The Argus III

The Cottage

Name a famous Sydney restaurant and chances are Colin Selwood has worked there but today this talented chef is more than happy to call Scone home.

We talk about a time for an interview early in the week. “Try me but I could be out of range,” emails Colin Selwood. For this chef certainly won’t be on the pans in the kitchen at his Scone restaurant The Cottage on his days off. The 57-year-old loves nothing better than to get up at 4am to make a quick cup of tea before heading out into the high country surrounding this picturesque Upper Hunter Valley town. “I walk the hills a lot because I’m a deer hunter. Most Mondays I can walk up to 12 kilometres,” he explains.

A childhood spent around the lush farming land near Rangiora in New Zealand’s South Island left Colin with a deep love of the land. “My mum had grown up on a farm and I spent as much time as I could at a friend’s property. I just loved it.”

Ask him today what he likes about living in the country and the answer is simple. “Being able to park right outside the shop I want to go to, never hearing a car horn toot in frustration and seeing the stars at night,” he says. “I like just simply having paddocks all around us.”

When Colin arrived in Sydney in 1986 and landed a job at the Bayswater Brasserie, he had no intentions of staying permanently — or even the remotest idea that one day he would end up in the Australian bush. His first lengthy stint was in 2010 when he moved from Sydney to Willowtree, a small town on the Liverpool Plains, where he set up a restaurant called Graze specialising in dry-aged beef. A move back to the city, this time Melbourne, followed in 2013 but he and his wife Tammy were keen to return so jumped at the chance to launch another restaurant: this time The Cottage in Scone.

“I wanted my son to grow up in the country, doing the things I did, riding motor bikes, swimming in rivers, shooting rabbits, camping out and sailing on fresh water,” he says of his now 11-year-old son Jackson.

Skirted by wide verandahs and set back from the street, the restaurant is housed in an 1860s building that has had several reinventions over the years. Private hospital, guest house and finally the office for the Pastoral Lands Board before it was finally bought by Michael and Shanny Crouch of Waverley Station in 2012.

Today, the building has been restored with interiors by well-known Melbourne-based interior designer Adelaide Bragg who grew up in the area. The result is an elegant space hung with a large landscape by painter Lucy Vader, who often works from her studio on the Liverpool Plains, and still-life works by Catherine Hickson.

Running a restaurant in a regional town is not without its challenges. “We had two great years and then it stopped raining. When disposable income and edible grass dries up, a business like ours slows right down. People either stop going out or taking cheaper options, especially if they are buying feed for their stock,” he explains.

But Colin’s love for the community inspired him even during those tough times. Just take one of his favourite customers, the late Betty Shepherd. The octogenarian, who was Australia’s first registered female horse trainer and also the first woman to have a runner in both the Caulfield and Melbourne cups, was a regular at The Cottage and never strayed too far from her first loves: oysters, fillet steak, French Champagne and chocolate.

And it’s locals like Betty that have made all the difference. “As chefs we are highly criticised — everyone thinks that they are a food critic. One of the things here that is wonderful for me after 30 years of cooking, is that I have moved to an area in the country that really had a bit of a void for a nice restaurant, so a lot of our customers really have been far more grateful than a wannabe food critic. Which is so good for my headspace and mental health.”

The Cottage, 196 Kelly Street, Scone NSW. Telephone (02) 6545 1215.

For more information, head to thecottagescone.com or @thecottagescone

Colin’s Address Book

Great local producers plus things to do in the region.

Arc-en-Ciel Trout Farm. Visit and buy an array of smoked goods, but this Nundle trout farm is also home to The Drunken Trout Café. Open for lunch on Sundays and bookings are essential. Telephone (02) 6769 3665. Malonga, 52 Shearers Road, Hanging Rock NSW.  rainbowtrout.com.au

Manning Valley Naturally Beef. Colin uses this award-winning grass-fed beef. “Our beef comes from Wingham which is relatively local and we have a few local farmers that send cattle that way and they do end up with their product in our dry-aging room, so that’s a big bonus for us.” Telephone (02) 8918 0000.

Reedy Creek Crays. Colin sources premium size table yabbies from this farm. reedycreekcrays.com.au

Camping. “We have one of the most amazing places to visit in the Barrington Tops, we often go up there, light a fire and cook a picnic lunch, the walks up there are amazing.”

Sailing on Lake Glenbawn. Fourteen kilometres east of Scone, this large lake is a popular place for water skiing, sailing and canoeing. You can also fish for Australian bass, perch and Murray cod. Entry to the dam can be purchased through Lake Glenbawn State Park. The office is open 9am to 5pm daily. Telephone (02) 6543 7193. waternsw.com.au/supply/visit/glenbawn-dam

Victoria Carey

“A great restaurant is the key to a thriving country town – and that’s exactly what I can see Colin has done with The Cottage. Created a place I wanted to visit again and again,” says this former editor-in-chief of Country Style and Vogue Living.

Nicola Sevitt

Finding the best restaurants where ever she goes is one of this Sydney photographer’s passions. When not dining out, Nicola works as the Special Projects Producer for Gritty Pretty magazine.

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