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You can dine with the stars at the refurbished Sutton Forest Inn

Earlier this year, Luke Dryland, new operator of the recently revamped Sutton Forest Inn, and his wife Lucy, upped their city sticks and moved to the Southern Highlands.

“We came for the space, the lifestyle and the chance for our growing family to have more freedom,” Luke says of the move, which comes after a lifetime of working in hotel hospitality for others.

Now, with his name as lessee firmly above the Sutto’s door, Luke’s reasoning sounds much as you might imagine his famous neighbours’, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, just up the road to be.

The celebrity couple recently returned from Nashville to their 1878 Highlands estate, Bunya Hill. Accompanied by daughters Sunday and Faith, the Kurbans have purportedly returned home for the production of Nine Perfect Strangers, based on the best-selling novel by fellow Aussie Liane Moriarty. Kidman reportedly acquired rights to the book and will star in the television series alongside Melissa McCarthy, Welsh actor Luke Evans and Aussie Samara Weaving, niece of Hugo. David E. Kelley, legendary writer, and longtime husband of Michelle Pfeiffer, has reportedly co-adapted the book for television. Pundits have hordes of other cast and crew descending on Sutton Forest over the coming months for filming.

Which is all good news for Luke, and the new look Sutton Forest Inn. Film crews are a hungry lot, and the pub is just five minutes down the road from the Kurban’s Georgian home. Always happy to offer a heads up, Escape SH ventured out to Sutton Forest to check out the makeover and give the new menu a whirl.

There is history in Sutton Forest, one of the oldest settlements in the area. It was established by Europeans in the 1820s as hundreds of wretched convicts worked in road gangs to build the South Road, which originally passed through. Later, they were indentured to free settlers by Governor Lachlan Macquarie to clear land and build estates, such as Bunya Hill and the lovely Boscobel, a stone’s throw to the south, towards Exeter. If history is your thing, its fasincting to spend some time before lunch wandering through the cemeteries of local historic churches, All Saints and St Patrick’s and see the gravestones of the Highlands’ founding colonial families.

Messing about with history, though, doesn’t always go down so well with locals, and the gentrification of a Highlands icon such as the Sutton Forest Inn, which opened in 1936, could be a difficult proposition. Far from attempting to teleport an inner-city pub to the Highlands, however, Luke and the inn’s new owners have completed their project with taste and quiet restraint.

“We carried out some renovations and just cleaned it all up a bit,’” says Luke. “We gave the whole building inside and out a lick of paint, got some new furniture and tidied and freshened it up.”

The front public bar with its classic wall tiles, bar stools and the dogs on the telly has remained untouched, as has the next door lounge area, with its wood panelling and open fire. The biggest changes are out back in the restaurant. There is some new high bar seating and there has been a complete kitchen overhaul, including a large bread oven that takes pride of place. Chef Simon Stoker, formerly of Centennial Vineyards Restaurant, offers an alluring menu of affordable, quietly sophisticated pub grub. For the daintier eater, small plates of lemon pepper calamari, miso ginger fried pork riblets and the homemade focaccia with smoky baba ghanoush are a true find. Those ready to tackle heartier dishes should try the pie of the day or the butcher’s cut ribeye steak with red wine jus. The pan-roasted barramundi with lemon butter and veg is top shelf.

“Best barramundi I’ve tasted this side of Humpty Doo, Northern Territory,” one happy fellow diner volunteered, referencing the home of the Big Barra, Australia’s most fighting and most flavoursome fish.

Also on the all-day menu are three great sounding burgers (buttermilk chicken, wagyu beef and mushroom) and a kids’ menu that might actually entice them to eat more than just the chips: Mac n cheese, cheeseburger, popcorn chicken and margherita cheese pizza. All kids meals are $14 and include chips, fruit and ice cream cup. Let the kids take their ice cream outside to the smart new playground with its swings and slides and swathes of space to chase about in. Or book a table to eat outside on the verandah and keep an eye on the tin lids while you finish up your drinks. Why not order another bottle? Nic and Keith and the kids might be down soon.

Breakout: Weekend pub lunch or dinner with friends sound good? Try these other great local pubs out for size …

The Surveyor General Inn, Berrima, is the oldest continually licenced public house in Australia. New owner Peter Durney and chef Alex Watts have breathed new life into this pub and its Bushrangers Bistro, loved by locals and visitors. Eat in or dine al fresco in the charming beer garden and soak up the charm of historic Berrima.

Burrawang Village Hotel, Burrawang: Want to give village life a twirl? Book a table outside in the lovely beer garden this spring, go with friends with kids, enjoy the bar menu and see for yourself why Burrawang life is too good to merely road-test. If you are really serious about a tree change, rock up on a Thursday or Friday and meet some of the locals.

Bundanoon Hotel, Bundanoon: This big-hearted establishment is recently renovated and retains its original art deco features and importantly, the front bar for the locals. Book a table in fine weather outside in the beer garden, with its swimming pool and live music. Or bags a seat on the courtesy bus that runs from Penrose, Exeter, Wingello and Moss Vale to Bundanoon on Friday and Saturday, and leave the car at home.


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