There was a time when the Central Coast could be deemed a suburban backwater when it came to restaurants. Great beaches, no personality.
Times have changed. The Central Coast is no longer in the shadow of Sydney. Rather, it's forged its own vibe when it comes to food, drink and hospitality.
First case in point: The Lucky Bee, in Hardys Bay. Rupert Noffs and Matty Bennett have created a stunning little top-end diner that makes clients feel exceptional. Located adjacent to the waterfront in one of the cosiest, most isolated parts of the Central Coast, it's well worth the trip.
Why? The food is simply delicious. Asian with a spicy kick. Oozing flavour with every bite in every share dish we tasted.
Starting with an awesome green papaya salad starring snake beans, peanuts, tamarind and lime. Then betel leaves with poached prawns, ginger makrut line and Thai chilli - it's one of the greatest handfuls of food I've ever devoured. Barbra's Bao Buns are another thriller, with twice-cooked pork-hock, hoisin, chilli and pickled cucumber. And duck spring rolls to finish. Dessert is always a surprise there.
Noffs is the host, Bennett the chef. They are Aussies, with New York-cool. It's uber-fun and welcoming, in a beautiful setting.
Second case: Woy Woy Fishermen's Wharf. Run by the Cregan family for more than 40 years, couple Jenni Cregan and Marv Clayton handed it on to their son, Sam, and his wife Xanthe, who have overseen a major renovation and expansion of its pre-eminent position in Woy Woy Bay. The menu is fresh - the complex still houses a thriving fish market - and the wine list, created by Michaela Clayton, is extraordinary in width, depth and serendipity.
A fair amount of the fish is sourced locally, and the rest is as fresh as can be found, including unusual varieties.
Of course, the restaurant juts out over the water, pleasant even on a sunny winter's day.
Third case: The Boathouse Hotel at Patonga. Only recently this old pub was taken over by The Boathouse group and they sure know how it make a special place.
It radiates seaside fun from its prime position the Hawkesbury River, about 10 minutes drive from Umina. The whitewash combined with blue tones paints a picture that fits in, like Byron Bay or the south of France. The Palm Beach ferry is literally across the street.
Staff are extremely hospitable, and the food is stylish and trendy. The bacon flatbread on the breakfast menu was a game changer, warm and salty, sweet and delicious. Both cocktails and coffee are done with panache.
You can get takeaway, hang in the bar, visit the gift shop, or best of all, enjoy of the outdoor tables. A great place to while a morning, an afternoon, an evening.
As for accommodation, we overnighted at Bayscape, a holiday home in Hardys Bay. The view was stunning, and the large home would be a great place for a family group or close friends to spend a weekend, with a huge kitchen, and room to spread out on decks and lawns.
The writer was a guest of Visit Central Coast