An Iconically Australian outpost in Mount White
Three years ago, if someone had told you that Mt. White would become a foodie destination, you may have scoffed. Little did you know that those at the helm of this surprise new location had already delivered you some of the most memorable dining experiences on the Central Coast over the past decade.
From meeting at Bell’s at Killcare, to ventures of Bombini in Avoca and Fish Dining at East Gosford, Hayley Hardcastle & Cameron Cansdell have created and delivered venues with distinct personalities and vision of which we cannot get enough.
The concept on Saddles is iconically Australian. The homestead building and wrap-around deck overlook a dam, all set amongst the gum trees & 25-acres encompassing an on-site nursery.
As you wander inside the vast dining room, it is accented with an open country style kitchen, a brass scalloped bar, literal saddles for stools, a pianola (self-playing piano) in the corner, an oversized sandstone fireplace with seating that makes you want to settle in for hours and then as you look up - a painting; and as I enquire about this artwork,
Cameron shares “the building is modeled off that painting.” Hayley continues the original concept was “that typical go out to the country, have a yarn, have a beer, have some food – modelled off that painting, this grand design was created off that.”
Where the idea for Saddles came from, Cameron explains, “our friend, John Singleton. He approached us for this opportunity. Asked, if we would be interested in coming up with a concept for a restaurant in Mt. White. It took around a year and half so we had time to do it, and we started thinking about what it should be. It was an on-going process; meeting with architects to help with the design of the building, more so the interior, the kitchen as well.” Hayley continues,
“The story evolved like anything in a restaurant evolves. We had a basis. It was in Mt. White; we knew 100% there would be Saddle chairs. The name was always going to be called Saddles - that’s where it started, and we grew the concept from there.”
The saddles at the bar were made by Master Saddler and Horse stuntman Heath Harris, who also lives in the area. Andrew Dickson Architects & the interiors by Michelle Leslie of MLD sowed the seeds for what Cameron and Hayley would grow from.
Head Chef Ricky Firth joined the team nearly 2 years ago; with a calibre of experience ranging from Jimmy Liks to Black Bottle (both Sydney venues), he is a match for delivering on Cameron’s direction in the kitchen. When I ask about the transition Ricky explains,
“It was hard at first, to shift the mindset. Its heartier food, more traditional, I was coming from more fine dining and delicate plates. The direction was clear, it has an identity, it was solid and easy to build on. We know what we are.”
They certainly do know who they are. “That’s one of the things about Saddles and why it works, it's everyday food. It’s the food that makes you feel good,” Hayley shares. “It's food you cook at home, the food that is here is what these guys (Cam & Ricky) cook in their home.” What you find with Saddles is even with the finesse in the finish and techniques used, it is still home-style, comfort food that feels elevated whilst being accessible enough you can eat it every day. Saddles have a menu that you can return to weekly and still host a special event or celebration meal.
When Ricky says it’s food that “puts a smile on your face,” it really does. From the Kiosk at the entry serving take away coffee, pastries, breads, and the ice cream cart – you can simply tether your horse (not joking, you can if you have one!), grab a bite and find a spot on the dam and enjoy the quintessential piece of Australiana that has been created for you to bask in.
We do recommend making a booking, spending time on the deck, and mentally planning your own escape to the country. The kitchen has put a spin on their Saddles charcuterie – Saddles smoked cabanossi, cured ocean trout tartare, pickled onion, Pyengana clothbound cheddar & quince chutney.
The cabanossi is not what you grew up with from the supermarket deli. “We came up with a recipe working with Pino Dolce Vito (Kogarah) it’s smoked, and it is part of our childhood,” Ricky shares on the Australian twist to the dish.
Cameron continues with the next dish, “the Prawn Salad - the idea about this dish is using ingredients with some that are native, for me this sort of dish is very Australian in a sense of things that have been introduced to Australia over time; it has Asian influence, intrinsically a very northern Australian dish. Fried native ginger from the garden, that we dug up this morning. The native ginger has a flavour in-between very delicate. It’s a King Prawn, fresh coconut – a very fresh salad sits on betel leaves.”
Now what would a country themed venue be without a bakery of sweets that makes you want to try one of everything, even better take some home for later! Another nod to the Australian classics, they have a Lamington with Daintree Estate chocolate, guava & coconut, not to mention a Strawberry Mousse Cake with French vanilla sponge, layer of strawberry mousse, topped with strawberry jelly, saffron fairy floss white chocolate and strawberry.
The Passionfruit meringue is a coconut meringue, layered with cream, fresh passionfruit, and topped with toasted coconut. Ricky shares it is “almost like a lemon meringue pie – we use mango instead – topped with Italian meringue and mango coulis and edible flowers.”
With Saddles being in the food bowl of the Central Coast, the team have created “Live & Local”. “In the last 6 months, with have been working with the local farmers, we have access to local produce. We have been doing live and local events – once a month or second month - with local live music and the menu comprises of food just from local farms or local fish mongers/butchers.
The idea - we go directly to them, we work directly with the farmers. They tell us what they have for that month and then we create the menu from that,” Ricky shares – these ticketed events are extremely popular and continue to grow.
I ask if 3 years ago they would have expected to have people traveling from Sydney, Newcastle to Mt. White to experience their pocket of paradise.
“We knew how beautiful and how grand it would be. Looking forward 3 years, we didn’t realise it would be as established as it has grown. It was an immediate success. Really organic marketing, word of mouth and it really took off.” Hayley reflects on their success, which is deserved, and we look forward to what this dynamic team does next.