Published in the City Hub and City News.
Alex Harmon's out west experience basically consisted of that one time she missed her train station and ended up in Summer Hill. So this week she stepped outside her comfort zone with a 45-minutes drive for a mini-break in the Macarthur region. Try it some time - like Alex, you might be pleasantly surprised…
Since Infusion Bar & Brewery is located in Campbelltown Rydges, you might have to share the bar with a few straggling wedding guests, but the modern bar does offer some prime dysfunctional family viewing. If the bartender isn’t run off his/her feet, you could also ask for a tour of the working microbrewery. (You can’t miss the shimmering kegs, visible from the street behind floor-to-ceiling windows.) If you think the west is Carlton territory, think again. I sampled some great local brews (named for the surrounding areas) on a tasting rack - the gorgeous Appin Ale; the refreshingly fruity Fisher's Ghost Lager; and the Macarthur Wheat with lovely hints of coriander. My favourite was the Razorback; a dark ale that’s surprisingly sweet and perhaps a little too easy to drink. The matching tapas tray of mushroom arancini, local lamb, scallops wrapped in prosciutto and coconut prawns, was so tasty, I could have grazed here all night; but I had dinner plans...
My country style dinner involved a trip down the dark and winding Menangle Road, wondering if the GPS was luring us somewhere sinister. Upon reaching the old inn, built by convicts in 1843, our nervousness was quickly dissipated by super friendly wait-staff. Menangle House is in a converted stable; warmth from the fireplace blankets the room. Given the cold weather I went with the Indian selections on the otherwise farmhouse-style menu. My partner went traditional with a beef eye-fillet stacked on a potato bake as grand as a two storey house. Sticking to my own convict roots (someone, somewhere down the line stole a loaf of bread and ended up in Port Arthur) I ordered Jansz Tasmanian sparkling as we devoured a dessert platter bearing lemon curd tart, banoffee pie, brownie and homemade passionfruit ice-cream. I’m sure my ancestors would approve.
The following morning I was a little surprised to discover that Campbelltown has an arts centre. Yes, a little naïve of me, I admit. One look at their permanent gallery (with over a thousand works) and I stood humbly corrected. Furthermore the Campbelltown Arts Centre boasts an alfresco café overlooking tranquil Japanese gardens. They make a mean coffee, which they serve with a Jaffa on the spoon (perhaps the only thing that dates them). Their specialty, the Arty Breakfast ($13.90) is a real standout with poached eggs, chorizo, cherry tomatoes, fetta and baby spinach, with a side of harissa.
Testing my attachment to the city, I drove a little further west to the wide streets of Camden. There I found the Camden Hotel which describes itself as a "hip city style venue"; despite this, it has got the heart of a country pub. On this particular Sunday it was packed with extended families celebrating birthdays in the bistro and groups of twenty-somethings having Sunday sessions out front. The menu features the usual pub-grub suspects - steaks, pizzas and pastas - with a few Asian dishes thrown in. Sadly the latter seem to come from the freezer, but the former has real heart. You can’t get much more working-class than a Ploughman’s sandwich, well actually you can, because here it’s made on steak. Genius. If you’re after something more delicate, the pumpkin, ricotta and pine nut crepes are just the ticket - a fulfilling end to a weekend full of surprises. Now, get me back to the ghetto…