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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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Life
Native uprising
Words by Libby Travers on 30 May 2016
What is a taste of Australia? Waves of immigration have painted broad culinary brushstrokes and shaped our cooking, making Australia one of the most open-minded, adventurous and diverse culinary nations on the globe. But Looking at the food culture we’ve created it is very apparent what it isn’t – natural. It has only been relatively recently we have seen this veil lift. Chefs, albeit predominantly foreign chefs, are placing the emphasis on our native ingredients, learning their stories and understanding the virtues hidden in what remains a very foreign landscape for far too many.   Ben Shewry, who runs Attica, one of Australia’s most lauded restaurants, is one such chef. A New Zealander, Shewry has built his restaurant on innovation and understanding of the local environment. Alongside his large gardens at Ripponlea, Melbourne, Shewry’s team are often found foraging for local ingredients along our shores. Dishes such as wattleseed bread, salted red kangaroo with bunya bunya and goolwa pippies are testament to this. Scottish chef Jock Zonfrillo, of Orana in Adelaide, has taken this a step (or is it a giant leap) further by spending weeks at a time visiting remote regions of Australia to learn from Australia’s indigenous people. The lessons he is bringing back into his kitchen are fascinating. This has been his approach from the beginning: “I was told in the mid 90s, when I first arrived in Australia, there wasn’t much to investigate with regards to Australian food,” explains Zonfrillo, “I thought it impossible that there was 50,000 years of some kind of food culture and ingredients that were not worth looking at.” Of course, Zonfrillo was right. “I took myself down to Circular Quay and sat down next to an Aboriginal fella who was busking with a Didgeridoo. "I introduced myself and asked if I could talk about food and culture with him. We had conversations that day about catching a particular fish and only using a specific wood to cook that fish, how hot the coals had to be, the aroma of the fish as it cooked over the coals and how the plant within weeped its citric juices through the fish from the inside out – I could have been talking to a highly trained chef.” Indigenous agriculture Our soil is some of the oldest in the world. It is unique and very delicate. And yet, all the crops and animals we put in it and over it, all the fresh produce in our supermarkets and our farmers’ markets, are foreign species only introduced over the past two centuries. In Bruce Pascoe’s book Dark Emu he presents a compelling argument for pre-colonial agriculture in Australia, citing examples of complex aquaculture systems, grain crops and indeed silos, and seasonal planning. While the book serves to throw off the hunter-gatherer label of indigenous Australia, it also serves to open up the question as to what else has been missed. For example, many Aboriginal nations worked to a six-season cycle for the year. This was not prescribed across the whole country, with different Aboriginal nations working to different timetables depending on the earth, the migratory patterns of the local animals and the weather (with the wind as much a factor as the rains). Why did we think a cookie-cutter idea of seasonal variation would be the most applicable to our wide, brown land? A world of wonder The flavours of our native ingredients are also an amazing untapped resource. Just like our soils, these indigenous ingredients have not been tampered with, they are almost exactly as they were 20,000 years ago. Working with our native ingredients is an opportunity to cook with history – heirloom vegetables and heritage breeds of the utmost purity. Of course, working with Australia’s native ingredients is not without its difficulties. They have not been bred to sit on supermarket shelves, they have not been cross-pollinated to withstand hours, if not days, on trucks traversing the country like modern-day produce.   Vic Cherikoff, author of Wild Foods, looks to the quandong to illustrate this point: “It’s a fruit that can be picked over a five- or six-week period off the same tree, requiring at least three or four visits to complete the harvest. They will be over-ripe in a matter of days, with the blue quandang it’s over-ripe in a matter of hours.” Most of these native ingredients are not commercially grown. Furthermore, many of these ingredients thrive in parts of arid Australia that have been largely ignored by modern industry, meaning transport in and out is difficult and costs are high. Thus, most of these ingredients are only available frozen, dehydrated or in powdered form. Cherikoff, who has been working with native ingredients for decades, has actually made this the central component of his business. He now works with powders and spices to make a powdered supplement rather than try to promote the individual ingredients. “Unfortunately native ingredients suffered some major negativity back in the ’80s and ’90s so without question that has had an impact,” says Zonfrillo. “Secondly, the prices we are seeing   make it impossible for many kitchens to use them, let alone someone at home, and finally, supply is pretty scarce across the board. New directions and directives need to be taken within the native foods industry in Australia in order to make Australian ingredients accessible, affordable and a wanted commodity.” The need for a common goal Not all the roadblocks are natural, in fact, many are bureaucratic. It was only 30-odd years ago that kangaroo meat was first made available for commercial sale. It is now the exception and the rule. Government legislation stipulates that emu, for example, cannot be taken from the wild, but must be farmed, making the fledgling industry almost impossible to get off the ground. Valuing these ingredients is a big part of the problem. For many years, while we were sowing wheat, herding sheep and crushing grapes, there was only one Australian native under cultivation – the macadamia. Even then, we exported the trees to Hawaii, which now produces 95 percent of the world’s macadamia needs. We spend billions every year on research and development for the wheat and cattle industries of Australia (among many other foreign food items), and leave our native produce to flounder. Zonfrillo has his own plan for this, setting up the Orana Foundation. “Over the years we have been able to assist communities in setting up micro businesses, mainly in wild harvest. Wild food is a commodity which we are not only happy to trade in, but also to understand and tell our customers the story of an ingredient, its history, traditional uses and its cultural significance to the land from which it came,” explains Zonfrillo. “The Foundation will continue this work on a much larger scale, touching more communities, more people, more opportunities while ensuring we collate and document as much of the historic information together. We have many projects awaiting funding from both government and philanthropists, which will commence this year, enabling us to do the most important part – give back.” Culinary identity as a tourist driver is a familiar concept. The arrival of Rene Redzepi and the Noma team to our shores, a collaboration between Tourism Australia, Lendlease and the Noma team, has required significant government investment. Their mission was to cook with indigenous ingredients. “We couldn’t have created Noma Australia if we had not travelled this vast country,” says Redzepi. “You need to meet the people who are harvesting, growing, catching, foraging your food. Once you meet them, and you understand their work, you start planning what flavours you want. “On my many trips around Australia I’ve seen a larder that is so foreign to me. Foraging for abalone, eating fresh muntries, nibbling on pepper berries and cracking open a bunya nut – these experiences are so wild compared to what we’re used to in Europe. Spending time with indigenous communities in places like Arnhem Land have left the biggest impact on me and the Noma team.” It will be interesting to see the impact of Noma Australia, and another foreign chef, on our local palates. It would not be a wild leap to suggest many of these ingredients are as foreign to Australians as they have been to the Danes. The identity we deserve Redzepi’s restaurant in Copenhagen is widely considered the best in the world. However, it was his vision for the restaurant that is particularly interesting. Redzepi is almost solely responsible for turning Copenhagen’s culinary glance inwards, a move that eventually led to the world glancing (glaring) in their direction. Alex Atala of D.O.M. in Brazil has done likewise, while Magnus Nilsson of Favikan has literally written the book on it for Sweden. Their focus on local ingredients has meant more than the success of their restaurants, it has resulted in an interest in their country’s cuisine (and culture) from all corners of the globe. This is not a new phenomenon. In the 1600s the French began to fear their economic dependence on the spice route. To tackle this they made a decision to turn their cuisine inwards, promoting the ingredients from their own backyard over the foreign spices. The result was not just to loosen the grip of the spice trade, but the creation of a French identity, a symbol that has endured for centuries. We can, in part, thank the spice trade for the ubiquitous French restaurant. This could be the revolution we are seeing in Australia now. It’s a big deal, because it has the potential to shine a positive light on the culinary culture of indigenous Australia. It is an opportunity to celebrate knowledge and build respect; an opportunity to build a culinary identity for Australia that includes all Australians. It’s about time.
Wine
Meet Chester Osborn from d’Arenberg
The Wine Selectors Wine of the Month for October is the d’Arenberg The Broken Fishplate Sauvignon Blanc 2014. So we caught up with its maker, the man of many shirts, Chester Osborn. You’re a finalist in the Entrepreneur of the Year National Awards – how does that feel? I feel quite honoured, however, at the end of the day I’m just doing what I love. It’s not work. If it’s worth doing it’s worth doing well. Can you recall the first wine you tried? It was probably a flagon wine when I was about four years old. I also remember that at around seven I tasted the so-called good reds and I didn’t like them. The fortified white Muscat was nice though. When did you fall in love with wine? At the age of seven I decided I wanted to be a winemaker, so I guess I was in love with wine even if I didn’t like much of it. It’s a hard call but do you have a favourite wine or varietal? I suppose it would be Nebbiolo from Piedmont. However, Grenache from McLaren Vale or Priorat are right up there. How do you come up with your wine names? It used to be never before 2am. Now it’s sitting on the toilet first thing in the morning reading the dictionary. How has your dad d’Arry influenced you? From time to time dad talks about how he used to do things, which puts his wines in perspective. Most of todays’ wines and the winemaking are the same as then but with more control. Dad was also frugal with money, which has been good in making me justify every expense. It has been a great working relationship. Often he worries, but what was planned more or less always occurs. White, red or both? At d’Arenberg we produce 72 wines from 37 grape varieties – all colours are accounted for. What do you do when you’re not making wine? Lately the d’Arenberg Cube has been taking up an enormous amount of time, especially the art installations but also all of the intricate architecture and engineering. Lots of wine tasting and drinking also fill my days and nights, and I have a heap of other projects on the go.
How many shirts do you really have? We ran a competition recently asking exactly this question, it turned out to be 372. What is your favourite…. Pizza topping:  Salami with a bit of spice and other meats Shirt:  Robert Graham limited edition Book:  Science Illustrated or Cosmos Movie/TV show:  Science fiction Restaurant:  El Celler de Can Roca, Spain Dinner:  Fish amok Time of day/night:  all day, no preferences Sporting team:  Norwood football club. My great grandfather JR Osborn started d’Arenberg and the Norwood football club. Christmas present:  Art or sculpture Childhood memory:  Making things like planes and cars Holiday destination:  Spanish cities or French country villages Angle to view the d’Arenberg Cube:  Seaview Road
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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