Bianca: Celebrating the first of two hens for fellow FFS’aker Vanessa’s upcoming nuptials, we headed to the Hunter Valley for a girl’s weekend away with eight of Vanessa’s friends & family. We ate, drank, laughed, admired the view …… then we ate again.
The first night we feasted on cold cut meats, bread, crackers and cheese before moving on to dinner, consisting of a delicious home-made Beef Lasagna and Spanakopita made by Vanessa. As well as a Greek Salad and Quinoa with Sweet Potatoes, mixed nuts, dried fruits and cherry vincotto. One of the high points of our weekend away was the major surprise the bridesmaids managed to pull off. A stripper for our hen, virtually in the middle of nowhere. I don’t think anyone will be able to get the image of the ‘police officer’ coming down the stairs to perform for the horde of screaming women.
The next day we had organised a wine tour, visiting four wineries, an included lunch, stopping for a cheeseboard and gobbling up some chocolate covered strawberries, all for $110. With Neal (our bus driver) steering the ship, our first stop was at ‘Tallavera Grove’, a stunning winery overlooking the rolling hills and vineyards of the Hunter. Also home to the restaurant ‘Bistro Molines’.
Second on our hit list was ‘Ernest Hill Wines’.
Having started our tour at 11am in the morning and striking off two wineries before lunchtime, to say we were famished is well and truly an understatement. Lunch was at the beautiful restaurant ‘The Cellar’, in the heart of the Hunter Valley Garden Village. We all selected our desired mains at the beginning of the tour on the bus, so no need for indecision.
On the table were a selection of spreads and olive oil. ‘House Sourdough roll’ $3. I honestly could have easily eaten 2 or 3 of those little bad boys, warm out of the oven they were delicious, slathered in whichever ‘poison’ you chose. I was enamoured with the olive oil on the table, the ‘Olio Mio’ – Corregiola. So much so I tracked it down to take a bottle home with me. Easily the best $20 I spent that weekend.
All of the girls barring myself went with the ‘250g Cape Grim grass-fed sirloin’ – served with chips and a side salad. $32. Feedback was good, some of the girl’s steak were a little underdone but they all enjoyed their meals. Not wanting anything particularly heavy, I opted for the ‘Pan fried Haloumi’ – with roast Italian vegetables, preserved lemon, chilli, parsley and pine nut salsa. $39. As we ordered off a sheet without prices on the bus, I was a little puzzled when I saw the price for this dish whilst writing this post. It seemed quite exorbitant for what it was. While it was delicious and a generous portion I don’t necessarily think it was great value for money.
After lunch we made a stop at ‘Brokenwood winery’ where I picked up two of my favourite type of wines, a tawny port and the gorgeous ‘Sticky Wicket Semillon’. I’m all about the dessert wines. The last winery on the tour was ‘Misty Glen Wines’, a charming cottage in Pokolbin offering boutique wines. I really enjoyed their ‘White Harbour’ port.
The last two stops couldn’t have come at a better time, we needed a little something in the stomach to soak up four wineries worth of booze. We stopped at the ‘Australian Regional Food Store & Café’ where we shared three cheese boards between us. As this was included in the tour, I can only estimate prices based on their website. They offer a cheeseboard with three varieties of cheese, grissini and crackers for $17. We all enjoyed the variety of cheese but the cracker to cheese ratio was slightly off. Not enough for the amount of cheese on the plate, so a few little chunks were left behind.
Our final stop was at the ‘Hunter Valley Chocolate Company’ where we each had two strawberries coated in milk chocolate. After hoovering that up in a less than respectable time I made a beeline for the store where I picked myself up some ‘Salted caramel fudge’, ‘Dark chocolate coated peanuts’ and some ‘Hawaiian crunch’.
After a big day of wine tasting and eating, we made the trek back home and walked up the steep incline back to our rental abode for the weekend.
Our last day in the Hunter we had a leisurely breakfast then cleared out of the house. Of course having not eaten for at least two hours we were ravenous…I can honestly say I did not eat out of ‘hunger’ the entire weekend.
Our last meal before parting ways was at ‘Verandah Restaurant’ perched above the ‘Calais Estate’ winery. Overlooking the surrounding vineyards, we had a perfect spot on the verandah, right in the corner.
Service was slightly haphazard but the young female servers were nice enough. The emphasis here is shared tapas style dishes. We decided to order two servings each of four different main sized tapas. The first was the ‘Blue Swimmer Crab Ravioli’ – with sautéed zucchini flower and prawn bisque. $36 (main sized servings = 4 portions). This was my least favourite dish of the day, I found the smell and the taste incredibly overpowering. I don’t deal with fishy dishes at the best of times and I found this one particularly unbearable. I gave up after one bite. The consensus after the first course was a round of bread to soak up the residual bisque. I gnawed on mine whilst the others dipped theirs. The bread had a rather strong burnt/charred taste which I didn’t like, it didn’t seem to bother the other ladies.
Next up was the ‘Cumin and Cayenne baby calamari with lime aioli’ $34. I loved the punchiness of the Cayenne and enjoyed the smaller variation to the typical traditional size, I tried not to think of the wee baby calamari I was happily devouring. The only drawback was the excess oil it became a little heavy but it was a generous serving for the price.
We then had the ‘Pulled and pressed lamb with potato roesti and gremolata’. $36. My favourite dish of the day. The slow roasted lamb was moulded into four little square servings topped with the potato roesti. The lamb was so tender it yielded at the slightest touch. I loved the contrasting textures, it was a subtle dish executed perfectly.
Lastly we got one serving of the ‘Duck liver parfait with cornichons, onion jam and charred sourdough’. $30. I bypassed this one as I’m not the biggest fan of pate but feedback from the table was all positive.
For myself and the others not keen on the pate, we ordered the ‘Tea smoked duck breast’ – with orange and honey glazed rosemary cherries and pistachio soufflé. $36. The duck was perfectly cooked and paired well with the accompanying sauce. Most surprising of all, was how well the soufflé wedge went with the duck. Tying everything together and being a great vessel to mop up the left over sauce on the dish. We were all at tipping point, so most ladies got a hot beverage before we took off. I enjoyed the view and for the most part the food but prices were high for the portions.
After a little bit of a shop at the home-wares store downstairs, we all said our goodbyes and headed back to Sydney after our perfect little Hunter Hens getaway.