Mudgee has always been one of those locations we’ve wanted to visit. With bountiful wineries, lush rolling greens, a friendly face at every corner and maybe best of all. Some of the best food we’ve eaten thus far in 2017.
Mudgee lies 270km north-west of Sydney (about 3 ½ hours away by car). We broke up the drive by stopping for a bite to eat at the Yellow Deli in Katoomba, literally one of the best lamb sandwiches you’ll find.
But I don’t think anything quite prepared us for what we were about to experience at BLUE WREN. Effectively hitting the quadfecta as a winery, restaurant, wedding venue and accommodation, it was to be our home away from home for the weekend.
Alex: The FARMHOUSE at Blue Wren is a large contemporary style country home with 5 spacious bedrooms with the capability to sleep around 10 people.
The space itself is phenomenal…Spacious, clean and beautifully designed. We did find that a lot of the furniture (minus the bedrooms) had a very corporate feel to it and didn’t match the rest of what Blue Wren offered. There was a large meeting table similar to what you’d see in an office that did feel a little out of place…easy fix though.
There isn’t a main TV in the lounge room as there is one in every bedroom but you have stunning countryside views from almost every window in the house, whether it’s vineyards, the pool or to the tiny Mudgee airport.
The property has a herb garden, which they make full use of in the restaurant. If you’re lucky you might also see some of the wildlife that lives at Blue Wren, including some geese and chickens that are named after Seinfeld characters!
Four degrees at 8 am in the morning doesn’t exactly scream “swim in me” but it sure did look pretty. I really did love the fact that some of the rooms sat just above the pool. My only fear in Summer would be the potential of snakes being found in the water…Eeep.
Bianca and I were literally running around Blue Wren (in Gucci shoes mind you) with 5 minutes of sunset left trying to get some imagery of the property. If this was the type of sunset I was getting every night, I definitely would not be complaining. The exterior of the house definitely had that quaint countryside feel.
Note to self, do not watch the movie ‘The Strangers‘ before going to secluded homes…
This was the second largest bedroom in the house and I decided to include this as an example because you can slightly see the pool through the window which is why I chose this room! The bed was a plush king bed with very comfortable pillows so A+ for comfort.
The Farmhouse is a great option for a big group of people. There were a few recommendations we would suggest in order to better the house. For starters, only two of the 5 bedrooms have railings to hang clothes. Some coffee, tea and milk in the kitchen area for the early morning risers would be a good idea and there was also a severe lack of body wash/shower soap (and we weren’t prepared!).
Bianca: We began our foray into the world of Blue Wren with a wine flight tasting in the cellar door. We were taken through the tasting by manager Paul. But perhaps what separated this from other tastings was the relaxed atmosphere. With a large farmhouse table running the length of the cellar/dining room. Guests pay a $10 tasting fee for a flight of wines, equating to two glasses. With the wines outlined by a description on a large A3 piece of paper. We were able to experience the wines both by themselves and paired with two separate meals, spanning 10+ dishes. With our standouts being the Verscato, Rose, Shiraz Merlot blend and the White Port. Between three of us, we purchased 10 bottles.
The restaurant and concept really reminded me of Lenoir from my Austin travels. A small intimate dining room with passionate chefs, sommeliers and waiters working together to truly bring something special to life. There are 20 seats in the restaurant but the best seats in the house are undoubtedly those at the Chef’s table. Where you’ll be taken on a culinary journey with chef and owner of Blue Wren, Chef Kip Harris and Chef Steve.
Our first night we were taste testing some concept dishes for the upcoming winter menu and we’ll try and not be overly gushy but honestly, what unfolded was one of the best meals (across 2 nights) that we’ve had in a long while.
The ‘Experimental Winter Menu’ kicked off with Sourdough fried in duck fat. This on its own would have been enough to satiate probably all of us, crispy and moreish but accented even further paired with the Cream of Celeriac Soup w/ white truffle oil, broad beans, asparagus, parmesan and a 60* slow cooked egg. So many intense bold flavours working together. The texture of the slow cooked egg once broken, added a velvety mouthfeel. The earthiness of the broad beans & asparagus adding a fresh element. Right out of the starting gate, we were hooked…
Straight off the current April menu is the Crispy Skin duck breast, duck liver ice-cream Brulee, pickled radish, cauliflower, crouton & dehydrated raspberry. Probably something I would not order if I was dining out but I appreciated the thoughtfulness and skill behind the dish. Putting aside my aversion to pates and offal, it was both a joy for the palate and the senses. Amongst us, we gravitated towards different elements on the dish. Vanessa & Manual to the rich silky duck liver ice-cream. And myself, towards the expertly cooked duck breast & sour/sweet notes of the dehydrated raspberry & pickled veg.
I saw pork belly being transported to the kitchen earlier in the day so I was already eagerly awaiting the next dish. Pork Belly, seared scallop, caviar, corn dust, lamb croquette, prawn curd & barley. With so many elements I initially had some trepidation, would everything work cohesively? The pork belly had an almost succinct ratio of meat/fat/crispy skin, seasoned beautifully. I questioned the pairing of the Himalayan salt cooked scallop but found the cooking of the scallop flawless, a plump juicy few bites. Unfortunately, I don’t share owner Kip’s love for caviar but used here, it was a good tool to add an interesting texture. I haven’t had anything like the prawn curd, it reminded me of a loose scrambled egg with a muted prawn taste. And finally, the pulled lamb croquette, tender on the inside and incredibly crispy on the outside. We were being majorly spoiled!
The final savoury was a Sous vide chateaubriand, willies dark cacao chocolate dusting, dried pear, dried black pudding, smoked mash puree, caramelised onion, vegemite foam & horseradish snow. If there was ever a way to honour an animal, it would be this dish. The beef was incredibly tender and the perfect hero to showcase every other element on the plate. Everything from the caramelised garlic to the smoked puree, horseradish snow and the vegemite snow just worked so well together. And it was the small touches such as the smoking of the mash and drying the black pudding that really made this a bold dish.
And finally, dessert. I hope this makes an appearance on the winter menu because it was masterful! Cinnamon doughnut, malt custard, banana ice-cream, chocolate soil, coffee crunch, pistachio and white chocolate. Praise to the dessert gods because this worked on so many levels. I’m not even ashamed to admit that after a full 4 courses prior. I cleaned every single skerrick of food off my plate, it was that delicious! The interplay between textures and temperatures is really what made this so interesting. That white chocolate tile was truly the tip of the iceberg. Lindt white chocolate, where have you been all my life?
Our first dinner at Blue Wren was one of those special dining occasions when not only is the food of stratospheric proportions but the passion and love was simply palpable.
Vanessa: Having been treated to an outstanding tasting menu on the first night of our stay, the anticipation for our second dinner at Blue Wren was high among the five of us and it did not disappoint.
We were once again seated at the chef’s table which was a great way for us to continue the conversations with Chefs Kip and Steve and understand more of what influences their culinary style and creativity. We settled in and nibbled on some juicy Sicilian olives and roasted almonds as Kip and Steve got things under way.
That evening we were privy to trying the ‘Chef’s Kitchen Tasting Menu’ and at $98 per person it is outstanding value, even more so if you choose to add matching wines for an additional $35. We knew we were in for a true gastronomical journey from our experience the night prior and our amuse bouche of cream of pea soup with white truffle oil and pecorino kicked things off in style.
This was an absolutely delicious serve of soup that had a strong flavour from the cheese and truffle oil. A great way to get the taste buds going and set the standard for the rest of the menu.
One thing we anticipated from the night prior was that the portions would be generous by tasting menu standards so we knew to pace ourselves. The first of our five courses once again demonstrated the culinary genius and creativity behind the menu. A vibrant and unique dish was set down in front of the five of us and I think we were all in awe of how unique and spectacular the dish looked. The dish consisted of a golden egg, bronzed sopressa, squid ink rice and fried enoki mushrooms. The yolk was cooked to a precise 62* which created a perfectly runny yolk that lubricated the squid ink rice as you ate it .The sopressa added a spicy kick whilst the enoki added a crunchy texture. Overall this was a beautiful creation that tasted just as good as it looked!
I was delighted to see that the second course saw the smoked potato puree from the previous night make a reappearance on the menu, as that is something I could eat in abundance. This course consisted of crispy skinned salmon with Himalayan salt rock seared scallop, smoked potato puree, broad beans, asparagus, corn dust and caviar. Again, an incredible amount of attention had been paid to plating the dish as well as ensuring that each individual element works together overall. The scallop was plump and juicy, perhaps one of the biggest I have ever come across. It was particularly impressive to know it had been seared on the salt slab. The smoky flavours of the puree offset nicely against the oil from the salmon, which had a perfectly crispy skin and the green vegetables lightened the overall flavour of the dish.
Course 3 was the Crispy Skin duck breast, duck liver ice-cream brulee, pickled radish, cauliflower, crouton & dehydrated raspberry which we had sampled the night prior. Not only were we delighted to be having it again, particularly myself and Manuel as we loved the duck liver ice-cream Brulee. Which I would liken to a sweet foie gras, but it also demonstrated the consistency of the cooking as it was identical in taste and presentation the previous night.
The fourth course consisted of a few familiar elements but with some variations. The sous vide chateaubriand, cacao, spinach sponge, golden black pudding, honeyed garlic, vegemie foam and horseradish snow . The beef had been cooked for an hour at 60c creating a perfect medium-rare and the accompanying horseradish snow is just a match made in heaven. The spinach sponge was a unique element and not one that I personally enjoyed so much, mainly because it tasted similar to matcha with I am not at all partial to. I know that the others really enjoyed this element of the dish for its texture and taste, so it’s all really subjective.
The final course on the tasting menu was a wonderful way to round of a meal that had bold, heavier flavours throughout. We were presented with a dessert consisting of raspberry sorbet, blueberry sorbet, liquorice custard, basil cream foam, crumbled pistachio and chocolate soil. Everything and I mean everything about this was delicious. The sorbets were fruity and fresh, the liquorice custard unique and the basil cream foam a contrasting taste and texture. It was an ideal way to end a heavy meal as everything about the dish felt light.
We accompanied our dessert with a French press coffee served with warmed cream.
Something that impressed us all on both evenings we dined at Blue Wren was the calm and sophisticated manner in which Chefs Kip and Steve operated. They prepared and plated each course to us in such a smooth and effortless manner, yet with such precision that was not only incredibly impressive, it demonstrated the immense experience between them. It really was an inspiration to be seated at the table of such knowledgeable and experienced chefs who have created unique dishes that will hold a place in our memories for quite some time.
We can’t speak highly enough about the quality of the food, the incredible value and the overall experience at Blue Wren. If you are planning a trip to Mudgee, we highly recommend you experience this for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.
Vanessa, Bianca and Alex
Photos by Alex
*For Food’s Sake were hosted as guests of Blue Wren, however, all opinions are our own. We would like to extend our sincere thanks to Kip, Paul, Steve and Karen for their generosity and hospitality during our stay.