If you dine at Chew Chew Bistro in the quaint hinterland town of Palmwoods, don’t be surprised if you come home with something pleasantly unexpected. It may be a vintage Rolex watch, or a hand-embroidered antique linen tablecloth. It may even be a crystal chandelier.
While this may seem like an unusual thing to happen over lunch, it tends to be a common experience for patrons of Chew Chew, located within vintage emporium The Shed Palmwoods, where expecting the unexpected is par for the course.
Nestled beside the railway tracks, The Shed Palmwoods came to life in 2021, after the bank of old railway sheds caught the eye of veteran business owners Geoff and Dianna Ryan. Having outgrown their previous premises at an industrial shed at Forest Glen where their business had been operating for several years, the couple could not resist the charm of the 103-year-old building.
Their vision was shared by local Antiquarian Marilyn Stokes, who had already begun the massive restoration process. Together, they transformed the heritage-listed building into a new destination for the Ryan’s unique business that sells upmarket vintage, antique and new homewares, art, jewellery, collectibles, and curios. Geoff and Dianna added Chew Chew, a licensed bistro that is open all day for breakfast, lunch, and morning and afternoon tea.
The bistro was a much-needed addition to The Shed, according to Dianna, an interior designer, who explains that their customers typically like to have time to wander, explore, and have a meal.
“We had a little 30-seat coffee shop in our other location but because of the charm of the place, we’d have buses turning up with people and they were wanting more meals,” she tells salt.
“Here, people can stay and have lunch, have drinks, and can come and wander through the store. We really encourage a relaxing atmosphere and that time to wander.”
Chew Chew offers a series of dining spaces that flow into one another. There’s the main dining room, which Geoff describes as “a bit of Ernest Hemingway meets Ralph Lauren meets the cigar bar”. Echoes of the building’s century-old history resonate – a fat Chesterfield lounge sits on original timber floorboards, surrounded by walls lined with tin from the original roof. There is a grandfather clock, massive elk horns, and a two-metre wide French chandelier. A fully licensed bar offers a good selection of wines by the glass, cocktails, and beers, including two on tap.
A private dining room, which seats up to 18, opens off the main room. A huge mid-century dining table is the star of this space, with railway gates at either end for maximum breeze flow. Two outdoor dining spaces complement the scene; the front verandah faces the street, and the back verandah is a platform deck adjacent to the railway track. It’s perfect for trainspotting while sipping an afternoon cocktail against the backdrop of the previously graffitied railway sheds, revamped by a mural artist.
With a team of highly qualified chefs in the kitchen, Chew Chew’s menu changes seasonally. There are daily specials on offer, fresh scones and muffins out of the oven each morning, and a local Palmwoods resident’s mouthwatering homemade cakes to sample.
Some of the lunch offerings include black sesame battered prawns served with housemade maple glaze and fresh lemon; a chunky beef cheek pie; Mediterranean chilli mussels; and a classic seafood chowder.
It’s not surprising that Chew Chew has garnered a hefty following since its opening in August 2021, and is particularly well known for its breakfasts. Alec sources ingredients from local fruit growers and farmers, and the plethora of suppliers in the region.
The breakfast menu includes a selection of eggs benedict variations, a breaky burrito wrap, and local lady finger banana pancakes.
“People come from far and wide for our breakfasts,” Geoff tells salt.
“Our chef’s very creative; he puts a modern twist on Australian and some international cuisine. But I think it’s the fresh quality, the portion size and the price, that keep people coming back.”
It’s not just people that are coming to Chew Chew Bistro either – the dog-friendly front and back outdoor dining areas are proving popular with local pooches, who find the deck to be the perfect spot for an afternoon siesta. Resident ‘Shed dog’ Bentley, a black spoodle puppy who is still learning the ropes, will be on hand to make new friends at any time.
The unmistakable ambience is also a large part of the attraction, with Dianna describing a palpable “energy” that permeates the entire premises.
“We just wanted to create a place that would feed the soul for people, that they could come to, feel good, enjoy beautiful food in a relaxing and unique atmosphere, and go away feeling really positive and that they’ve had a great experience,” she says.
The energy Dianna describes emanates in large part from the abundance of quirky, curious, and captivating items that fill the store to the brim, and provide customers with a veritable treasure trove to explore. With 70 per cent of the items antique or vintage, and 30 per cent new, there is little chance that what you find here will be replicated anywhere else. Each and every item is handpicked by Dianna and Geoff.
“We get new stock every single day,” Dianna tells salt.
“People bring things in boxes, or pull the car up and open the boot. We get things from all over the world. The criteria is that it has to be beautiful, it has to be high quality, and it has to be in very good condition or really interesting, weird and quirky.”
One of the most popular items is antique linen sets, according to Dianna, which would have made up a large part of a woman’s dowry in times past.
“They’re still in immaculate condition. What I love about that is that there’s been so much time and love put into making them, and you can buy that today and put it on your table, and you’ve got this amazing energy of something beautiful. I always wonder, how many people laughing round the table enjoying food, have used this tablecloth? I love that element of it.”