A new eatery on South Australia’s Limestone Coast offers sophisticated dining sprinkled with salts of the earth.

Story Gretel Sneath Photos John Kruger

There’s a note tucked in the front door at Gather Food and Wine, telling owner and chef Tom Tilbury that a bag of freshly picked tomatoes is sitting on the table in the shed. “Ah that’s from Mark [Malone],” Tom beams, as he heads off in search of the bounty. “He lives near here, and he grows the best heirloom tomatoes – have a look at these!”

A day earlier, another local – Sula Harland – dropped off some mustard seeds to make into a puree to pair with the restaurant’s Kingston lamb, while keen gardener Rosie Stoneham regularly delivers flowers for the dining room as well as bunches of fresh herbs. “We also have another lady called Meg [Megan McLarty] who lives out of town, but always brings limes and lemons when she comes to stay at her beach house,” Tom says. “And every now and then you will find an anonymous delivery of edible flowers on the doorstep.”

This is the sort of random joy that Tom and his wife Sarah have enjoyed ever since they opened their restaurant nearly 18 months ago in an 1850s wool store in Robe, on South Australia’s Limestone Coast. Sarah’s family has farmed Woakwine station, south-east of the picturesque seaside town, since the 1890s, and after several years working in Margaret River and Adelaide, the young couple wanted to put down their own roots nearby. 

The 4000–hectare Woakwine station is famous for its Woakwine Cutting, a kilometre-long drain dug by Sarah’s grandfather, Murray McCourt, between 1957 and 1960 in what was then the largest private civil engineering feat in Australia. Today, the property is home to a large-scale organic beef business, and its organic grass-fed Hereford beef is most certainly on the menu at Gather. So, too, is Robe rock lobster plucked from the chilly depths of the Southern Ocean, sweet Barakel cockles collected from the shores of the famous Coorong and the most decadent Aylesbury duck raised with love by a Meningie bloke by the name of Barry ‘Sleepy’ Sleep.

“He’s very enthusiastic about it; he drives all over the countryside to get their feed; apple peels come from a juicing company in Mount Compass, south of Adelaide, and he soaks their grain in spent honey water supplied by a beekeeper,” Tom says. “It’s the most flavoursome duck I have ever tasted, and it’s probably the only dish that has remained a constant on our menu – I’m forever tweaking dishes, but everyone loves the duck just as it is.”

Gather is the only restaurant that Sleepy supplies direct, and the producer-customer relationship has developed into a friendship. Tom says Sleepy phones a couple of times a week to tell him how his ducks are going.

“People often think the name Gather refers to gathering produce from the wild, but it’s also about gathering people together both in the dining room and as growers and producers – I want people who are supplying the produce to also feel they are a part of it,” Tom says.

Wild foraged fare only adds to the experience, for the Limestone Coast landscape is rich with native foods. Juniper, spinach, succulent pigface, saltbush, and highly prized morel mushrooms are all sourced by Tom from nature’s pantry.

“I love to forage for ingredients in the dunes, the pine forests, and in the bush on our family’s property, and I really rely on what is available from the area,” he says. 

This story excerpt is from Issue #112

Outback Magazine: Apr/May 2017