The road less travelled

A country pub with a gastronomic reputation worth travelling for.

The Argyle Inn is not the sort of place you’re likely to just stumble on by accident, but once you have the inside scoop, it’s certainly worth the trouble to visit.

James Thompson

1 February, 2021

This is beautiful country and some of the richest farming land in New South Wales

So you want to escape the seemingly endless sprawl of Sydney for a couple of days of country indulgence but are in need of inspiration? You want to explore parts unknown and enjoy superb fare, and while all points of the compass are catered for with any number of well-known options, you want to try somewhere new or at least off the well-worn tourist drives that exist north and south of the city. 

In this age of instantly shared communications and information, true hidden gems and real discoveries don’t stay hidden for very long but in the case of the Argyle Inn in Taralga, New South Wales, it’s not so much a closely guarded secret, as a place that requires a commitment on the part of the traveller to enjoy. But it’s a commitment that replays with interest.

Heading south out of Sydney traditionally means a trip into the Southern Highlands – Mittagong, Bowral and Moss Vale – just a stone’s throw down the M31 once you escape the snarl of traffic in Sydney’s outer suburbs. This area has long enjoyed a well deserved reputation for both premium accommodation and wonderful food that has made it an a must visit destination for Sydneysiders in particular.

But while a visit to this gorgeous area is always time well spent whether it be for lunch, coffee or a game of golf, there are rewards to be had for those who continue on to new pastures – so to speak. Keep going down the freeway toward Canberra until you arrive in Goulburn, and you are just 30 minutes from a wonderful discovery. 

Still the home of the giant Merino, Goulburn very much slipped off the radar in 1992 when the bypass was built, and many travellers heading to or from the nation’s capital simply kept going. In more recent years, Goulburn has enjoyed something of a renaissance as a rural business centre  with its abundance of space and proximity to Canberra. With its ChargeFox station easily accessible, it also provides the perfect place to stop and recharge mentally and automotively before heading on to Canberra or perhaps across to Braidwood and then the South Coast. Or perhaps head north towards Oberon and Wombeyan Caves via a little place called Taralga.

Not to be confused with Tarago, which is east of Goulburn on the way to Braidwood and the South Coast, Taralga is just a 45 kilometre drive north from the heart of Goulburn. A quintessential country town, most activity centres around the main street which plays home to the majority of businesses, sports club, the school and two heritage listed pubs. Home to around 450 people, the town was established in the mid 1800s although the explorer John Oxley first came this way in 1820, and John MacArthur’s son James and his nephew became the first landholders in the area in 1824.

It is nestled in prime grazing country and the drive in from Goulburn takes you over rolling hills and lush pasture that produce some of the Merino sheep the region is so famous for as well as beef cattle, dairy cattle and small vineyards scattered around the area.

Taralga is just a 45 kilometre drive north from the heart of Goulburn – a quintessential country town, where activity centres around the main street

The other pub, the Taralga Hotel sits at the other end of the main drag.
The Argyle Inn was first licensed in 1875.

First licensed in 1875, The Argyle Inn sits at the far end of the main street as you enter from Goulburn

With its old churches, wide main street, Taralga is a reminder of what so many Australian towns were once like and in addition to its majestic original stone homes and heritage buildings, Taralga also sports two pubs. The Taralga Hotel and the Argyle Inn sit at opposite ends of the main drag and it is to one of these that visitors with a taste for fine food and country hospitality are increasingly drawn.

First licensed in 1875, The Argyle Inn sits at the far end of the main street as you enter from Goulburn, a beautifully restored building that combines historical charm with a contemporary spin.  In 2016 it underwent something of a rebirth when Sydney chef turned local farmer, Hugh Wennerbom and his architect wife, Mary Ellen Hudson, took it on with local sheep and cattle graziers, Keith and Maureen Kerridge. With the former couple owning the famed Holmbrae chickens and latter, Bannaby Angus, the finest local produce was assured from the beginning, setting the stage for what has become a culinary revelation for those heading to the small town to see what all the fuss is about.

Paying homage to its Victorian roots but with that contemporary air, the interior features the high, ornate ceilings of the era all lovingly brought back to their former glory and the tables are set with starched white tablecloths, the cutlery and crockery vintage, and yet there is nothing remotely stuffy about the atmosphere. 

Wennerbom who worked as a chef in Sydney before coming to the Southern Tablelands is host at the Argyle Inn and oversees lovingly prepared dishes that have won widespread acclaim. This is a pub after all, but there’s ‘pub food’ and then there’s the Argyle Inn and its celebrated culinary offerings. On the surface it is essentially simple, honest cooking that very much champions the largely local ingredients, but like most apparently simple things, it takes considerable skill to arrive at the result.

From the sublime sourdough which is reason enough to visit, to the superb, locally sourced  produce and homemade pastas, the flavour combinations are carefully considered and perfectly balanced. Wherever possible the ingredients are locally sourced or produced, but where produce is brought in, it maintains the same high standard demanded by Wennerbom and his small team.

The menu changes with the seasons and the ingredients, and the popularity of ‘The Argyle’ means that bookings are essential. The fact that lunch and dinner is served only on Saturdays adds to the exclusivity of the establishment, but those visiting on a Friday night can still get a taste for the place with what’s called ‘Friday Night Bites’, an informal bar style menu that could be burgers one week or a bar-b-que the next. Regardless, that emphasis on quality ingredients and an elegant simplicity remains.

The menu changes with the seasons and the popularity of ‘The Argyle’ means that bookings are essential

Of course a trip to Taralga need not be limited to a meal, but is the perfect place to come and linger for the weekend

The drinks list too tends to the region, with plenty of locally brewed beers on tap and a wine list that also features the nearby Canberra wineries amongst its offerings.

Of course a trip to Taralga need not be limited to a meal – it is after all a commitment off the more usual route from Remembrance Drive between Sydney and Canberra. With eight beautifully appointed guest rooms at the Argyle Inn itself and additional accommodation within easy strolling distance, this is a perfect place to come and linger for the weekend. Not surprisingly, ‘The Argyle’ has become a popular destination for those wanting to host a special event as well as those just wanting to escape to parts less well known.

Regardless of your reason to visit Taralga, your decision to take that often ignored turn from Goulburn will not disappoint and will find yourself looking for excuses to once again escape the cities and take that road less travelled.

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