It’s been four years since Star Anise Cafe began dishing up modern European cuisine in Valentine.

Located right next door to Altitude’s office, I’m caught, hook, line and sinker on the extremely healthy grilled barramundi and salad for lunch. And you’ll often find me hunting down Star Anise’s Portuguese Tarts. That’s if the daytrippers to the lake haven’t bought them all already!

I spoke to co-owner Rowell Davidson about Star Anise’s delicious menu, their expansion with a second restaurant in Belmont and on just how incredibly supported Rowell and his wife and co-owner, Victoria, felt during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Congratulations Rowell – four years in Valentine and two months into your new venture in Belmont, how’s it all going?

Thank you! We’re so thrilled to have become a part of the community in Valentine over the past four years. We are on a first-name basis with practically everyone that comes in. It feels as if we’re in a small country town, although we’ve even got regulars from Toronto. Now a lot of loyal clientele from Valentine are supporting us here in Belmont. We’re also starting to get to know the local Belmont community, which is fantastic.

I’m impressed you managed to open the second Star Anise cafe mid-pandemic! How did it come together?

We’ve taken over The Brooks, which also was formerly known as Deck 56. When the restaurant came up it was too hard to pass up the magical view of the Lake. We’ve transplanted our successful format from Valentine to Belmont. You get a beautiful breeze and can smell that salty air through the windows. In summer, we will introduce takeaway seafood. Not only deep-fried seafood, but also fresh seafood such as prawns, oysters, and bugs.

How did the pandemic affect your business?

It was amazing that we only closed for half a day. Initially, we didn’t know what we were going to do, as we’d never offered a takeaway service. Then we had a meeting with all the staff and gave them the option of either closing the restaurant and everyone going on JobKeeper or, giving it a go. Fortunately for us, we had a very supportive community and it kept us afloat. We forged a lot of great friendships and bonds. Actually, we were probably even busier during the lockdown.

You juggle all of this with your wife, Victoria, and your two small boys. That must be pretty busy?

Yes, it’s basically myself and my wife and our team that work between Belmont and Valentine. It’s difficult juggling a one and a three-year-old and the second business because we’ve struggled to get staff over the past five months. We’re working between both cafes, as do our staff. We kept the menus the same in both restaurants to make things easier. It’s exactly the same, but we’ve had to stop our dinner services, due to staff shortages. We just can’t find chefs at the moment, which has been really extremely difficult for us.

What did you work, before starting Star Anise?

I completed my apprenticeship in Newcastle then worked in Honeysuckle and Lake Macquarie as an Executive Chef.  Victoria is also a chef. She is from Germany and completed her apprenticeship there. Then, 10 years ago, she came backpacking to Australia. She was passing through Newcastle and worked for me. Now we’re married with two kids and two businesses.

For those readers who don’t know your delicious food, how would you describe it?

We call ourselves a modern European cafe and we stick with the traditional way of doing things such as hand making our own pasta and bread – like our light sourdough. Our German pastry chef, Corrine, is amazing. In the daytime, it’s mainly a casual cafe, including favourites like eggs benedict and portobello mushrooms. We have Italian Night with pizza and pasta every Wednesday, Spanish Tapas Night every Thursday, and the last Saturday of every month is a themed night. This month it’s Octoberfest, of course. Friday and Saturdays are Wine and Dine nights. We’ve kept to this type of format as our customers in Valentine were coming two or three times a week. We didn’t want them to get bored with the same menu. So now they can choose something different every day.

That is dedication! And what about your Portuguese tarts?

They’ve been one of our best sellers. It’s just one of those things that we tried out and our customers kept asking for. It’s become our signature cake. We have regulars from Forster that come down here for a visit and buy half a dozen to take home. Everybody seems to love them!

I’m heading in now to stock up!

Star Anise’s Valentine cafe is open seven days a week, from 8am. There is no dinner service at Valentine. The Belmont cafe is open 8am to 9pm Wednesday through Saturday.

Photo credits: Star Anise Facebook page

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