Scott McRae’s taste of Albury

The Ragu at Canvas, just divine.
The Ragu at Canvas, just divine.

When it comes to regional towns there always seems to be some similarities, feelings that are often carried through the communities that are universal and are often felt by those visiting. Feelings of being welcome, awaited and accepted even though you are not local. It’s a feeling I adore and one that is evident in spades in the southern New South Wales gem known as Albury.

I have been a bit of a frequent flyer in these parts with my travel shows over the years and it has been a delight to watch the city go from strength to strength when it comes to offering tourists excellent choices be it via cuisine, cultural experiences or getting active on or around Australia’s longest river, the mighty Murray, that flows along the edge of the city centre.

The Mystical Mighty Murray

The Mystical Mighty Murray

Gone are the days when the only decent restaurant available in these types of cities was the Chinese feed at the local bowlo! A lot of the biggish regional centres have attracted top chefs from the major cities and beyond who have had enough of the big city life and made the move to one that offers a more balanced being. Then again there are many home grown and nurtured chefs that have put in the hard yards and are becoming just as successful. During my few days in Albury I was lucky enough to sample the offerings from both formulas.

Let’s start with one of my Albury favs, Riverdeck Cafe, sitting proudly on the banks of the Murray, The Riverdeck Café is open for breakfast and lunch seven days a week and serves dinners on Friday and Saturday nights and delivers a unique blend of modern Australian with a twist of Europe thanks to head chef Ludo Baulacky who has strutted his stuff in London and Mauritius. Managed with love by owners Christa and Alex Smit it is without doubt on of the premier dining establishments in the region. A trip to Albury must include a visit here.

A really great spot to enjoy a little culture and get a fine meal while you’re at it is available in the centre of town, MAMA is a really terrific venue, a real contemporary art experience. Not only does the gallery displays an array of ever changing exhibitions from far and wide, but it also has solid connections with the surrounding region, which I think is once again a sign of what the city is about generally.

The Riverdeck Cafe is in an idyllic spot amongst the trees.

The Riverdeck Cafe is in an idyllic spot amongst the trees.

After you have perused the gallery I suggest you head to what is really the main entrance and enjoy a meal or a beverage or both at the aptly named Canvas Eatery. The restaurant is situated in a lovely spot outside in the sunshine overlooking a wonderful old church and a lush expanse of lawn area. Once again the cuisine on offer is absolutely top notch and the relaxed atmosphere makes a visit there even more enjoyable.

Now if you’re partial to a wee dram of whisky a drop of gin, a morning coffee or for that matter, you’re a fella in need of a beard trim or a slick new haircut, well you can get it all at iiFingers. This place is eclectic to say the least – and in a way is a step back in time.

One of the main aims was to serve the finest premium whisky to hard working blokes after a long day. It has metamorphosed slightly and is definitely not a men’s only club. In fact, on my visit there were just as many females as males enjoying the relaxed and super comfy surrounds while enjoying a bite to eat, a spot of whisky or in my case a most delicious combo of gin and StrangeLove bitter grapefruit! Seriously it was one of the most refreshing, enjoyable drinks I have had in a long time. In fact, so good that I bought a case of StrangeLove to take home. Never thought I would be loving grapefruit juice!

The man behind the bar at iiFingers Chris Maney

The man behind the bar at iiFingers Chris Maney

iiFingers is certainly worth a visit, even if it’s just to admire co-owner Chris Maney’s outstanding beard.

I enjoyed a pre-dinner splash at iiFingers and then made my way to what from the outside looked like a very unassuming venue. On steeping inside and meeting owner operator Matt Fuller I was taken in by a very down-to-earth gentleman that oozed a certain charm. This theme continued as I eyed the restaurant space itself; nothing garish or overstated, just a comfortable, friendly atmosphere with a unique cross section of patrons all enjoying themselves.

Bistro Selle, food from the heavens!

Bistro Selle, food from the heavens!

That is where the humbleness ceased, because without doubt it was the food that is the star at Bistro Selle. Head chef Tara Davis is a genius! Creating dishes that, (and I don’t mean to judge) belie her age. She has such a cherub-like face that it’s as if the angels themselves have blessed her with an ability to produce food from the heavens! I kid you not, my meal here was one of the best I have encountered in my many, many travels both here and abroad. I believe Matt and Tara form the perfect team. You must visit, and you should book first!

The new Mantra Hotel room

The new Mantra Hotel room

When it came to my choice of accommodation in Albury I choose to explore the newest player in town. Mantra is well known for its contemporary comfortable properties all across the country and this is certainly evident with their newest offering in Albury. Nothing beats a comfy bed when you are travelling – I believe it just makes you feel a little loved.

The rooms are well designed and my room in particular was really well set out with an open style bathroom that had plenty of appeal. I also had a gorgeous view above the back end of town across to the mountain range in the distance, which was a pleasure to wake up to.

Albury shines.

Albury shines.

The hotel also has a superb location and it is an easy walk to just about everything you could want. Albury is a fairly flat town city as well so nothing is too difficult to explore. Mantra also has its own in-house dining option which unfortunately I didn’t get a crack at, but it looks very inviting so I certainly will in the future.

IF YOU GO

Take a stroll along the riverbank and admire the Wonga Wetlands.

Checkout the Albury Library/Museum which houses a very engaging permanent exhibition on the local history.

Grab a bike from the www.cyclestationalbury.com.au and visit the Botanic Gardens and ride some of the 50 kilometres of bike tracks on offer.

If you want help planning your Albury adventure, head www.visitalburywodonga.com 

Scott McRae is the host of Channel Ten’s A Taste of Travel. Visit www.scottmcrae.com.au and www.atasteoftravel.com.au