As you stroll along Kangaroo Valley’s main road, you may wonder why such a small place in the country with only 880 residents is home to an amazing pizza shop, a gourmet deli, and a cutting-edge wine bar.

The Shoalhaven Valley is a lush valley surrounded by dramatic sandstone escarpments. It’s also known for the historic suspension bridge. Visitors may not realize that the same fine-dining power couple – Nick Gardner & Stevie-Lee Bounader – are behind the following businesses: Hampden Deli & Dining & School; Hampden Wine Lounge & Buona Pizzeria. The Australian couple, who have worked in Michelin-starred restaurants and hatted establishments around the globe, settled down into the Shoalhaven Valley and immediately shook the dining scene.

Gastronomic origins

Gardner was born in Forster-Tuncurry and was inspired by Jamie Oliver, his father, and his Nan to “roll out pasta and hang it around the house.” He developed his skills by working at prestigious restaurants like Quay, Sydney, and The French Laundry, California’s Napa Valley, before meeting West Australian Stevie in Banff.

Gardner gained more experience in Europe after returning to Australia. He worked at Tetsuya’s and won the Josephine Pignolet Award for Young Chefs.

Gardner, who has worked at Silos Estate, Berry, and Eschalot Berrima in the past, set his sights on Kangaroo Valley. Hampden Deli is a multifaceted business that includes a bakery, cafe, and open kitchen degustation dinners. The restaurant also offers regular cooking classes.


Local Inspiration

You can order a savory dish such as smoked trout arancini, lemon myrtle, and capers, or a croissant with almonds or a Danish with caramelized figs, almonds, and orange zest. You can also buy gourmet sandwiches, a pretty picnic box, or an olive and Roquefort loaf for later.

Gardner says that although the Hampden ethos is to be more than just these four walls, it’s a 40-square-metre space. “It is a nice little base, but we are always in different places.”

Gardner cooks for guests staying in the beautiful homes hidden away throughout the valley. She also hosts pop-ups and collaborates with local distillers and winemakers.

Gardner is known for its local produce, such as the grass-fed beef from Target Creek Farm, fruit and vegetables from Fox and Quail Farm, Kangaroo Valley Pastured Eggs, and cool-climate apples and truffles grown in the Southern Highlands.


Savouring Shoalhaven’s delights

In 2019, it was obvious that the Deli would replace a pizza restaurant. Buona Pizza opened in 2019 with the equipment, and the Hampden Wine Lounge will follow in 2021.

The former, located a few blocks away, offers gourmet pizzas with toppings like black garlic, asparagus, and ‘nduja, a spicy spreadable sausage. Sweet-toothed customers can enjoy the rocky road or banoffee pizzas with custard-filled crusts or fresh cannolis filled with orange cream ganache, pistachio, and chocolate ‘Rocher ‘ganache.

Visitors can relax on Chesterfields in the Wine Lounge and browse the wine list, as well as a handwritten list of wines’ by the glass’ that is constantly updated. The list is presented on a huge roll of paper. Michael ‘Quirky’ Quirk, a wine educator, is available to assist guests in making a decision. He can also serve platters of cheeses, charcuterie, pickles, and warm Kangaroo Valley olives. The pizzeria can deliver a Buona Pizza during its opening hours.

Quirk is also happy to direct guests towards the Shoalhaven wineries. These include Cambewarra Estate Winery nearby, Lyrebird Ridge Organic Winery, and Yarrawa Estate. The Shoalhaven wine trail also includes Crooked River Winery, Coolangatta Estate, Mountain Ridge Wines and Two Figs Winery, near Berry, and Cupitt’s Estate, near Ulladulla.


Trends are just beginning to emerge.

The couple may have started something by moving to the Shoalhaven area. Gardner’s friend Terry Robinson, who was also the head chef of Sepia, and his wife Michelle have followed their example. In 2022, the Robinsons’ Old Salt Distillery opened in South Nowra. It offers not only innovative drinks but also a delicious menu.

Gardner says that opening the Wine Lounge was a bold, big move for Covid. She gets out of bed every morning at 5 am to bake and stock the deli counter before moving on to more “cheffy things” like pickling and bringing.

Bounader says that while there are many aspects to monitor, the business model of the couple “was designed to give them more time with their family.” Locals rallied to the family when their son Julian was born in 2021.

Bounader says, “It was incredible that they set up a large food chain. We were fed each night for a period of four weeks.” “For me, it was that moment when I realized, ‘Wow! We’ve truly become a member of the community’.”

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