4 March 2021

Hot in the country: Boorowa's new chic cafe and wine bar

| Hannah Sparks
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The Marsden St General owners Isabel Gorham and Toyha Williams Johnson.

The Marsden St General owners Isabel Gorham (left) and Toyha Williams Johnson (right). Photo: Hannah Sparks.

If ever there was a breath of fresh air in Boorowa, it’s the opening of The Marsden St General cafe and pantry, and The Absolutely Superb Bibliothèque and Occasional Wine Bar.

These two new businesses are reinventing what was once a bush town reliant on groceries, fuel and rural supplies.

Bright and chic, The Marsden St General is a contemporary cafe and pantry that’s lifting the face of the main street.

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Customers hang around the shopfront, enjoying good coffee and even better company, perusing homewares and collecting weekend items from the deli.

This is what owners Toyha Williams Johnson and Isabel Gorham envisaged when they opened The Pantry on Pudman in the adjoining street in 2010.

“We opened The Pantry with the idea of it being a pantry but got caught up with the antique furniture and then people were loving the lounge-style coffee shop,” says Toyha. “So when we revisited the idea, we thought we would try and stretch out into a new space so we could have both.”

Toyha and her husband had been eyeing the space for several years and were keen to hold onto pieces of what locals long knew and loved as Max’s butcher shop.

“We’ve kept the original tiles, ceiling and floor,” she says. “It’s what generations knew as Max’s butcher shop so we wanted to keep a bit of that.”

Toyha and Isabel have also incorporated local produce into their pantry and menu, such as cured meats from Pialligo Estate in Canberra, and pies from Binalong.

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Even more popular are Isabel’s handmade cakes, biscuits and Portuguese tarts, which can’t be missed from the counter.

The pair opened the doors to their new cafe in October 2020 and admit it was a bit of a risk in the middle of a pandemic-stricken year.

Fortunately, The Marsden St General has been a success from the start.

“In the beginning, we were really saved by locals going out of their way to support us, and since then there have been so many travellers from the cities because they can’t go overseas,” says Toyha.

The Absolutely Superb Bibliothèque and Occasional Wine Bar owner Jeremy Clarke.

The Absolutely Superb Bibliothèque and Occasional Wine Bar owner Jeremy Clarke. Photo: Hannah Sparks.

Just around the corner is The Absolutely Superb Bibliothèque and Occasional Wine Bar, which combines owner Jeremy Clarke’s two loves: books and wine.

The intimate space opened in February 2021 and feels like an extension of Jeremy’s living room, with the host charming patrons with his knowledge of local wine while seamlessly carrying clinking glasses and mouthwatering charcuterie boards.

The idea for the wine bar was born out of COVID-19, with the former university academic and China tour operator forced to return to Australia and rethink his business.

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When it came down to it, Jeremy couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a wine bar in a town at the heart of a wine region.

“I do believe the Hilltops Wine Region is a little bit unknown and that’s because some of the grapes are sold onto other winemakers outside of the region,” he says. “It’s really nice to highlight the work of the region, one that’s easily accessible on the road from Canberra to Orange.”

There are 15 to 20 wines available by the glass at Occasional Wine Bar, and the list includes a handful of well-known Hilltops identities such as Freeman Vineyards, Moppity Vineyards and Grove Estate.

As the wine list and bookshelves grow, Jeremy hopes his business will, too, with plans to extend trading hours to Sunday, expand seating to the main street, and welcome authors to host talks.

There’s a buzz in the air as this town’s providores grow beyond the usual folk, and local chatter of a new restaurant and motel make Jeremy hopeful more people will stop by soon.

The Marsden St General is located at 25 Marsden Street, Boorowa, and is open Monday to Friday from 9 am to 4.30 pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 2 pm.

The Absolutely Superb Bibliothèque and Occasional Wine Bar is located at 99 Pudman Street, Boorowa, and is open Thursday to Saturday from 12 pm to 9 pm.

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