Elizabeth Restaurant at McWilliams, 20 Jan 2010
Posted by Lisa Hill on January 20, 2010
Oh dear, the Elizabeth Restaurant at McWilliams needs a jolly good sprucing up!
More than one friend had raised a quizzical eyebrow at our affection for this restaurant, but we had fond memories of a superb degustation there on our first trip to the Hunter ten years ago so we ignored them. But the nostalgia factor isn’t enough to save the Elizabeth, the sad fact is that it’s gone down-market and needs some serious money to be spent on it.
It deserves to be rescued. What we loved about it was the enchanting view across a paved courtyard with plantings, the friendly service and the opportunity to try seriously good wines matched perfectly to well cooked food. All these things are perfectly achievable, and for the sake of a proud old wine label, I hope they are.
At the moment the restaurant compares badly with its local competitors. The counters and display cabinet of desserts are tatty, the tables have seen better days and the tableware is scruffy. It’s not particularly clean, either – there were flies alive and dead on the window ledge and dust at the skirting boards. Conversation is impossible when they’re grinding coffee and when they’re not you’re privy to management discussions that should take place back of house. One waitress was grumpy, and the other one stayed chatting out the back with the chef instead of keeping an eye on customers.
On our first visit each diner had a special place mat, printed with circles across the top for the placement of each of five wine glasses with the wine’s name underneath, and the menu down the sides. A waiter provided information about each wine, which is helpful for novice and wine expert alike. There were whites to go with a light first course and reds to go with mains, finishing up with a dessert wine and a fortified to go with dessert and a cheese platter. It was, in other words, a degustation designed to show off the excellent wines that McWilliams makes at Mount Pleasant.
Now, for $48.50 you can choose either a red tasting platter or a white one, of 4 courses. Ok, it’s very reasonably priced, but it meant that we had to choose complementary plates in order to be able to try different wines. I think I came off best with the red platter, because although both the parmesan souffle and the polenta that went with the kangaroo saltimbocca were a bit stodgy, the red wine jelly with cheese was delicious and I got the best wines! The Mount Pleasant Classic Merlot was only ok, and the Phil Ryan Signature Series Shiraz was one of those undrinkable jammy things they make to attract the so-called female palate but the Mount Pleasant Old Hill and Old Paddock Shiraz & the Rosehill Shiraz were superb as always. Poor Tim, with a ‘twice-cooked pork belly dusted with Asian spices’ he had a Barwang Pinot Gris (why do winemakers persist with this boring flavourless grape??), and a disappointing Phil Ryan Signature Semillon to go with a somewhat ordinary ‘boxed’ crab and prawn salad. He didn’t like the rather grey gnocchi & mushrooms so I swapped that for my beef medallion and potato gratin – which didn’t really go with his Mount Pleasant Classic Chardonnay and I was a bit reluctant to part with my shiraz!
He did like the Maria Late Harvest Semillon to match his mango and blueberries with sorbet, and so we bought some next door in the tasting room, along with some Elizabeth semillons to cellar and a couple of Maurice O’Shea shiraz which is the best thing McWilliams make. They’re hard to get in Melbourne, but if you can get some young ones and be strong-minded enough to wait a few years, they are just divine with Christmas dinner.