border Ranges unfold across the horizon, Mt Warning their crowning glory.
In a similar fashion, time and place are also delicately bound in our Tweed River House dining experience, the gentility of grander times intertwined with modern, culturally inclusive menus and welcoming, exemplary service.
“Old world hospitality is our keynote,” Gregory says. “We want guests to feel immersed in the relaxed style of bygone eras – think Singapore’s Raffles and Penang’s E&O dining rooms and cocktails on the terraces of grand old homes in Australia’s tropical north. “Our welcoming team will ensure you are enveloped into a time bubble – with the addition of modern, efficient service.”
With the kitchen in the capable hands of Irish-born Executive Chef Joseph McGrattan, the owners have tapped into a uniquely diverse experience base. Having gained a classical European training, McGrattan has worked with several Michelin star chefs, travelled extensively to more than fifty countries, and honed his use of indigenous food as Head Chef at Raugi’s Restaurant at the remote Kooljaman Resort on the Dampier Peninsula. McGratten is equally as ‘au fait’ with life as Executive Chef in a 5-star resort kitchen as he is cooking solo from a kitchen garden. His love of fresh locally-grown produce, combined with his immense gastronomic talents brings us an exceptional dining experience.
The opening page of the menu gives us both an invitation and an introduction to the Tweed River House philosophy:
“Celebrate the best of the Tweed Shire’s growers, farmers, fishermen and providores on a seasonal journey as we recreate the great nouvelle cuisine classics of the provinces of France.
Every plate is an experience showcasing different preparations of a star ingredient, infused with touches of native Australian flora and the outstanding produce the Tweed caldera has to offer.”
Provenance is a key principle, with local providores listed on the menu’s introduction. Producers are also cited for each dish on the menu, shining a spotlight on vibrant, seasonal flavours of locally grown, organic and indigenous ingredients from the Northern Rivers’ rich bounty.
Contrary to trending menus, Tweed River House follows a European tradition of diners ordering their own dishes from a two or three prix fixe menu, a five-course tasting menu and the nine-course degustation served in the private dining room also on offer. Pair dishes to a selection of international wines, choose your own by the glass or bottle, or choose a craft beer or cocktail from the selection on offer to accompany your meal.
We enjoy lunch on the shaded verandah overlooking the view. Accompanied by saltbush focaccia and soda bread, we choose entrées of Australian scallops with Salumi nduja butter, lemon and parsley crumb and ink aioli, and Jake Hill confit rabbit and Salumi chorizo terrine. Both are beautifully presented, but not at the cost of flavour.
For main course, the hero ingredient on my plate is Drake Creek duck à l’orange presented in three ways, the breast cooked pink, the leg confit, with a foil of crispy crackling. With accompanying pickled cabbage and potatoes cooked in goose fat, McGrattan once more adds the bush food flavours of bunya nut and riberry translated through modern culinary techniques as gels, purées and sauces.
My dining partner’s chargrilled snapper with flying fish roe comes in a modern niçoise style, fresh and vibrant with Tweed olives, green beans, white anchovies, caperberries and confit potato.
We complete the meal with the highly recommended ‘Buck’s Farm’ Davidson plum brulée and coffee before heading off in our separate directions.
A mere 30 minute drive from Coolangatta, or 45 minutes from Byron Bay, it’s worth the short scenic drive to dine at Tweed River House.
The iconic Michelin restaurant rating system was created by the tyre manufacturer to encourage drivers to travel further afield than usual, thereby boosting their tyre sales. While Michelin star ratings don’t exist in Australia, the criteria could easily be fulfilled by Tweed River House: an establishment we would rate as ‘excellent cuisine, well worth the journey’.
Hop in the car, the guide encourages. Take a foodie road trip. You will not only enjoy breathtaking scenery, but there will also be a highly memorable dining experience waiting at the end of the journey.
Tweed River House, 131 River Street, South Murwillumbah NSW 2484 Ph: 02 6672 5269
Open: Thurs to Sun 12pm – 3.00pm, Fri – Sat 5.30pm – 8.00pm
NOTE: Good Food Gold Coast dined as a guest of Tweed River House.