Gleaming copper ceilings, six cosy fireplaces and handmade Victorian-style drapes – step back in time to Bungendore's newest restaurant.
The historic Carrington Inn has had a lavish 1880s makeover and opens its new restaurant this week, marking the start of a new era for the old coach house.
Owner Richard Graham bought the Carrington Inn three years ago and has been restoring and refurbishing the large tavern and restaurant complex since. "We tried to create an experience of what an aspirational life might have been like in 1885," he says.
The restaurant complex is known as the Wintergarden and, like any good Victorian establishment, is made up of many separate spaces. There's the wood-panelled bar, the Tom Wills Tavern, which features burnished copper ceilings imported from a period manufacturer in the United States, Victorian chandeliers and decorated mirrors. "Tom Wills, whose portrait is here, he was a famous cricketer and founder of Aussie Rules football and he was born just up the road," Mr Graham says.
There are tables for drinks on the verandahs in warm weather and a manicured courtyard garden filled with flowers and picnic tables. Inside, the Empire Salons are the main dining area, or guests can hold court in private dining rooms with William Morris wallpaper and stamped, shiny tin ceilings. The thick drapes are handmade, the bar rescued from another part of the original Carrington Inn, and elaborate textured patterns, like 3D wallpaper, cover the walls.
"It's intended to let people escape from this world," Mr Graham says. "Our whole goal here is to represent that sense of aspiration and reward – when people come to dine here that's what we want them to walk away with that sense of having arrived."
Mr Graham says he was encouraged to buy the property by former owner Toni Dale. He had been working in the software business for 30 years and was ready for a change. "I was looking for something that I could do for the next 20 years. And I saw the Carrington as a beautiful project, it had real goodwill attached to it, it had great historic value and so I saw it as something I could put my time and my heart into and make a real difference," he says.
English chef Andrew Stansbie, who has worked in Fairmont and Swissotel resorts, is in the kitchen and restaurant manager Merili Pihlamae, who happens to be his wife, says the menu will be modern European with some Australian classics and will focus on quality produce and hearty food.
The tavern and restaurant open this week, with a tea room serving handmade cakes and patisserie to follow in later weeks. Once the restaurant is up and running, Mr Graham will turn his attention to Carrington Inn's hotel rooms, which date to the 1980s and will be refurbished in turn.
The Carrington Inn represents a sea change for Mr Graham and his team. He hails from California but moved to Australia for work with the ComputerLand retail PC company. When his ex-wife and son moved to Bungendore about 20 years ago, he bought a property in the area and settled into rural life "like that", he says with a smile.
Ms Pihlamae's transition is more recent – she's Estonian and worked in hospitality around the world with Mr Stansbie. The couple's last stop before Bungendore was Azerbaijan. But she loves the change. "It's very peaceful. I love the family feeling that you get here, people say hi and bye on the street, people you don't know, and it just makes you feel very comfortable and safe and welcome," she says.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.