Ask any born-and-bred Coastie about the Fragrant Garden at Erina and their eyes will probably light up as they recount fond childhood memories of exploring the whimsical grounds.
Like our very own ‘Secret Garden’, visitors enter through a pretty gate that’s overflowing with flowers and foliage, hinting at what’s inside.
With colourful gardens, lush lawns, a pretty gazebo, a gin distillery and now a gelato bar, the three-acre property contains all the ingredients for a special outing.
The gelato bar – Bar Botanica – is the brainchild of former Three Blue Ducks chef Dan Hughes and his wife Julia, who are also the couple behind Mr Goaty Gelato, which started popping up at local markets, events, festivals and weddings when they moved to the Coast with their young family a few years ago.
Dan has been using a kitchen on-site to churn his gelato for a couple of years, with flowers and botanicals from the garden increasingly making their way into some of Mr Goaty’s signature scoops such as lemon myrtle, turmeric chocolate and orange, strawberry and lime, honeycomb and lavender, and raspberry with basil oil.
The eatery opened in autumn after a massive overhaul from local design outfit Stewart & Highfield, who helped transform an overgrown 1970s mud brick hut into a chic café complete with a quaint courtyard for al fresco dining overlooking the garden.
Hand-painted botanical motifs by local artist Nicole Berlach and lots of lush, potted greenery bring some of the garden inside.
There are always pastries available and coffee is roasted on-site but it’s the award-winning gelato that lures many through the gate.
It’s not easy choosing a flavour from the diverse line up of house-made gelatos (including some still made with goat’s milk) and sorbets with Belgian chocolate, lemon curd, vanilla bean, and honey croissant just a few of the favourites.
Gelato might be Mr Goaty’s forte but it’s Dan’s Michelin-star experience and classic French training that are apparent on the café’s casual dining menu.
Befitting the lovely garden setting, Bar Botanica offers food based on the old English ‘elevenses’ concept.
While the concept referred to a light snack taken at eleven in the morning, Bar Botanica is just as nice for lunch or afternoon tea as brunch.
Combining flavours from the garden and the neighbouring Distillery Botanica, the menu features a mouth-watering chicken liver parfait with blackcurrant liquor, traditional ploughman’s lunch complete with gin-spiked cheddar, a tarragon chicken and mustard leaf sandwich, a pork and sage sausage roll, and a flavourful roast pumpkin salad with whipped goat’s cheese.
While the Fragrant Garden has been around for some fifty years, it was restored to its former glory when herbalist and distiller Philip Moore took over the Coast’s very own boutique distillery – Distillery Botanica – more than a decade ago.
He planted a range of beautiful botanicals and flowers which brought the garden back to life and have become the secret ingredients in his award-winning gins.
Moore’s Gin includes garden-fresh angelica and in the Distillery Botanica Gin, there are hints of rose, chamomile, sage and murraya flowers.
For a taste of the garden-inspired gins and liqueurs, pop into Distillery Botanica’s cellar door before or after a visit to Bar Botanica.
Strolling through the garden with a gelato after some gin-tasting and a light lunch is the perfect tonic.
Bar Botanica is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am until 4pm.
Originally published in Coastal Lifestyle – check out the full magazine here