Hunter Valley locals are a savvy foodie community. Here are some regional gems worth visiting on a weekend getaway.
As well as being a new meeting point for millennials and a much-loved destination for oenophiles, the Hunter Valley is now widely known for its culinary delights. Here is where to eat and drink in the Hunter Valley for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Fawk Foods Kitchen & Bakery
Fawk Foods Kitchen & Bakery is a spectacular spin-off by Frank Fawkner, head chef at EXP. Restaurant which is now very well established at its new home in Pokolbin Village Estate.
The best time to visit the bakery is for breakfast: order the delectable sourdough topped with BBQ-glazed thick-cut belly bacon and free-range eggs. If you’re feeling really indulgent, try the oven-baked pancakes with caramelised apple, Chantilly cream, macadamia crumb and maple syrup with a piccolo on the side.
Café Enzo does a lot of things right. The breakfast boards here are worthy of applause from the good-natured crowds who converge here over coffee and cake around communal tables.
Set in Peppers Creek Village in the heart of the Hunter, the menu at the frantically busy café highlights all that is wonderful at the local markets. And the very best dishes are really just of themselves: the ham breakfast board is simply poached eggs, Berkshire ham off the bone, avocado, Binnorie feta, roasted cherry tomatoes, pistachio pesto on sourdough.
The Deck Café
The Deck Café, Lovedale, is tucked away amid a tangled knot of forest bushland overlooking a dam.
The rustic café is run by Matt Dillow who offers all-day breakfast options such as French toast with fresh strawberries, chantilly cream and maple syrup, a breaky roll with American streaky bacon, fried eggs, cheddar and smokey BBQ sauce and a scattering of rocket.
Sign up for a classic French or Italian cooking class and pick up a special hamper filled with produce such as olive tapenade, quince jam, preserved lemon to level up your cheffing skills at home.
Myrtle & Stone
Myrtle & Stone is located in the village of Wollombi, in the thick of wine country and is a popular cafe by day and tapas and gin bar by night. The charming eatery is housed in an old stone and wood cottage built in 1932 that has a rich history of serving food along the Hunter River.
Adjust your waistband to better enjoy the vego brekky with spinach, avocado, roast tomato, garlic mushrooms and crispy chats.
Stay overnight at the beautifully renovated Myrtle Cottage next door so you can enjoy a leisurely breakfast and then slink back into bed.
Mockingbird Café in Newcastle is opening a sister site at Tatler Wines. And given the café is considered one of the best places to eat in Newcastle, we imagine it will act like a lure to the hordes of tousle-haired surfers looking to jump in the old jalopy for a jaunt to the Hunter Valley when the surf is flat.
Be one of the first through the doors to enjoy a Buddha bowl or corn fritters where you will find fresh, vibrant flavours at every turn. Groups who enjoy bubbles over breakfast can also proceed to Restaurant Cuvee at Peterson House for a glass of the house sparkling alongside vanilla bean pancakes or eggs Bennie.
Usher Tinkler Wines
Thirsty, hungry travellers should factor in a visit to Usher Tinkler Wines to enjoy a platter of salumi alongside stellar local varietals from this next-gen winemaker’s cellar, regarded as one of the best in the mix of Hunter Valley wineries.
Muse Kitchen is the sister venue to the two-hatted Muse Restaurant and a plush place to avoid the swilly tourists over a languid lunch.
Leaves & Fishes
Leaves & Fishes is another local institution. Sit in the dining room, which is saturated in sunshine and order Szechuan spiced chicken wings with pepper caramel or Mexican street corn with spiced sour cream and manchego.
Margan Restaurant is regarded as one of the best Hunter Valley winery restaurants for a multitude of reasons. For starters, the one-hatted restaurant is renowned for its inspired approach to agri-dining and sustainability; the rammed-earth restaurant is also the place to enjoy the farm-to-fork tasting menu of your dreams and feel good about supporting a family-run business that is so committed to sustainability.
Don’t just book a table; book the Ultimate Margan Experience, which includes a guided tour of the abundant kitchen garden followed by a five-course degustation lunch.
Take in the views of the undulating hills in the distance at éRemo Restaurant, located at the newly restored Spicer’s Guesthouse.
The modern Italian restaurant is run by executive chef Michael Elfwing whose menu will suit those in the mood for food that is Italian with a twist, running from squid ink linguine with king prawns and clams in tomato sauce to half-roasted dry-aged duck with beans, cavolo nero and peach chutney. Enjoy a bottle of local wine on the side.
British-born Rhoney (ex-Lakehouse Restaurant in Daylesford) pays strict adherence to local produce and seasonality with the menu inspired by the huge kitchen garden he tends to each day.
The restaurant is worth the detour down the pretty country lane for the potato gnocchi with roasted wild mushroom, sage and Binnorie Feta alone.
Wend your way south for about 20 clicks to find Bistro Molines, which overlooks a terraced hillside of rose-lined vines belonging to Tallavera Grove Vineyard.
Robert Molines is a much-loved and lauded French transplant, having moved here in 1973. Over the years, he has earned the bistro a critical mass of recognition and the rustic-chic restaurant remains as charming as ever.
Working alongside Molines is his wife Sally (back of house) and head chef Gareth Robbs’ whose efforts in the kitchen over the past decade helped the restaurant retain a hat in the 2018 and 2019 Good Food Guide.
Expect highly seasonal dishes such as crumbed baby zucchini flowers filled with goat’s cheese, lemon and thyme, twice-roasted duck with braised red cabbage, speck and peas with orange glaze or a noisette of venison with roasted beets.
Wandin Wine Bar & Diner
Divvy means to ‘divide up and share’ and divvy dishes define the menu at Wandin Wine Bar & Diner, a haven for foodies visiting the Hunter Valley.
The Lovedale locale is a fine example of a restaurant with rooms, located as it is on the wider Wandin Valley Estate near to accommodation options such as Villa Isabella and The Barn, which overlook the vineyards.
Everything, from the spicy lamb cutlets with couscous and hummus to fried goat’s cheese balls with caramelised onions and honey is elevated to outstanding thanks to this bucolic country setting and chef John Rutherford’s attention to detail.
Walking into the intimate EXP. dining room (now at Pokolbin Village Estate) feels like going to a friend’s house for dinner. Whether you sit at the bar watching chef Frank Fawkner (ex-head chef at Muse) plate up at the pass or in the restaurant surrounded by handcrafted furniture and local art, you should expect a bit of pre-dinner theatre and polished service that is also as warm as a hug.
The restaurant was recently awarded a 15/20 by Good Food Guide chief food critic Terry Durack and you will understand why when you order seasonal dishes such as the Little Hill Farm chicken, cauliflower and yolk or the Mother Fungus oyster mushrooms, risotto, jersey milk feta and kale.
If you really want to make the most of a trip to wine country then book ahead at Muse Restaurant, the two-hatted restaurant that is one of the Hunter Valley’s main draws.
It’s easy to fall under executive chef Troy Rhoades-Brown’s spell in the elegant dining room, where savvy wait staff pirouette around the tables.
Rhoades-Brown marries French technique with local ingredients to deliver crowd-pleasing dishes such as Sebago potato and speck fondant, cured yolk, thyme, mushroom and black truffle or the lightly charred Paroo kangaroo with fermented Nashi pear, macadamia pickled onion, sage and sun rose.
There is a sunny energy to the experience of dining on the balcony at Esca Bimbadgen where you are as likely to see a wedding party as a wedding proposal. While the restaurant’s interior is a neutral clean Scandi palette, the balcony pops given its proximity to these patches of green.
Order a bottle of wine – perhaps a Bimbadgen Shiraz Viognier 2017 – with a main course of sous vide grain-fed NSW eye fillet with Portobello mushrooms, onion puree, mushroom ketchup and red wine jus and then exit stage left like James Bond via helicopter.
Hunters Quarter has been a hotspot since opening in 2017 as word of the head chef’s Brian Duncan’s credentials grew from a whisper to a roar. Duncan has worked for the Dorchester Hotel (three Michelin stars) and Claridge’s Hotel (one Michelin star) in London and was executive chef at Level 41 and The Establishment in Sydney: try the spanner crab and prawn dumplings with sweet corn and coconut in a ginger broth or the slow-cooked wagyu tri-tip with broccolini, eschallot and smoked garlic confit. Exquisite.
Boydell’s Cellar Door & Restaurant
Boydell’s Cellar Door & Restaurant in the main street of Morpeth has made a visit to Maitland a must. The restaurant is housed in a landmark 1820s slab that has, at different times over the past 200 years, been home to a blacksmith, pie man and clairvoyant.
Beyond the incredible food prepared by chef Sheldon Black, dinner here is an exploration of the wines produced at Daniel and Jane Maroulis’s East Gresford vineyard, first established by Charles Boydell in 1826.
Coquun (which means ‘fresh water’ in the local Wonnarua people’s language) is another reason to ‘make it Maitland’. Co-owner Daniel O’Leary (ex-The Dock, in Redfern) is a proud Bundjalung man and he peppers the menu with native bush foods.
According to local legend, Yellow Billy was a local bushranger who raided and plundered around the Broke and Pokolbin region during the 1860s.
Yellow Billy (a.k.a. William White) was also a forager who lived off the land so it only seems right to light a fire in his honour: the custom-made fire pit here is used daily to cook proteins and vegetables, which are served in the centre of the table to share.
Everything is better with a bit of smoke and char: expect fireworks with brown-ale braised brisket with fried Brussel sprouts and ginger roasted pumpkin.
The Mill located on the grounds of Estate Tuscany is one of the destination diners in the upper Hunter Valley and although the restaurant offers magic mountain views, its executive chef William Townsend’s contemporary take on comfort food that will really turn your head.
Order the 72-hour slow-cooked, hoisin, bone marrow croquette, carrot anise puree and spring onion with baked Brussel sprouts and you will feel the chef’s devotion to his craft.