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Food

Top eats in the Hunter Valley

The Hunter Valley Wine Region is fast becoming a mecca for foodies. From casual bites to artisan cheeses and full degustation fine dining, there is a burgeoning restaurant scene that is exciting locals and visitors alike.

Here is our list of the Hunter’s top 20 culinary delights.

Muse

1 Broke Rd, Pokolbin
(02) 4998 6777
Hands down the Hunter’s best fine dining destination conveniently located at the gateway to the vineyards inside the sleek architecture lines of Hungerford Hill winery. Chef Troy Rhoades-Brown uses the best seasonal produce to serve immaculate dishes such as butter-poached scampi tails, slow-cooked lamb and his signature Muse Coconut dessert.

Restaurant Botanica

555 Hermitage Rd, Pokolbin
(02) 6574 7229
Restaurant Botanica at Spicers Vineyards Estate has made a name for itself thanks to its emphasis on sustainability. They make fresh bread daily and use their on-site kitchen garden to create healthy and locally sourced dishes that deliver freshness and flavour.

Margan Restaurant

1238 Milbrodale Rd, Broke
(02) 6579 1317
Margan uses produce from its one-acre kitchen garden and orchard in its the Meditteranean-inspired meals and complements it with Andrew Margan’s award-winning wines. A delightful atmosphere with views of the Brokenback Range.  

Bistro Molines

749 Mount View Rd, Mt View
(02) 4990 9553
Located at Tallavera Grove Bistro Molines is coveted by locals as one of the Hunter’s little gems thanks to the consistent cooking of Frenchman Robert Molines, who arrived in the region in 1973. Rustic provincial cooking paired with a stunning wine list.

Circa1876

64 Halls Road, Pokolbin
(02) 4998 4998
One of the new culinary highlights of the Hunter, located in the refurbished site of the historic Robert’s Restaurant at Pepper’s Convent. American-born chef George Francisco uses seasonal produce from the on-site kitchen garden to create a superb menu of modern Australian with French flair.

Muse Kitchen

Hermitage Rd, Pokolbin
(02) 4998 7899
Muse Kitchen (at Keith Tulloch Wines) is the second Hunter venue from Troy Rhoades-Brown, this one somewhat more laid back but still delicious seasonal produce. Breakfast at the weekends is not to be missed.

Esca

790 McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin
(02) 4998 4666
Located at Bimbadgen Estate, Esca serves modern Australian cuisine such as confit pork belly and Madgery Creek venison. Match with Bimbadgen wines or something off the varied international list.

Verandah Restaurant

Palmers Lane, Rothbury
(02) 4998 7231
Situated at Calais Estate, the Verandah Restaurant serves up delicious tapas or a la carte dishes such as slow-braised pork belly.  Make sure you save some space for the signature dessert of soft chocolate soufflé with Baileys and almond ice cream.

Sabor

319 Wilderness Rd, Lovedale
1300 958 850
Sometimes it’s a sweet hit you require and if you like to skip mains, Sabor is the place for you. Portuguese custard tarts, gourmet ice creams, hand made chocolates and terrific coffee.

Café Enzo

Cnr Broke & Ekerts Rd, Pokolbin
(02) 4998 7233
Located next door to the boutique wines of David Hook in Peppers Creek village, Café Enzo’s charming Tuscan-inspired courtyard is open for traditional breakfast, and lunch dishes such as barramundi on kipfler potatoes & pea purée.  

Mojo’s on Wilderness

84 Wilderness Rd, Lovedale
(02) 4930 7244
By day you can stop by the deli and stock up on gourmet sandwiches, delicious tarts and quiches straight from the oven, in the evening, Ros and Adam Baldwin serve up cultured European cuisine with natural flair.  

Restaurant Cuvee at Peterson House

Cnr Broke Rd & Wine Country Drive, Pokolbin
02 4998 7881
At the very gateway of the Hunter Wine Region is Peterson House where you can taste the best sparkling wines and pair them with the freshest of oysters then stay on for the full a la carte menu using regional produce.

Smelly Cheese Shop

2188 Broke Rd, Pokolbin
02 4998 6960
No trip to the Hunter is complete without a visit to the Smelly Cheese Shop. Now in two convenient locations, there’s no better way to match the wines of the region than to some of the locally made and international cheeses. A cheese lover’s paradise!

Goldfish

Cnr of Broke & McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin
(02) 4998 7688
Unwind in this bar & kitchen in the heart of the Hunter. Down to earth, laid back dining paired with a broad cocktail list with a range of tequila, whisky, boutique beer and of course, wine.

Oishii

Cnr of Broke & McDonalds Rd’s, Pokolbin 
02 4998 7051
Right next door to Goldfish at Tempus Two Winery you’ll find Oishii which fuses the best of Thai and Japanese cuisine. There’s sushi, sashimi and teppanayaki as well as Thai curries and salads.  

Lindemans 1843 café

McDonalds Rd, Pokolbin
02 4993 3700
Casual and comfortable dining for the whole family with dishes like wood fired pizzas, pulled pork and wild mushroom risotto – all at reasonable prices.  

Tatler Tapas

477 Lovedale Road, Lovedale 
(02) 4930 9139
Head chef Katy Carruthers has designed a delicious range of tapas delights including bacalau & potato croquetas, sardines escabeche, and Moroccan meatballs

Shakey Tables

1476 Wine Country Dr, North Rothbury
02 4938 1744
Art and food collide at chef Paula Rengger’s Shakey Tables, which serves up modern Australian blended with touches from Paula’s Scottish heritage.

Morpeth Sourdough

148 Swan Street, Morpeth
02 4934 4148
On the other side of the Hunter in the picturesque village of Morpeth, this is the site where the iconic Aussie brand Arnott’s started. Morpeth Sourdough serves an amazing range of sourdough breads. A must visit.

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Screw Cap vs Cork - the Seal of Approval
Words by Dave Mavor on 5 Jun 2017
Tasting Panellist Dave Mavor tells why a crack wins over a pop when it comes to opening wine. Screwcap closures were first used in the Australian wine industry in the 1970s, but consumers at the time perceived these wines to be of lower quality, and the initiative soon fizzled out. The screwcap comeback came in the 2000 vintage when a number of  ClareValley  winemakers bottled some of their  Rieslings  under screwcap to prevent cork-related faults. The most common of these is cork 'taint', caused by a compound known as TCA, which was often present in cork bark. Before the proliferation of screw cap closures in Australia, the level of wines ruined by cork taint was 12-15%. To put this in perspective, for every two dozen you purchased, it was accepted that there would be at least two bottles affected. This relatively high occurrence of cork taint was due largely to cork suppliers providing Australia with (compared to Europe) second rate corks with a higher incidence of taint producing bacteria. Due to the airtight nature of screwcaps, the problem of premature oxidation was also eliminated, along with the 'flavourscalping' tendency of the porous cork material, and other potential flavour modifications. Another advantage now widely recognised by consumers is the convenience factor - screwcapped bottles are easy to open and re-seal!   SCREWING WITH TIME One of the criticisms of screwcaps, apart from the ridiculous (in my view) notion of missing the 'romance' of the sound of popping a cork, was that the seal was so good that wines would not mature with time, due to the absence of oxygen. However, there is normally a miniscule amount of dissolved oxygen within the wine itself when it is bottled, which will allow the wine to evolve, and each bottle will age at roughly the same rate, while retaining its freshness and vitality for much longer. With wines under cork, the maturation process is not only much faster, but each bottle will age at a different rate due to the variable consistency and therefore oxygen permeability of the corks. A recent innovation in screwcap technology has seen the development of closures that allow strictly controlled rates of oxygen transmission, giving winemakers the choice of differing maturation rates for different wine styles. I have now had the opportunity to taste wines that have been aging gracefully under screwcap for up to 15 years, including the same wine bottled under both cork and screwcap. I've even had the privilege of tasting wines from those early adopters in the 70's, which at the time were still going strong.   INTERNATIONAL EYE-OPENER To reinforce my beliefs, award-winning Australian wine writer Tyson Stelzer came up with some stunning results from a tasting at Italy's biggest wine show, Vinitaly, in March, 2015. Tyson presented five mature flagship Australian red wines under both cork and screwcap in a blind tasting. Some of Australia's most age-worthy and respected reds were presented, including the  Henschke  Hill of Grace Shiraz 2004. In a major surprise the panel of international wine professionals voted the screwcapped wines ahead of the corks. "The result was ground-breaking for Italy, where screwcaps remain controversial and until recently have been prohibited on the country's top wines," Tyson said. Even Venice sommelier Annie Martin-Stefannato admitted "we will have to change our mindset". So, given all the evidence for the superiority of screwcap closures, my personal preference will always be to hear a 'crack' rather than a 'pop' when I open a bottle of wine.      
Wine
Introducing Kim Bickley, our new Tasting Panel member!
We’re excited to introduce our new Tasting Panellist, Kim Bickley. As one of Australia’s most highly respected sommeliers with over 10 years’ experience and an avid wine-lover, Kim is going to make a wonderful addition to our team of experts. What first attracted you to working with wine? I'd always had an interest in wine, but my interest truly peaked when I began a job in a restaurant while studying a degree in Communications. I worked alongside a talented sommelier who encouraged all the team to taste, read and attend tastings. I loved the anticipation of what was in the bottle, the older wines in particular, and I still do.  You qualified through the Court of Master Sommeliers – what did that involve? The Court of Master Sommeliers includes a 3-part examination: theory, tasting and service. You need to know about wine and spirits from all around the world, including being able to differentiate them in a blind tasting. Also, how to cellar, serve and maintain a restaurant wine list. The study never really stops if you’re really into wine, things are always changing, new regions emerging and older ones reinventing themselves. I just love it.  You’ve since worked for some of Australia’s most impressive restaurants including Luke Mangan’s Glass Brasserie and Black by ezard – what are some of your standout memories? I have so many, the team become like family to you; the regular customers like friends…things like that are what keep you in the game. I also enjoyed looking after some of the world’s best known celebrities and seeing what they like to drink. From Jerry Lewis (Barolo lover) to Cuba Gooding Jr (Sauvignon Blanc). You’ve been a sommelier for over a decade, what are the top 3 changes you’ve seen in that time? When I started out, there were only a handful of true sommeliers working in Sydney, now almost every little restaurant has one. It has become accessible and easy for young and upcoming sommeliers to study and qualify now, for a long time there was very little available, aside from reading The Oxford Wine Companion , now almost every city has WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) available (and it's also possible to study online), there are multiple tastings on every week, and a great selection of truly talented Group Head Sommeliers for them to train under – it's a great time to be a somm.  Good Aussie Chardonnay has gone from over-oaked and overblown to incredibly restrained, balanced and often as good as some of the best in the world.  The increased popularity of so called ' natural wines ', some of which are incredible and delicious, but many of which are faulty and horrible to drink. I find it fascinating that they have become so popular, given the risky nature of purchasing them if you don't know the producer well.    How has your love of wine changed over your career so far? Do you still have the same favourite varieties as you did when you started? I still have the same favourites, plus a few more now. My love of wine has only deepened, I have been fortunate to have had the chance to travel Australia and the world to see so many amazing regions and their wines. Best of all, I have met so many great people, vignerons and sommeliers alike.  You’re also a wine educator – what’s the most rewarding part of teaching people about wine?   Seeing people learning the basics of wine and have that 'ah-ha' tasting moment when they really get it, you know they'll be hooked for life. And seeing some of the young sommeliers that trained with me running their own wine lists in some of the world’s best venues; and a couple are even winemakers now.  What are you looking forward to most about being on the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel ? Tasting and discovering some of Australia's best new wines with my talented Panel-mates, discussing these wines and seeing them enjoyed by the Wine Selectors customers. I especially look forward to tasting them at the airport cellar doors, next time I pass by!  You now call the Hunter Valley home, what drew you to this region and what do you think are some of the most exciting wine styles being made there? I always loved the Hunter Valley and its Semillon in particular. There is no other wine in the world like it. It's so delicate and yet powerful, it's flexible with food and is one of the handful of white wines that develop beautifully with age. Now with most being under screw cap, its ageing potential will be amazing to track in the next 50 years and beyond. I also love Hunter Shiraz and am excited to see the historical blend of Pinot Noir and Shiraz making a very strong comeback.  It's a beautiful place to live, I'm so happy to be here. 
Wine
Behind The Vine At Helen's Hill
To celebrate the  Helen's Hill Ingram Road Pinot Noir 2015  being our April Wine of the Month, we caught up with Allan Nalder from  Helen's Hill . What makes the Ingram Road 2015 Pinot Noir so appealing? To answer that I need to take a step back. All of our wines are 100% single vineyard and are all made at my winery. Only fruit that we grow on our vineyard goes into the wines that we make. It's not that we don't trust anyone, it's just that we don't trust anyone. We think this is super important. Come visit and I can take you to the very vines that make the wine you are going to enjoy. Call us "control freaks". I'll take it as a compliment. The  Ingram Rd 2015 Pinot Noir  benefits greatly from this approach. Pristine  Yarra Valley  single vineyard fruit, French oak maturation, careful "hands-off" winemaking and a great vintage all combine to produce a wine that expresses hallmark  Pinot Noir  characteristics. And its price point is extremely compelling. You have over 50 acres of Pinot Noir, what makes you so enthusiastic about this often-difficult grape? You're right, Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow and can really only grow well in specific, little tucked away corners of the world. The Yarra Valley, and the little patch of dirt I call home, is one of those places. It also helps to be a bit of a Pinot Noir fanatic. To me, it is one of the most remarkable red wines in the world. I once saw a quote about Pinot Noir growers from a wine writer: "its makers are lunatic-fringe, questers after the holy grail…" - Marc de Villiers wine writer. We fit that mould. Who is the Helen of the hill? We bought the property from Mr. Fraser in the mid 90s. He had owned the pasture land from the early 1950s. The reason he bought the land was because he fell in love with a woman called Helen, who wouldn't marry him unless he owned a farm. True love prevailed and he bought the farm. Sadly, Helen passed away some 6-7 years after their marriage. Mr Fraser never re-married and throughout the property inspection, he recalled many stories of Helen and her time there. From his stories, it was obvious that she had a passion for the land. We share that passion and thought it appropriate to name the vineyard after her. What makes Scott McCarthy a standout winemaker? To be blunt, the fruit. We live by the very old, well used, but absolutely true saying: "great wine is made in the vineyard". The most important decision we make in the winery is deciding when to pick the fruit. The rest of the process is relatively simple. Pristine quality fruit allows us to rely on natural fermentation, minimal filtering and minimal winemaking intervention. Our ethos is not to describe "perfection" as when there is nothing left to add, but rather, when there is nothing left to take away. We feel this is the key to winemaking. Ensure that we do as little as possible so we can deliver mother nature in the bottle. You also  make a range of beers  - why did you decide to go into brewing and what do you think makes a top beer? It gets pretty hot and sweaty picking grapes. Added to that, I ain't getting any younger, so after a big day in the fields a nice, cold craft beer is a perfect tonic. As winemakers and vignerons go, we drink a lot of beer, so it wasn't that hard to come up with the idea of brewing our own. Getting the recipe right, the choice of hops and quality malt is critical and keeping the fermentation process under control. The rest depends on what you like. We serve our brews at Cellar Door and luckily our customers reckon they're pretty tasty. What are the top 3 attractions you'd recommend to a first-time Yarra Valley visitor? The great thing about the Yarra Valley is the diversity. You can visit the  YV Dairy  and sample a variety of cheese, the Chocolate Factory, world class art museum, on-farm produce stores for things such as apples, strawberries, etc, 6 top golf courses, mountain biking, bush trails, historic buildings, micro breweries, gin distillery and of course the odd cellar door and vineyard restaurant. The valley really has a huge range of things to do. Obviously, a great place to start is Helen's Hill. Full al-carte restaurant on top of the hill with sensational views or our Cellar Door and casual dining nestled down in the winery amongst the vines.
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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