There’s nothing better than driving around Norfolk Island, meandering down twisting and narrow paths, and discovering breathtaking views and sea glimpses around every bend. Soaring pines, green hills and cattle grazing contentedly can be enjoyed at every turn but, to find a truly unique scene, head to The Homestead Restaurant. Turn into Ferny Lane, which skirts the airport, and follow the main strip as you go along New Farm Road, and eventually reach ‘Hundred Acres’ (Rocky Point Reserve). The Homestead Restaurant is directly opposite the reserve, and nestles beside an avenue of magnificent Moreton Bay Fig Trees.
It’s a magical place – a glorious canopy of branches forms a shadowy archway, while the huge, buttressed roots sprawl onto the lane, and small shafts of light fall across shifting leaf litter. Owner and chef, Kurt Menghetti, grew up on Norfolk. He lived in the rambling Island house, climbed the fig trees with his siblings and played in Hundred Acres. He savours its beauty every day, and is happy to see his old home re-invented as The Homestead Restaurant. With his wife, Jill, and their children – Siena, Rocco and Alba – Kurt has dedicated himself to creating a sustainable, fine dining experience on Norfolk Island.
Kurt is passionate about food and traces his obsession back to childhood days when his mum and dad, ‘Jap’ and Sue Menghetti, opened the original Homestead Restaurant. Encouraged by Marie Bailey, a pioneer of local tourism, Kurt’s parents began serving Devonshire teas at their property. Later, in the ‘80s and ‘90s, they converted the old house into a popular eatery, and Kurt can remember various chefs telling him that cooking was a ‘mug’s game’. Ironically, he chose to pursue the culinary arts and now presides over the same kitchen.
The Menghetti’s restaurant was very successful, but after Kurt’s mother passed away in 1995 the family leased the business to others. Kurt finished school and then went to Australia to begin training as a chef. He met Jill, who was also a chef, and they fell in love. They were both avid ‘foodies’ and decided to start their first restaurant together, on Norfolk, in 2005. They revamped The Garrison in Taylors Road and established a stylish venue with an emphasis on fresh, local produce and innovative cooking.
In 2009 Kurt and Jill relocated to Sydney (with baby Siena) to gain more experience in the food industry. Kurt worked at Longrain – Australia’s top Thai place – and Lock, Stock and Barrel in Bondi, where he gained a Chef’s Hat. Jill worked in ‘back of house’ restaurant management, and looked after their young family. It was a wonderful time and they both learned an enormous amount, but they missed their friends and relatives and sometimes longed for the relaxed Island lifestyle.
By 2016 Kurt and Jill were ready to escape the ‘rat-race’ and spend more time with their children, so they returned to Norfolk. Being part of a small, caring community – while growing, foraging and cooking their own food – was very appealing to both of them. Kurt had great memories of growing up on Island: swimming, surfing and enjoying the great outdoors and wanted his kids to enjoy that freedom too. Kurt worked at The Olive café, but he and Jill began experimenting with dough recipes and wood-fired ovens. Before long they were baking crusty loaves for half the Island!
Kurt’s grandma was Sheba Buffett and she married a Frenchman, Francis Menghetti, who came to the Island after World War II. Francis settled into life on Norfolk, but always missed French bakeries. He especially loved baguettes, so Kurt believes his own interest in home-made loaves may go back to his grandfather. A highlight of The Homestead’s current menu is the delicious, naturally fermented ‘Forager’ sour-dough bread that Jill and Kurt have perfected over the past few years.
In fact, Jill and Kurt make sure everything they serve meets the highest possible standards. Like many Islanders Kurt is a keen amateur fisherman, and his knowledge of marine life is extensive. He enjoys spear-fishing and has recently been teaching his kids to spear and cook their own dinner too. Kingfish, Trevally and Flame Trail Snapper have all featured on The Homestead’s menu and the Menghettis source the best, and freshest catch from Norfolk fishermen.
This commitment extends to all their suppliers – they use Norfolk produce: eggs, mushrooms, fruit, vegetables, honey and meat wherever possible. Kurt and Jill also have their own chooks, beehives, herbs, veggie patch and mini-orchard next to the restaurant and will forage for bush lemons, quail, shellfish and guavas to create signature dishes, or add a unique twist to their beautiful creations. The notion of avoiding waste, conserving precious resources and supporting other small businesses is very important to them.
When the opportunity arose, in 2019, to move into Kurt’s old place and re-open The Homestead – which had been used as a recording studio, bistro, steakhouse and private museum – the Menghettis were eager to ‘give it a go’. They set up an Argentinian Perilla Grill, which uses their own charcoal, carefully manufactured from African Olive trees on the property, to make gourmet grilled meats and vegetables. Breads and authentic pizzas are a speciality and there’s a tasty range of mains: succulent steaks, pork belly and fish served in a myriad of ways. A great selection of drinks, and decadent desserts, complements the array of high-quality meals and starters on offer.
The restaurant is very much their ‘baby’ – Jill and Kurt care for the herbs and vegetables, plan menus, gather supplies and prepare ingredients together. The children and ‘Jap’ willingly do chores, too, which helps The Homestead run smoothly, and they also employ a group of young Islanders to wait on tables and assist in the kitchen. Much of the work is done beforehand and the Menghettis are inspired by music as they harvest, cook, clean and bake – they enjoy every musical genre from cool jazz to wild bluegrass. They also draw inspiration from their well-tended garden and the tall pines and ancient fig trees which border their home. Kurt admits, though, to being something of a coffee addict; needing to drink three or four espressos to get him through the day.
The homestead was built in the 1930s and Jill has chosen furniture and fittings that suit its Art Deco ambience. In winter, diners are kept cosy and warm with roaring wood fires, but in summer they can eat out on the verandah and catch the evening breeze. The service is excellent; relaxed but attentive, and guests are made to feel very special. Jill, Kurt and the team do their utmost to give residents and tourists top-class food in a gorgeous setting, while showcasing Norfolk’s amazing seasonal produce. Treat yourself…you’ll be glad you did.
The Homestead Restaurant: