Travels with Tim and Lisa

"If my discoveries are other people's commonplaces I cannot help it – for me they retain a momentous freshness" (Elizabeth Bowen)

Archive for the ‘Hunter Valley 2010’ Category

Home again Jan 23, 2010

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 24, 2010

It had been a hot night in Yass, but there was a blissful cool breeze blowing through the Globe Inn as we said our farewells to our lovely host Annette, and we set off with that great feeling that you have when you’ve had a beaut holiday and are ready to be home again.  We were starting to miss our friends and family and our dear little dogs, and we wanted to see if the garden had survived for a week without us.

The driving was easy except for that horrid patch where there is two-way traffic (yes, on our national highway, in 2010, hard to believe, I know!) We had a brief stop at Holbrook for coffee and cake, and pulled off at Wangaratta for lunch – and Tim’s iPhone earned its keep by finding the Tread Restaurant for us. It’s on Faithfull St, turn right from the north entrance into Wang or click here for the map.  
It’s a really good restaurant, the only one in Wangaratta that’s in the Age Good Food Guide.  It has a trendy industrial style decor, big open spaces and a vaulted roof – and was surprisingly cool on a hot day even though there didn’t seem to be any visible air-conditioning. Swift service, delicious dips with an original twist e.g. beetroot with citrus, and a good wine list – which (even though I don’t drink it) included an impressive range of designer beers.  There was light jazz playing not too loudly in the background and there is a lovely deck outside which overlooks the river.  There was truffle risotto on the menu so of course I had that, and Tim had a thin-crust pizza with potato, garlic and rosemary.  Just the thing for our last indulgence, because we will have to eat sensibly for a while after all the wonderful meals we’ve had…

It was a straight run home along the Hume after that, and what a pleasure it is to drive on good well-designed roads!

We had an ecstatic welcome home from the dogs –  thanks for looking after them, Aunty Glenda:)

BTW I hope you’re impressed by the collage, I made it with Picasa!

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Brooklyn, on the Hawkesbury

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 22, 2010

 There was a plan for a rest stop somewhere on our return journey to Yass this morning, but we ditched it when we got within sight of the Hawkesbury. We drove off the freeway to take a look at a lovely little spot called (I think) Cheerio Point, and met a fisherman who suggested nearby Brooklyn for a lunch with river views.

So here we are, and it’s lovely. I suppose Sydneysiders know it well, but for us it’s a delightful discovery with riverside cafés, a marina full of pretty little boats and endless places where you can hire a houseboat and drift up and down the Hawkesbury to your heart’s content.

Just the place to enjoy a ‘fisherman’s basket’ bursting with fresh Aussie seafood!

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The Cellar Restaurant, Pokolbin, Jan 21, 2010

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 21, 2010

The plan for today, devised somewhat desultorily at breakfast, was to visit the Gardens at Pokolbin and then lunch at The Cellar Restaurant. Tim, however, became engrossed in Voltaire and his philosophy of science, and I could not put down Wolf Hall until I’d finished it, and the upshot was that we didn’t depart Bellbird Cottage until after one o’clock. Never mind we said we’ll do the gardens after lunch but by the time we reached the restaurant the Subaru was telling us that it was 41 degrees outside and it didn’t seem such a good idea after all.

 Not that it mattered much. While I’m sure the Gardens are very pretty, we come to the Hunter to rest, read and restaurant, and to do the occasional tasting before we replenish the Semillon in the cellar The Gardens can wait for another time…

Lunch was excellent. The Cellar Restaurant is a lovely place to dine, and they are doing everything right. The ambience was pleasant on a hot day, with garden beds circumnavigating the dining area and a very encouraging collection of awards on the walls: successive hats from the Sydney Good Food Guide and a string of certificates from assorted Hunter Valley hospitality awards. There’s a massive log fire in the middle of the room which must be very nice in the winter time, tables are well spaced, and there are smart table settings with crisp napery, fine glassware, crockery and cutlery.

 Service was excellent. Friendly, efficient, accomplished. Sparkling wines (French Pannier for him, and a very good Tulloch Reserve for me) were on our table in a nanosecond and the young lady was knowledgeable about both. We were a bit tempted by the degustation menu but settled in the end for the fixed price three courses ($52 per person, not including wines) and were not disappointed. There were two options for each of entree, main course and dessert, but we both had the char-grilled baby octopus with Kipfler potatoes, rocket and a pan-fried prosciutto garnish, followed by a scrumptious red snapper (really a nanygai, not a snapper at all) garnished with basil pesto on a bed of ratatouille. Tim had a rather forgettable rose with his, but I made a most agreeable find by choosing the Hungerford Hill pinot noir – which took us to the winery after lunch to order some more.

 Once again the service was friendly, efficient, and accomplished. It is such a pleasure to be served by someone prepared to take the time to help you find what you like and yet not pressure you into buying. We ended up with a case of the pinot noir, some lovely semillon and membership of their club – so there will be more nice wines coming to us from Hungerford Hill in the future!

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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.

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Pokolbin Jan 19 2010

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 19, 2010

Today was the day that Tim went ballooning, which meant a crack-of-dawn start to the day for both of us – for who can sleep in when a spouse is hurtling about in the sky with nothing but a wicker basket between him and the ground?

 To allay my anxieties, I loafed in bed reading Oxen of the Sun from James Joyce’s Ulysses and the intense concentration required to make sense of it kept my mind off things for a while. Then – phew! he was home safely clutching a certificate to prove he’d done it and some chocolates for me. A snooze was in order and we didn’t surface for action until well after noon.

The new eating plan is that we’ll dine out for lunch, and eat in for dinner, so we set off for Pokolbin, (about 20k from Bellbird Cottage). It’s changed a bit since our last visit. Amongst other things there’s a mini shopping complex with a Smelly Cheese shop, a swish general store, gift and dress shops and a restaurant, but we settled on the Firesticks Restaurant at Poole’s instead.

The architecture is superb – reminding us of a similar open plan design at Home Hill in the Huon Valley in Tasmania on our last trip.


The Firesticks style is open, airy and minimalist – with huge picture windows looking out over the vineyards and a lake – and how lovely it is for water-parched Melburnians to see fountains!

Service at Firesticks is excellent, and there’s a very good lunch menu with entrée and main course options for each dish. We were offered some pretty little tasters with white asparagus and cherry tomatoes on char-grilled home-style bread – which went well with a Firestick sparkling brut for openers. Tim chose the kingfish, which was served on a bed of finely slice Kipfler potatoes topped with basil pesto accompanied by vine-ripened cherry tomatoes and olives with EV olive oil and lemon dressing. He chose a Cockfighter’s Ghost premium Reserve chardonnay to go with this, while I had a Clare valley Riesling with my Petana trout tagliatelle with capers, dill and crème fraiche.

Desserts were divine! Tim had an affogato, while I had peaches with ice-cream and a berry jus. It was all very nice but we were still a bit sleepy so we made our way back to the cottage, snoozed the afternoon away and had a very late antipasto dinner at about 9.30pm.

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Tim goes ballooning, Jan 19 2010

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 19, 2010

Long before dawn Tim had to be up and on his way to Peterson’s Champagne House in Pokolbin for his flight with Balloon Aloft.  Ballooning is always done at the crack of dawn because that’s when the wind is most predictable.

The first task is to unpack and inflate the balloon, a job shared by all the adventurers…

 and then as the dawn breaks it’s up, up and away, just missing the trees!

Only kidding, the pilot knew exactly what he was doing.

Skimming the trees…

and the views over Pokolbin are lovely.

Landed safely!

And it’s time to pack up the balloon and head off for a champagne breakfast!

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The search for dinner on Monday

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 19, 2010

Millfield General Store

After a day of complete idleness (reading, writing, Sudoku, antipasto lunch on the deck), we set out for dinner at the Millfield General Store. The store has changed hands, and now has a splendid selection of Hunter Valley treats for sale – gourmet cheeses, handmade pickles, beautiful olive oils and an amazing range of seafood and cut meats. There’s also a small bar and you can have a meal there that’s a step up from the usual café fare. Alas, at 5.30 they had closed the bar, café and take-away, so after some Melbourne muttering about inhospitable kitchen hours in the countryside we set off for the rather appealing café we had noticed in Wollembi en route on our first day. That was closed too, and so was the kitchen in the pub. We could barbecue our own steak, suggested one helpful chap, but we were not in the mood for either steak or cooking – so we set off for Cessnock.

Well at least there were plenty of places open. The usual fast food outlets were there but we were most certainly not in the mood for children en masse. Having driven so far (about 10k from Bellbird Cottage and that’s not counting the 15k side trip to Wollembi), we felt we deserved a proper meal and were feeling ambitious. We tried the main street and found an ‘Asian’ café open and a Thai restaurant closed; we checked out the fish-and-chip shop and a greasy Joe’s. There were some pubs too, of the sort that most travellers in Australian country towns have seen. Our ambitions faded, and we adjusted our expectations.

So the Kurrajong Restaurant in the Cessnock Hotel was a surprise. It’s nicely decorated, the service was friendly, the wines-by-the-glass options were good and the ambience was ok. (No children, no drunks, no shrieking 20-something old females). Tim was brave and ordered the kangaroo; I thought they couldn’t cook it as well as he does and chose the seafood paella. Big mistake. His roo was excellent, and my paella was awful. I think they made the stock from tinned tomato soup and the rice was gluggy.

Summer pudding that wasn't

Still starving, I ordered dessert. Tim chose the burnt orange pannacotta which was more than edible. With fond memories of Tina’s New Year’s Eve Summer puddings bursting with berries of all kinds – I chose the Kurrajong’s version of the same. Another big mistake. I sulked over a Baileys and made various belated New Year’s Resolutions regarding eating out in country Australia.

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Hunter Valley January 2010

Posted by Lisa Hill on January 17, 2010

I’ve been a bit remiss in blogging our travels to the Hunter Valley. It’s partly because the two-day journey to reach our destination was rather dull – the Hume Highway bypasses almost everything and we had no reason to stop anywhere except for lunch in the Strathbogie Ranges at Howlett-Plunkett Wines, and then overnight at the historic Globe Inn B&B in Yass. At the risk of making it too popular, we recommend the Globe as an alternative to motels – the rooms are very comfortable, the home-cooked breakfast is excellent and the tariff is very reasonable. (Options for dinner are not much good in Yass, but that’s no different to Goulburn or Gundagai. There is nowhere really nice for a meal half-way between Melbourne and Sydney. )

We came off the Newcastle Hwy at the Tourist Drive exit, taking the Peat Ridge Rd – which was a delight after the dry and dusty landscapes we’d seen so far. The road twists and turns a bit but the scenery is lovely: lush green pastures, patches of dense woodland, palm trees and the occasional vineyard. We stopped at the Corrugated Cafe at Peat Ridge for a tasty foccaccia and good coffee, and then onward to Wollembi where we called in at the Noyce Winery for a bottle of wine to have with dinner.

We reached Millfield in the late afternoon, stopped in at the general store for some supplies and arrived at Bellbird Cottage in time to enjoy the scenery before the sun went down. We dined in, on scrumptious pasta and Noyce’s Director’s Cut cabernet sauvignon, and fell asleep to a frog chorus.

Bellbirds woke us in the morning, but getting up seemed like a bad idea. Bellbird Cottage is a quiet spot which invites loafing on the sofa and reading. Breakfast was well after noon, and lunch at about 4.30pm. I finished one book, and started another. Tim went out for the papers at some stage, and read them cover-to-cover, until finally it was time to set off for Molines Restaurant where we celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary.

It was a splendid dinner. We chose an aged Brokenwood ILR Semillon to go with our entrees: quail with green and white asparagus and seasonal peaches for me, and scallops anchored on their shells with carrot puree for Tim. For mains I had venison while Tim had duck – with a witty little pastry duck as a garnish. The dessert menu made it very hard to choose but we finally settled on passion-fruit pavlova for Tim and cherry crepes for me.

Sunday found us at the Nightingale Winery for lunch with dear friend Chele and her husband Nigel. Over good conversation and lots of laughter we shared a delicious antipasto platter, and succumbed to luscious desserts. Some prosaic shopping in Cessnock on the way home, and then back to the peace and stillness of our little hideaway…

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