Bianca: We’ve always had an affinity with the Hunter Valley. Our boatload of overseas relo’s meant we were constantly shuttling back and forth between Canberra, the Blue Mountains and the Hunter. But now that we’re semi kidults, we have a great appreciation for a good drop and quality cheese. Of which the Hunter is in abundance. Queue a mini weekend getaway. With the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley as our base, we were free to explore the surrounding areas as we pleased.
A one hour detour wasn’t going to deter me from my favourite burger joint in Newcastle, Newy Burger Co. I loved the burgers my last visit and the love affair continues. I couldn’t help myself when I saw the Mac & Cheese Spring Rolls with a smattering of fresh spring onion to lighten things up, these needed just a hint of salt but what a genius idea. The Dudley Burger $12 w/ added maple bacon $3 still remains one of my universal favey chicken burgers. Bow down! The Newy Burger $12 w/added maple bacon is my go to beef burger. You won’t be disappointed. For Hunter Valley aficionado’s I’m also happy to report NBC are currently running a ‘pop up’ out of the Grand Junction Hotel in Maitland (which is a 30 min drive people!).
Departing Newcastle and with some pointers from Newy Burger Co’s, Ben, we made our way straight over to Usher Tinkler Winery. There is a lot to be impressed with here, from the space, the charcuterie/cheeseboards, the staff and best of all, the wine. We made a mental note to come back the next day for lunch and the board we received was a thing of utter beauty. From a list of 25+ items, you select your cheese/cured meats $20 each and they weave their magic. Our stand-outs were the Delice aux Truffes, the Reypenaer and the Culatello. Words cannot describe how much we loved this place. Make sure you pick up a few bottles of the Reserve Shiraz $65 and the Fortified $45.
Venturing away from our stock standard wineries we stopped in at De iuliis where we picked up a bottle of the Late Picked Semillon $20 and the Merlot $25.
After a strenuous day of wine tasting, burger eating and moderate waddling we were keen for a fat nap and an exploration of the hotel.
Despite looking ridiculously inviting we were not going to be dipping our toes into these crystal blue waters but the sight of the steam rolling over the heated waters as the temperature dipped was a thing of beauty.
Dinner was an easy few paces from our room. RedSalt serves as the hotel’s designated restaurant space, operating as a buffet in the morning and a restaurant in the evening. We were here for the Heroes of the Hunter degustation. 5 courses with matching wines for $95 per person. Alex and I loved the concept of the degustation, pairing dishes (mostly adapted from current items on the menu) and pairing with local wines from wineries in the region.vIt was a great way to get a good breadth of the quality of the wines without having to visit 5 separate wineries. Very reasonably priced considering the quality and the portions. A big kudos to our waitress Rebecca who was both incredibly hospitable and knowledgeable.
We started with an Amuse Bouche of literally one of my favourite things on the planet…Fried cheese! Crumbed and fried Manchego cheese w/honey and pesto really got the taste buds raring to go. After a mostly liquid diet during the day, we were well and truly famished.
The 1st course – a Root Vegetable Soup -w/ a chilli pangrattato was a classic winter warmer. I generally don’t gravitate towards soup unless it’s my mumma’s minestrone or nonno’s pasta e fogioli. But this was a pleasant veggie soup, there were different flavours with almost every bite, a prominent and authentic veggie taste. The pangrattato was great for crunch and to really liven each bite up. Paired with the Petersons Brut Rose, it seemed an odd initial combination. But one that seemingly went well.
Perhaps it’s placement straight after a soup, threw us off a little but the 2nd course – Cured Ocean Trout -w/ wasabi creme fraiche & beetroot was right on the money! The trout was delicate, tender and silky. The wasabi adding a dry heat in the back of your throat and the beetroot was particularly subtle without that overbearing earthiness. I’m not a fan of dry whites (or whites in general really) so I wasn’t blown away by the Eagles Rest Semillon.
Kylie Kwong has forever ruined duck for me because nothing can quite compare. Course 3 – was a Thirlmere Duck Breast -w/spiced braised cabbage, carrot puree, baby sugar snap peas & orange jus. The duck was tender and cooked well, the snap peas were vibrant both in colour and flavour. The puree was a welcome accompaniment to add some sweetness. I enjoyed the cabbage (Alex did not) but I found several pieces of a cinnamon quill/star anise that made for an unpleasant few bites. I enjoyed the Ernest Hill NV CEO, which was moderately sweet with floral tones.
The last savoury, course 4 – was a Grilled Pinnacle Sirloin, Spinach Butter, Baby carrots, sauteed shimeji mushrooms & bordelaise sauce. The sirloin was a gorgeous medium rare, seasoned beautifully. However, the fat has not been rendered enough and was unenjoyable to eat… so we left it. We adored the mushrooms and the carrots. We also had one of our favourite new wines, the Margan Estate Ripasso! So much so, we made the 30-minute trek to Broke the next day to fetch a bottle. And at $75 a bottle, happiness doesn’t come cheap. A gorgeous and bold Shiraz based wine that has been ‘repassed’ and mixed with other wine blends.
Moving our dessert stomachs to the forefront, we settled in for our final dish of the night, course 5 – Chocolate Pave, chocolate & raspberry crumb & raspberry sorbet. A well balanced and not overly sweet end to the meal, the chocolate pave was lovely but it didn’t hold my attention as much as the other elements on the plate. I was instantly drawn to the sorbet, crumb and the dulce de leche macaron which really stole the show. A smart move to pair dessert with the Peterson House Sparkling Chambourcin, an easy to drink, mildly sweet wine.
Some dishes had their flaws but honestly, we were pretty impressed with the food we ate.
The trials and tribulations of being a female, I forgot my proper running attire #sportsbragate and roped Alex into a 7:30 am walk around the Crowne Plaza grounds. Let’s just say a brisk walk in 6-degree weather isn’t going to win anyone friends. But the cold weather fooled us into thinking we had expended more energy than probably earned and with a chill clinging to our unruffled sports clothes we headed back into Redsalt for the breakfast buffet. $38 gets you access to the full buffet and that includes your usual hot station, cereals, espresso bar, juice station, egg station, fruits, cheese, breads and fresh pastries. As you can see, we went to town!
After departing the hotel we made a beeline for a few other wineries. Audrey Wilkinson is a classic for a reason, gorgeously picturesque with fantastic wines. We went with the premium $15 pp wine tasting and spent more than an hour tasting over 10 varietals. Coming away with a Rose, Tempranillo and a fantastic Cuvee Rouge.
I was convinced I could summon good coffee If I wished it so and I partly met my wishes. Contango Cafe sits on Pepper Tree Winery and wins big awards for the set-up. My skim cappuccino was weak and milky but like most places, the majority of the time it really does depend on the barista. I’d give them another whirl another time.
And finally, before departing the Hunter. We headed out to Broke, namely to Margan Estate to get my hot little hands on a bottle of 2011 Breaking Ground Ripasso $75. Also, heed our advice….do not…. DO NOT take tourist drive 33 / Convict Trail/ Great North Road. That is an anxiety I do not need in my young life.
Photos by Alex
*For Food’s Sake stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Hunter Valley as a guest.