After 8 Years, Babyface Kitchen Is Still At The Top Of The Gong’s Dining Game

Bars, Eat, Restaurants, Travel / 15 April 2024
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After 8 Years, Babyface Kitchen Is Still At The Top Of The Gong’s Dining Game

Bars, Eat, Restaurants, Travel / 15 April 2024

Opening a restaurant like Babyface Kitchen was a risky leap, but it’s now recognised as the first step to transforming the dining landscape in this small coastal town.

Sometimes, it’s nice to step out of the big smoke. But when we do, expectations are high for experiences that meet the Sydney calibre. Here to prove that Wollongong meets these lofty standards is Babyface Kitchen. They just celebrated their 8th birthday, commemorating efforts in shaping Illawarra’s dining landscape, withstanding economic pressures, and still being recognised as the town’s best fine dining restaurant.

Back in 2016, when owner Genevieve Digregorio decided to open the doors on Kiera Street, there was no utter of the words “fine dining'” in Wollongong. Seeing this as an opportunity to bring the beachside town something new, they transformed the space into an unpretentious wine bar with exceptional food. They paved the way for restaurants such as Franco, Santino, and Roy’s, educating local palates in the world of minimal intervention wines, seasonal dining, and innovative plates unconfined by cuisine.

The menu exceeds 20 plates and takes hints at contemporary Japanese with plenty of dishes kissed by fire on the robata. But with the support of local small-batch producers and their hyper-seasonal goods, Head Chef Andy Burns gives the menu an Australian touch. He’s been kitchenside since the beginning and is well respected within the town and greater industry, having taken Good Food Guide Chef’s Hats two consecutive years in 2023 and 2024. A true dedication to craft shines in each dish through immaculate presentation and intricate flavours.

It’s as if being out of the Sydney bubble has given Andy a blank canvas to invent dishes outside of the realm of the humble tartare, crudo, and burrata. No dish is a spin-off of another we’ve tasted, which is exactly what we loved about it. It’s done the Andy Burns, Babyface Kitchen, Wollongong way.

The dishes change regularly to reflect the seasons but we were lucky to taste the triple decker skewer, which featured Green Lip abalone, chicken thigh, lardo, and bacon on a saltbush stick, cooked over coals, glazed with chicken tare and served in a glistening tomato butter. Another playful entree was the Brisket Cigar, which sat on the plate quite literally looking like a cigar, however it was stuffed with smoked and braised brisket and served with a dipping sauce of rhubarb ketchup.

Seafood is prominent across the menu with standouts including the beautifully fresh Yellowfin Tuna served alongside a bunya nut cream, dashi soy and beef fat crackers, and a luxe Moreton Bay Bug Spaghetti with garlic butter and Aleppo pepper.

We were chuffed with our order when the BBQ Hanger Steak appeared, served with Musset Holdings Farm mushrooms, mustard, thyme, and eschalot sauce. The meat had a crust that could only be achieved through fire cooking, and it allowed the contrast of the soft and juicy medium rare centre to shine. With a side of Roasted Cauliflower, served in cauliflower cream and a brown rice miso sauce which had the perfect balance of sweet and salty, the meal hit completion on a high.

It was only afterwards we realised why there was no need for complexity in the venue’s fit-out or design. It’s simple and allows the produce to be the focal point, whether it’s an exceptional glass of wine or the food on your plate. Concrete walls, neutral tones, and minimalism juxtapose the warm hospitality, echoing conversations throughout the restaurant and the exceptional food offering.

Babyface Kitchen was born out of a project of passion and we’re proud to see them still at the top of their game after 8 years. Their second venue 2 Smoking Barrels is another hot spot in Wollongong which we’d recommend. Since 2014, it has been the stomping grounds for the classic Aussie BBQ, but done with quality meats and the best Australian ironbark for real flavour.

Discover more of the best restaurants in Wollongong here.