It’s a marriage made in reality TV heaven. My Kitchen Rules winner meets Married At First Sight contestant at Bondi birthday bash and, as they say on screen, they have an immediate connection.
Only it’s not TV, it’s real life and the ending is far happier.
Canberra’s James Webster married Bella Jakubiak on his parents’ olive farm last year and now they are joining forces with Tallagandara Hill winery near Gundaroo to open her first restaurant, Bella’s, with a wedding function centre also on the horizon.
Sydney-born Bella won Season 2 of MKR with her sister Sammy, while James was one of the first grooms in the opening season of MAFS.
Bella got her hands dirty, and burnt, after MKR, taking on an apprenticeship in which she worked hard and long hours for not much money in real commercial kitchens so she could be a respected chef.
She set up a catering company, Bella’s Feast, became the resident chef on the Morning Show on Seven, and then moved to Ten with the popular Kitchen Rescue TV show she created with her sister, which they produce and host. A second season kicks off on May 28.
Initially, Bella had her eye on a restaurant and wedding centre in the Southern Highlands but James said the less congested Canberra market offered more potential.
The restaurant has already had an outing with a special Mother’s Day banquet as part of the Wine, Women and Song Festival staged by Canberra region wineries but the grand opening is on May 18.
Bella’s will add a significant new eatery to the region and will be welcomed by wine lovers who know that great vintages go hand in hand with delicious food.
Bella and James have teamed up with Canberra’s David Faulks and Irishwoman Mary McAvoy at Tallagandra, who took over the vineyard in 2016 and run it as a family concern with David’s sons Ben and Sam and their families.
Wine-makers Greg Gallagher and Jake Carter craft a range of distinctive and diverse wines such as Vermentino, Cabernet Franc, Tempranillo, Shiraz and Viognier, dubbed with some memorable names including the Sassy Redhead, Prodigal Daughter and Favourite Son.
Bella says they were a perfect match, sharing the same values.
“The big reason why we’ve chosen to work with them is because we have so many similar values. Authenticity is really important, and family. They do so much work to promote the whole Murrumbateman region, in terms of tourism for wineries,” she said.
“They were just waiting for the right person to come to them. They have a cellar door already. We just needed to convert that to a restaurant,” she said.
That required a fair bit of work to install the commercial kitchen, with ‘superhusband’ James (“he’s like the guy from The Notebook“) doing everything except the electrics and plumbing.
Bella says she will be serving food cooked with a lot of soul from wine-producing regions of the world but peppered with Australian native produce such as saltbush, lemon myrtle, and riberry.
Try Italian buffalo mozzarella, truffle honey-roasted grapes, saltbush dust or bruschetta of tuna tartare, black olives, quails egg and lemon myrtle oil for an entree.
Then for a main, how about pepperberry spiced lamb, pearl cous cous, smoked eggplant or blackened prawns, saffron polenta, fried okra?
Finish with dark chocolate pudding, drunken raisins, almonds, and riberry coulis.
Bella welcomes those with special dietary requirements, embracing the challenge. She has even devised a special vegan menu.
The restaurant itself seats 45, evinces vintage charm with recycled furniture, bric a brac, framed album covers on the wall and a working jukebox in the corner. A fireplace keeps the place snug during winter while on warmer days there is seating outside as well as a children’s playground.
The next project will be the weddings function centre, which should be up and running in six months. A huge shed on the property is being converted into a rustic wedding venue, with two big old barn doors for the entrance, wine barrels and marquee lights – shed chic.
“It’s what most young women who are getting married want. They don’t want these days everything to be glitzy and glamorous, shiny and sparkling. They want something that is cute and classy and personal,” she said.
Bella’s vision is to turn Tallagandra Hill and the region into a destination venue.
She says Canberra is the same distance from Sydney as the Hunter Valley, “which is just brimming with restaurants and wedding centres, cellar doors and concert venues.”
“This area is so beautiful and it’s the same distance to travel from Sydney,” Bella said.
“My aim is to really boost tourism, have more things happening and get people to come down from Sydney, not just Canberra.”
It’s been a big change for a Maroubra girl to live somewhere cold and beachless but “once I spent more time here I realised what an amazing place it is here in Canberra.”
The couple have bought a house in Bungendore which they a planning to renovate in about a year, no doubt after bedding down the restaurant and wedding centre.
Reality TV could never compete with this real-life romance.
Tallagandra Hill is at 1692 Murrumbateman Road, Gundaroo, NSW. For more information, go here.