View From The Top
Words Cleo Glyde – Photography Catherine Winnard
Perched high over Terrigal Beach, bi-fold windows fringed by frangipanis offer balcony diners spectacular views over the treetops to the sandy crescent of beach on the Pacific below. The menu does not rely too heavily on the views, however – it’s all about fabulous ingredients, as many as possible of which are sourced in the region.
“Our dishes are delicate, light and focused on flavour,” confirms Dimitris, who works closely with head chef Reece Timora on the menu design. “It’s not complicated, but the food has artistry.” Dimitris lovingly prepares and combines each morsel with signature subtlety. He nestles glossy beads of orange caviar in curled ribbons of salmon, sprinkled with herbs; drapes a sea vegetable, like an exquisitely textured conch shell in miniature, across a plump, buttery seared prawn to add a briny twist. Pretty plating adds aesthetic pleasure: a deconstructed dessert scatters triangular shards of pastry and crumbs of bee pollen across cloud-light mascarpone and white chocolate stamped into a beehive, in a delicious dance between soft and crunchy textures.
“Everything complements the approach that a meal should also be an experience,” says Dimitris. “From an inspiring wine selection to pouring oil at the table and serving our own handmade butter. If you are looking at stunning ocean views, the quality of the food and sequence of service needs to match.”
As winter beckons, a new addition to The Cowrie’s alfresco, light-filled rooms and blue-ribbon views is the launch of cellar-room dining in a previously unused space downstairs, perfectly repurposed for wine.
“The humidity is already spot on, due to the concrete slab above the ceiling. We have added a $5,000 temperature control and airflow system to make the atmosphere pure and comfortable for guests,” Dimitris explains. “The single dining table is being built by the same local carpenter who created our furniture upstairs; it is a real showpiece in this space.”
The cellar room seats six and is designed to be a true wine lover’s experience, or an opportunity for the curious to learn more. Dimitris intends to focus on particular winemakers, in addition to highlighting Australian regions such as The Hunter Valley and Adelaide Hills. “We’ll choose what each spot does best – your bold reds from the Barossa, pinots from The Mornington Peninsula in Victoria – we have a preference for vineyards with smaller yields.
“There will be French wines from beautiful little regions in the north of France; German rieslings, which are incredible at the moment; and beautiful South African pinotages.” Spirits will include Japanese whiskies and limited releases from Central Coast gin makers Distillery Botanica.
Reinventing The Cowrie experience is also a passion project for Dimitris because this is where his culinary journey began 15 years ago, when he was an apprentice chef. “I then went overseas, worked, taught commercial cookery at TAFE for 10 years, and ran a private chef company, doing a lot of business in the Hunter Valley,” he says.
The Cowrie had an enormous impact on Dimitris’ life, not only by schooling him in the culinary arts, but also introducing him to his future wife, who was doing work placement there. “When I returned to the Coast all these years later and The Cowrie came on the market, it was pretty special to be able to buy it myself. The restaurant had been dormant for a while, so we had to ‘wake up’ the building. By the time we opened it was just after the second lockdown.”
Despite the challenges of a shell-shocked population recovering from a global pandemic, The Cowrie has built a loyal following. “Locals came out to support us; Sydneysiders here for the weekend or holidays book a lot; and we have return visitors from Newcastle and the Blue Mountains. Our clientele is fantastic and we want to keep surprising them.”
Dimitris is building the business in sync with a burgeoning local foodie culture, as the region’s fertile pastures, pristine waterways, happily grazing livestock and nutrient-dense, chemical-free produce come into their own. “The Central Coast has so much potential! I can create food here that I may not have been able to do a decade ago. Producers are popping up all over the Yarramalong Valley; small family-run businesses are harvesting honey or growing potatoes by the river. The Coast is a close little network, which is helping us build relationships with the food and farming community.”
The Cowrie’s optional plant-based menu can be matched with wine or Australian Ikou Organic teas. Oyster mushrooms and thyme caramelised onions add a forest floor richness to the pepperiness of charred cabbage; the crunch of shaved fennel and torched broccolini is a foil to gooey miso and chilli eggplant; caramelised pineapple and ginger add a burst of tropic sunniness.
For galloping gourmets who want to taste the full foodie spectrum, carnivore ingredients have their time to shine on the two-, three-, four- and five-course menu. Sashimi grade Yellow Fin tuna melts in the mouth; pork fillets are juicy and generous. As well as the rarefied delicacy of coal-roasted Pacific oysters with aged parmesan and truffle oil, there are classic comforts such as mushroom risotto.
Winter is often popular with corporate clients who want to cosy up indoors in case of rain, yet still enjoy wide-reaching district views. The Ocean Room, a self-contained space away from the main dining room, can be booked for private events. “There is an AV system and a projector, and we can add gin-matched canapes and food to the mix. We also get a lot of bookings for Christmas in July.”
There are plans to convert the large lobby at the front of the restaurant to a bar/dining space with its own tapas menu, setting the stage from the moment you enter The Cowrie. “We’ll launch this summer. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy a cocktail before moving on to dinner.”
With the new cellar room opening and front bar in the works, and the quest for finding the perfect daily ingredients within cooee of Terrigal, how does Dimitris keep it all going? “Each Monday I switch off and take my two dogs out. We’ll go to Ourimbah State Forest or foraging at Killcare. There is always something beautiful to do. This is the sweet spot. Sorry Sydney, but I just fell in love with a better lifestyle.”
The Cowrie is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday to Saturday and for lunch on Sunday at 109 Scenic Highway, Terrigal. To book, call 02 4384 3016 or see thecowrie.com.au.