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Monday, December 06, 2010

Nan Tien Temple and a food tour of Wollongong

Sometimes a little peace and quiet is just what the mind and body needs.

Last weekend I took off for a famil of the South Coast, hosted by Tourism Wollongong and Eurobodalla Coast Tourism. It had been ages since I'd headed down the coast, nothing but distant memories of family holidays from childhood - fish and chips at the beach, digging sandcastles and peeling sticky limbs from the melting vinyl of the car backseat.

This time I was in the driver's seat, alternating with Nemo in a zippy Corolla supplied by Hertz. Getting out of Sydney is always half the journey, but we made it to Wollongong in good time, arriving at Nan Tien Temple by lunch.

Great Hero Hall, the main shrine at Nan Tien Temple

This was my second visit to Nan Tien Temple - the last time I was here was over ten years ago. Dazzling blue skies and cheek-warming sunshine greeted our arrival. It's amazing how much you notice the sound of silence, an ear-piercing nothingness broken only by the gentle rustle of leaves in the breeze.

Nan Tien - which means "Southern Paradise" - is the largest Buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere. We were led on a brief tour around the temple grounds by spokesperson Rachel Seath, checking out the motel-style public accommodation at the Pilgrim Lodge, before taking in the humbling beauty of the main and front shrines.

Carp in the lotus pond

Having a tour guide explain Buddhist philosophies in an approachable way only increases our sense of calm and peace as we wander the grounds. A volunteer at the art gallery is more than happy to explain the meaning behind the current display of portraits, her face lighting up with genuine delight.

The museum features an jaw-dropping display of Chinese calligraphy, painstakingly scribed on grains of rice and etched on strands of human hair. We squint at them through a special magnifying glass - the calligraphy was all done using only the human eye, we're told.

Lotus tea $6.50 teapot

We have lunch at the Dew Drop Inn Tea House, simple and quaint, and urged to try the lotus tea. A lotus flower slowly unfurls in the glass teapot as it brews, and the flavour reminds me of chrysanthemum tea with a somewhat buttery nutty backnote.

Homemade steamed dumplings $8.50

Only vegetarian fare is served on the temple grounds. We sample the steamed dumplings - beautifully pleated and filled with bok choy and pickled vegetables - and a hearty plate of soy fillet rolled in seaweed served with carrots, broccoli, cabbage and seaweed.

Soy fillet served with seasonal vegetables and rice $12

Vegetarian nuggets $7

I'm secretly pleased when we're recommended to try the vegetarian nuggets, gnarled deep-fried dumplings that are salty and sweet.

Vegetarian drumsticks $8

The vegetarian drumsticks win for cuteness though, the deep-fried crumb coating hiding curls of soft bean curd wrapped around the end of a paddle pop stick.

Inside the vegetarian drumsticks

The seven-tiered pagoda

As the sun blazes overhead, we're both looking forward to our next pit-stop, Five Islands Brewery in Wollongong.

Five Islands Brewing Company

Dapto Draught, Longboard Pale Ale and Peach

Five Islands Brewery was the first brewery in the Illawarra region, established in 2001 and quickly proving so popular that the brewing vats had to be moved to a larger location.

Longboard Pale Ale, Halloween Ale and Rust Amber Ale

We make our way through all seven of their locally brewed beers, all of which are made without additives or preservatives. Halloween Ale is my clear favourite, a smooth brew that is faint with honey roasted Jap pumpkin and nutmeg.

We also try the Dapto Draught and Longboard Pale Ale (their two biggest selling beers), and continue on to the Barbeerian Wit (a Belgian wheat beer made with orange peel and coriander), Peach beer (not as sweet as you'd think), Rust amber ale (rather addictive with caramel and toffee notes) and the Bulli Black dark ale (a huge hit with Chinese tourists, they've noticed).

Tea'se Me Tea Emporium

Did someone say Devonshire tea?

Oh yes, that was me.

Loose leaf teas

Nemo feels like settling back in a coffee shop for the afternoon, and rather than head to a random cafe, I use the power of google to hunt down something more interesting.

This is how we end up at Tea'se me Tea Emporium, a few more blocks north than I'd first calculated, but walkable nonetheless.

Devonshire tea $6.50
Two scones with jam and cream and coffee or tea

The cosy cafe is desserted, but this means we get dibs on the lounge in the corner. The Devonshire Tea is a generous serve of two scones with tea or coffee, the packet jam and aerosol cream compensated by our choice of tea from the entire range that lines the wooden shelves against the wall.

Choc chip chai tea

The variety of teas is staggering, ranging from Dragon Well Chinese green tea and Monk Pear, to Japanese lime and Australian black mint teas. I opt for crazy, and find the choc chip chai surprisingly good - aromatic without being too sweet.

Date scone and blueberry scone

Less than three hours later we are having dinner at the The Lagoon Seafood Restaurant. Just something small, we vow.

Lagoon Seafood Restaurant

Seafood platter $155 for two

The Lagoon Seafood Restaurant offers sweeping views of the beach - its popularity as a wedding reception evidenced by the white chiffon draped outwards from the middle of the ceiling. We notice that main meals here seem to be gargantuan in portion, looking more like share plates than individual serves. Our waitress laughs in agreement, and says "wait until you see the seafood platter!"

The seafood platter for two is a two-tiered affair, a cluster of cold seafood and fruit on top, hot seafood at the bottom. We manage to polish off most of the king prawns, smoked salmon, oysters (raw, Kipatrick and mornay), salt and pepper calamari, scallops, blue swimmer crab, tempura prawns, Moreton Bay bugs and lobster mornay. Tempura barramundi and barbecue octopus defeat us though.

Honey wafers $12.50
Crisp thin wafers layered with strawberry creme fraiche
and fresh strawberries on a vanilla creme anglaise

And yet somehow we find room for dessert. Honey wafers are more like biscuits, the strawberry layered stack topped with a fancy-looking disc of drizzled toffee.

Cheese plate $19.50
Selection of King Island cheeses, served with dried fruits, nuts and crisp lavosh bread

I'd been excited at the prospect of the King Island cheese plate but when I ask for some assistance on the identification of the cheeses in front of us, we're told with a pointed finger, "that's a blue, that's a brie and that one's Jarlsberg".

Chifley Wollongong

Our accommodation that night is at the Chifley Wollongong, one of the newest hotels in the city. It's bright and modern, the bedside table set up with an iPod speaker dock.

Breakfast buffet

The jar of Nutella on the breakfast buffet catches my eye the next morning. I'm also intrigued by the gourmet jams on offer - including tomato, passionfruit and apple; strawberry, lime and whisky; and blood orange marmalade.

I try them all.

Juice by Robot-Coupe

The Robot-Coupe juicer is particularly impressive too. It is easy to operate, pulverising fresh celery, apples, carrots and oranges in seconds.


Nemo took advantage of the heated lap pool for a pre-breakfast swim. The water looked dazzling but I opted for the luxury of a sleep-in. We had a long weekend ahead.

> Read the next post: Berry and The Famous Berry Donut Van

Grab Your Fork and guest travelled to Wollongong hosted by Tourism Wollongong.

Famil inclusions: Nan Tien Temple, Five Islands Brewing Company, Lagoon Seafood Restaurant, Chifley Wollongong and Hertz car rental

Personally paid for: Tea'se Me Tea Emporium

Nan Tien Temple
180 Berkeley Road, Unanderra
Tel: +61 (02) 4272 0600

Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9am-5pm

Five Islands Brewing Company
Eastern Terrace
WIN Entertainment Centre
Crown Street, Wollongong
Tel: +61 (02) 4220 2854

Opening hours: Monday and Tuesday 12pm-9pm,
Wednesday and Thursday 12pm-10pm, Friday and Saturday 12pm-11pm

Tea'se Me Tea Emporium
163 Keira Street, Wollongong
Tel: +61 (02) 4225 0999

Opening hours: Monday and Tuesday 8am-4pm,
Wednesday to Friday 8am-5pm, Saturday 8am-3pm

Lagoon Seafood Restaurant
Stuart Park, North Wollongong
Tel: +61 (02) 4226 1677

Open 7 days 11.30am-10pm

Chifley Wollongong
60-62 Harbour Street, Wollongong
Tel: +61 (02) 4201 2111

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Batemans Bay and the Moruya Country Markets
Bodalla Heritage Fair, Tuross Head and The Big Cheese
The Famous Berry Donut Van and a food tour of Berry
24 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 12/06/2010 03:24:00 am


  • At 12/06/2010 4:14 am, Anonymous eatmarvin said…

    I've never been to Wollongong before. We might go there maybe early next year. The food looks good at Nan Tien Temple.

  • At 12/06/2010 4:19 am, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    woahhh that is one massive seafood platter and lol the jar of nutella caught my attention straight away!

  • At 12/06/2010 7:35 am, Blogger Gourmet Getaway said…

    I haven't been to Woollongong for years! Looks like we will have to go and take a peek, I know Mr GG will be happy to sample the brewery. Love the seafood platter and dessert OMG!

  • At 12/06/2010 9:26 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This is the first time I heard of Woollongong.. I never know there is such beautiful place exist out there at Australia.. Im like frog underneath coconut shell >.<

    By the way, the post is great! :)

  • At 12/06/2010 9:43 am, Anonymous Tina@foodboozeshoes said…

    There's such a serenity at Nan Tien, isn't there? Those vegetarian 'fake' foods always amuse me :)

  • At 12/06/2010 10:05 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Oh, gosh, there were so many things I wanted to talk about that I'm having a hard time remembering!

    Absolutely love the look of those vegetarian dishes, and the strawberry, lime, and whisky jam sounds incredibly appealing. You've also reminded me that I've been meaning to make date scones for weeks!

    So much yumminess and fun in this post. Hurrah!

  • At 12/06/2010 10:37 am, Anonymous Betty @ The Hungry Girl said…

    I was down at the South Coast last weekend too! But we only got as far as Seacliff Bridge and decided to chillax on the beaches there :) I love how you wanted something small for dinnr and then woah giant seafood platter for two appears! haha

  • At 12/06/2010 10:42 am, Blogger Mel said…

    The seafood platter looks so good! And I like the look of the food at Nan Tien...dumplings = yum!

  • At 12/06/2010 11:20 am, Blogger joey@forkingaroundsydney said…

    Those vegetarian dumplings and drumsticks look do delicious. Hooray for good vegetarian food!

  • At 12/06/2010 11:22 am, Anonymous Nicole said…

    My kids love dumplings. Bookmarking this for a school holiday adventure. Thanks for the tip.

  • At 12/06/2010 11:34 am, Anonymous Katie said…

    My town! Well, my town is technically Thirroul (about 15 minutes north) so I guess this is just my local area. I'm not into beer but I love The Brewery (they have some pretty great food as well, shame you didn't get to try) and you've further inspired me to try the tea house at the Nan Tien Temple!

  • At 12/06/2010 3:08 pm, Anonymous john@heneedsfood said…

    Good old Wollongong and Dapto draft. I spent the first nine years of my life in Dapto! I remember seeing the temple being built many years ago. Great food you had there!

  • At 12/06/2010 3:24 pm, Blogger emerald125 said…

    I have been wanting to visit the temple for ages. Thanks for the reminder.

  • At 12/06/2010 4:11 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am planning to bring my in-laws for a day tour to Wollongong. This post comes just in time!!! I am sure all the vegetarian fake foods will intrigue them.

  • At 12/06/2010 5:23 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Was looking forward to seeing the photos of the beers, but you didn't take any (just the taps)! It's like taking photos of the menu and not the food, Helen! And doesn't that soy fillet look awful; how did it taste? I like vegetarian food, but not when it's faux meat.

  • At 12/06/2010 7:25 pm, Blogger KT said…

    Glad you enjoyed my town! I love Five Islands Brewery, including the food. Other recommendations: Diggies at North Beach (great food, esp. breakfast/brunch - and the view doesn't hurt!), Lee and Me (excellent cafe), Swell (great coffee).

    I confess I've never been to Nan Tien Temple - but I've only been living in The Gong for 6 months. You've convinced me to check it out.

  • At 12/06/2010 10:32 pm, Anonymous R said…

    Such a beautiful place. You got me envious from start to finish! I love everything in here but I put Betty Boop on #1! The seafood platter was very tempting but the honey wafers are the most sinful treat of all. I really have to save to go to this lovely place.

  • At 12/06/2010 10:42 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi eatmarvin - You'll have to get along soon. The Temple is a great spot - you won't even notice you've whiled away a few hours.

    Hi chocolatesuze - haha, I knew it would.

    Hi Gourmet Getaway - That's one way to get Mr GG to opt in!

    Hi WyYv - I like the description you use of a frog underneath a coconut shell!

    Hi Tina - Me too. I've had some vegetarian roast duck that looks just like the real thing.

    Hi Hannah - Ahh it's always good to have a reminder to make scones!

    Hi Betty - Haha, I'm terrible. I prefer the word committed. lol

    Hi MelbaToast - Nan Tien Temple was great. The food was quite a surprise.

    Hi Joey - I agree. I could have eaten a few more of those drumsticks!

    Hi Nicole - The amount of greenery and things to look at make it ideal for keeping childhood boredom at bay. Hope you guys get there soon!

    Hi Katie - We did notice the menu at The Brewery. Maybe next time!

    Hi John - I didn't know/forgot you were a Dapto boy! It's amazing how they've converted the site into the temple.

    Hi TaShiEE - It's a lovely spot to contemplate and refocus on the important things in life :)

    Hi Ellie - Ahh that is good timing! I am sure you will all have a fantastic day. It's worth trying to book onto a tour.

    Hi Stan - lol. Apologies. We actually only had small tastings of each beer in large schooner glasses so it didn't make for ideal photos. The soy fillet was actually quite good. I had read that "fake meat" was initially made so non -vegetarian visitors felt more at home?

    Hi KT - Thanks for the recommendations. Will have to keep them on hand for my next visit! The Nan Tien Temple is definitely worth checking out. So tranquil and peaceful.

    Hi R - lol. It seems there are a few Betty Boop fans out there!

  • At 12/07/2010 8:17 am, Anonymous Annie said…

    Great post - there are some hidden treasures on the South Coast. Next time go that little bit further to beautiful Kiama, Gerringong and Jamberoo - you won't be disappointed!

  • At 12/07/2010 10:06 pm, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    Haven't been down to the Gong for a few years now, although I still have a few friends who live there. Ironically, they're always coming up to Sydney for food!

  • At 12/07/2010 10:43 pm, Anonymous Nemo said…

    South Coast is definitely under-rated. And I bet visiting south is much less stressful drive and less traffic for Sydneysiders than the Central Coast. Looking forward to revisitng Tea'se Me and the Nan Tien Temple.

  • At 12/08/2010 10:54 am, Anonymous Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said…

    So interested to see what you posted for Nan Tien temple. I went there with my family about oh, maybe 3 or 4 years ago and someone had recommended the vegetarian there. I have to say, I had very un-Buddhist thoughts and the food was rage-inducing. My parents lost all hope in me. It looks HEAPS better now - like what I expected so many years ago. Might relent and take my folks there again!

  • At 12/08/2010 4:49 pm, Anonymous R said…

    Wow, all the food looks delicious and I there's a cute Betty Boop! :)
    The sea food platter and the honey wafers are the most appetizing.

  • At 12/09/2010 12:13 pm, Blogger susan said…

    I love the Lagoon Bay restaurant. We have been there a couple of times and we got the seafood platter and it was amazing.



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