The next time you’re on your way up the coast for a holiday, take a detour off the exit at Taree. Drive over the rich brown waters of the Manning River and head west towards Wingham. Here, you will find a lovely little spot where local and regional produce is celebrated, both on the plate and on the shelves. Bent On Food is a best-kept secret among Manning Valley locals.
The cafe serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week in a grand old shop front that sits next to the Wingham branch of the CWA, whose timeless style bleeds over into the contemporary country town vibe of the cafe.
There’s a spacious garden out back where the kids can run riot while you sit in the sun and shade, between green grass and blooming flowers, and an eclectic mix of tables and chairs. Inside, a narrow room is painted red, where timber church pews and tables stretch out across a chequerboard floor that gives the space a real diner feel.
Next door, the main dining room is spacious and colourful. Chrome fans gently spin beneath a high white ceiling that’s superficially held up by Roman style columns that tower above a room full of pastel coloured timber tables and brightly coloured cushioned chairs. Shelves stocked with all manner of local and home-made products run the length of one wall; from jams, relishes and sauces, to cereals, oils, and honey. There’s more space at the window, on red stools, which face out into the street where more colourful tables appear outside on the sidewalk. You certainly won’t be stuck for a place to sit and relax.
Within moments of being seated we’re served a cold bottle of water and two glasses, and given the menu. Without trying to sound like a spoilt inner-city jerk, for a cafe that’s a little out of the way, the menu reads wonderfully well.
Then again, many of the best things in life are found somewhere off the beaten track. There’s haloumi and pear salad with (or without) crispy bacon, Spanish onion, rocket and maple pecans, and Cuban brioche sliders filled with locally sourced smoky pulled pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and slaw. Vegetarians and vegans are well served with a number of options, including pumpkin, linseed and sage fritters, and smoked salmon bagel with avocado, herbed cream cheese, chives and roquette.
While the toasted spinach tortilla wrap with chicken, peaks my dining associate’s interest, I try to decide between homemade pizza of the day or the “legendary” steak sandwich; Manning Valley scotch fillet, house-made onion jam, aioli, lettuce and tomato slots between two slices of toasted Turkish bread, and a side of beer battered chips. It’s hard to pass up legendary status, especially when it’s self-proclaimed, so I opt for this while my dining associate orders the toasted tortilla wrap.
As the cafe begins to pack out for lunch, the staff handle it with calm and friendly aplomb. The drinks menu has many of the usual suspects, including fizzy drinks and juices, flavoured milkshakes, plus, Bent on Food is licensed and stocks a nice range of wine and beer, including a few local drops.
With a long drive still ahead, we err on the side of temperance and stick with cold water and a chocolate milkshake. Served in a frosty cold silver tin with a red and white striped paper straw, the liquid inside bubbles and froths the colour of pale, milky chocolate. It’s creamy and chocolaty and hits the spot, right before our meals arrive.
Feta, semi-dried tomato, roast pumpkin, house-made basil pesto, and chicken breast gently wrapped and pressed between folds of green-tinged spinach tortilla, cut in half and served one on top of the other with a small side salad of fresh garden greens. The wrap is soft, but crispy and yields a lot of savoury Mediterranean flavours that dance and sing in delicious balance and harmony.
On the opposite side of the table sits my steak sandwich, bursting with all the trimmings. Now, Danny Buderus, he’s a local and a legend, could I envisage him eating this “legendary” steak sandwich? Yes. Big time. Long shards of crispy golden fries, dusted lightly with salt, rest easy next to two slices of Turkish bread, which gape open to reveal a whole roasted tomato waiting to burst all over a thin, juicy, slice of the Manning’s finest protein, accompanied by sweet onion jam, tangy aioli and fresh lettuce.
Both meals are delicious, full of flavour, and worth the 20-minute detour off the beaten track from the Pacific Highway.
At Bent on Food you will find better food, colder drinks and warmer service than at your regular holiday pit stop. Next time you’re headed north, head west as well.
- What: Bent on Food
- Where: 95 Isabella Street, Wingham. Tel: 6557 0727. bentonfood.com.au
- Chef: Matt Marshal
- Drinks: Frothy milkshakes, great tea and coffee, good wine and beer list
- Hours: Breakfast and lunch 7 days. Check website for dinner details.
- Vegetarian: Yes
- Bottom Line: $50 for two incl. drinks
- Wheelchair Access: Yes
- Do Try: 'Legendary' Steak Sandwich