Sunday, 26 April 2015

Hunter Valley Wine and Food Month highlights

If my recent jaunt to the Hunter Valley was presented via an Instagram filter, it would be courtesy of the social media site's Earlybird, which bathes everything in honeyed sunshine. The Hunter Valley's food and wine scene is one of the best in the land. But in a region so blessed, there are still a few places that are absolute standouts.

Now, with the region's Wine and Food Month right around the corner, there are more reasons than ever to head to the Hunter. This year's program includes a diverse array of activities that encourage visitors to tack to and fro among vineyards and restaurants that are far more than just local heroes. Following are a few of my favourite Hunter haunts that, as well as being worth a visit year-round, are highlights on this year's HVFWM calendar.

Dine with the Dynamic Duo @ Muse Restaurant
No food pilgrimage to the Hunter Valley would be complete without stopping to worship at the cathedral-sized Muse Restaurant run by husband-and-wife team Troy and Megan Rhoades-Brown. Yes, there is even more of an incentive to visit the restaurant during Hunter Valley Food and Wine Month in June with the Dine with the Dynamic Duo event on June 14 a highlight on the culinary calendar. 

Troy Rhoades-Brown and Gwyn Olson of Briar Ridge Wines team up for Dynamic Duo dinner. Photo: Courtesy of Muse.
 In 2014 Rhoades-Brown was named Young Restaurateur of the Year while Gwyn Olsen, of Briar Ridge Wines won Gourmet Traveller WINE Young Winemaker of the Year at the Gourmet Traveller awards. Together, the pedigreed pair will present a four-course menu designed by Rhoades-Brown and matched with Briar Ridge Wines hand-picked by Olsen for the fixed price of $125 per person. 

Jerusalem artichoke, forest slippery jacks, whipped brie and honeycomb.                    Photo: Courtesy of Muse.
Expect a few sighs from rubbernecking diners as the food arrives. While the cooking bears the hallmarks of Rhoades-Brown's Anglo-French training under Robert Molines, his trademark is to focus on terroir and cook with flair, with dishes so pretty the presentation often belies their substance.

Local partridge, salt-baked beetroot, horseradish and Binnorie goat's cheese.             Photo: Courtesy of Muse.

The menu features sashimi of hiramasa kingfish, Jerusalem artichoke, Malfroy's honeycomb, French brie and hazelnut butter, Hunter Valley partridge with salt-baked beetroot, black fig, Binnorie goat's cheese and the Muse coconut dessert all paired with beauties from Briar Ridge.

Diners dreaming of grand food journeys can Dine with the Dynamic Duo on Sunday June 14 as part of the month-long Hunter Valley Food and Wine Festival.
For bookings, phone 02 4998 6777.
Hello pumpkin... food plucked from the Margan Estate garden with Brokenback range in the background.

The Original 100-Metre Meal @ Margan Restaurant
The Hunter Valley's ascension to culinary stardom was cemented with the arrival of Margan 10 years ago. While wine was at the forefront of Andrew and Lisa Margan's early form in the region - they have been making wine in the district for about two decades - the food is just as celebrated as their efforts on the eco front.

The 100-Metre Margan Meal is a highlight of Hunter Valley Food and Wine Month. 
Sustainability is a core value at Margan where Andrew and Lisa Margan's commitment to the environment is embodied in its food, wine and principles.

Lisa Margan is very hands-on at Margan Estate - from managing front of house to working in the sprawling garden patch. 
On a day-to-day basis, sustainability has woven a fairly heavy thread through the restaurant. But the Margan 100-Metre Meal takes this notion up a notch with its 'farm-to-table' fare that keeps that eco-minded ethos front of mind.

The Margan Autumn garden on a plate - everything on the plate is produced onsite.


Everything for the Margan 100-Metre meal, held daily throughout the month of June, has been grown within 100m of the restaurant in Broke Fordwich, which features 100 hectares of vines, a flock of Suffolk sheep, free-range chickens, an olive grove, serious orchard and a sprawling 4000 sq. m kitchen garden, which supplies about 90 per cent of the restaurant's fruit and vegetables.

As far as sustainability initiatives go, Margan sets the bar incredibly high. Winemaker Andrew Margan says the commitment to protecting the environmental values of the property for future generations ensures they integrate environmental responsibility and accountability into all aspects of its operations.

Margan Estate takes the notion of the 'farm-to-table fare up a notch at the 100-Metre Meal.


"This ethos provides guidance for all decision-making within the business and covers areas such as operations, product selection, preferred suppliers and best practice procedures," says Margan.

This year's menu for the 100-Metre Margan Meal at Margan Estate puts the focus on environmental sustainability with a menu that  features Estate-grown Suffolk lamb served with heirloom garden vegetables and accompanied with a glass of White Label Barbera. The banquet is held in the Barrel Hall which is of course just a short sprint away from the vegetable garden and is just $50 per person.

The 100-Metre Margan Meal features vegetables grown on site.                                          Photo: Courtesy of Margan.



On Sunday June 28 Margan will also host the Salt and Pepe Roadshow which starts by showcasing Pepe Saya butter, Olsson's salt and Margan bread and follows with a five-course degustation menu ($125 per person) served with matching Margan wines.
For bookings, email events@margan.com.au or call 02 6579 1317.

Guests at the food fight will judge the performance of chefs such as Sean McConnell at the 6th Annual Food Fight.


The 6th Annual Food Fight @ Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley
Top-notch chefs will again converge on the Hunter for the sixth annual food fight presented by the Hunter Culinary Association. For hardcore food groupies, being asked to judge which chef's cooking you like better is like being asked to choose a favourite friend ... right in front of them.

Expect Troy Rhoades-Brown, of Muse Dining, to deliver a few upper-cuts with dishes such as this elegant entree. 


Hosted by celebrity chef Matt Kemp, the event will see some of the Hunter's most celebrated chefs take up on a line-up of acclaimed chefs from Canberra and the Southern Highlands.

Ben Willis, of Aubergine in Canberra will put his best foot forward for regional culinary fight.
In the blue corner, we have culinary Hunter warriors Troy Rhoades-Brown (Muse Dining), Michael Robinson (Margan) and Emerson Rodriguez. While in the red corner, James Viles (Biota Dining), Ben Willis (Aubergine) and Sean McConnell (Monster Kitchen and Bar) are more than worthy opponents.

Expect big things from Biota Dining's James Viles, of the Southern Highlands.     Eggs and curds image: Jason Loucas.

Guests at the Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley event will have the pleasure of sitting in judgement over this clash of the culinary titans charged with creating the best three-course lunch their respective regions have to offer.

In the blue corner... the highly accomplished Hunter gatherer, Troy Rhoades-Brown, of Muse Restaurant.
The sixth annual Food Fight luncheon costs $120 for Hunter Culinary Association members; $160 for non-members, and $70 for apprentice chefs.
To avoid missing out on this clash of the culinary titans, book early and RSVP to Kirsty on mail@hunterculinary.com.au by Friday May 15. To find out more information about the event, visit www.hunterculinary.com.au


James Viles, of Biota Dining, in the Southern Highlands has his game face on ahead of annual food fight.


The Whispering Brook Olive Long Table Lunch @ Whispering Brook
This is the al fresco place to sit and sip during Hunter Valley Wine and Food Month. As the sun casts a flattering glow over the mountains, witness diners biding their time in the sprawling grounds of Whispering Brook discussing the merits of slow food and great wine.

This feast is the sort of event that connects visitors with growers, winemakers and producers.
Watch a happy smile spread across the faces of Susan Frazier and Adam Bell as they introduce their boutique wines and premium olive oils. This is the not the sort of banquet where you must nibble daintily at your food. While this feast is just a tiny taster of the gatherings for gourmands over the month of June, it's the sort of event that makes food and wine more accessible to a wider audience simply by connecting visitors with growers, winemakers and food producers.
Whispering Brook Olive Long Table Lunch will connect you to winemakers, growers and producers.
Again, provenance is duly noted as is a feast designed to befit the backdrop of those beautiful mountains. In terms of great food and wine experience in an idyllic setting, it doesn't get much better than this. The annual long table luncheon features a sumptuous Mediterranean-inspired menu prepared by chef Andrew Wright, a tutored walking tour in the olive grove and a special presentation by Australian Olive Oil show judge Peter Olson who will talk about the amazing properties of extra virgin olive oil.

Take a tour of the Whispering Brook vineyard and learn more about the terroir.

This year's menu includes dishes designed to highlight the quality of extra virgin olive oil and will be complemented with matching Whispering Brook wines. Highlights of the four-course menu include duck confit rillette with Whispering Brook extra virgin olive oil, BBQ octopus and prawns with saffron aioli, braised pepper tart with white anchovies and olives, Moroccan-braised lamb with dukkah and tahini yoghurt and chill olive oil and rum baba with Whispering Brook lemon myrtle olive oil, mint creme fraiche and muscat syrup (at $139 per person).
To book, phone 02 9818 4126 or email info@whispering-brook.com.
The feast is designed to befit the backdrop of the mountains and showcase Whispering Brook wine and olives.



Other standout events include the Going to a Garden Party gig with George Francisco at Circa 1876, the Trust the Chef five-course feast at Twine and the seasonal menu matched with award-winning wines on offer at the Tyrrell's Winemakers Table at Restaurant Botanica. The Hunter Valley Wine and Food Month also includes a range of educational cooking classes such as The Art of Gnocchi at Hermitage Lodge and Pan to Paella at The Verandah in Pokolbin.

Check out the full program for the 2015 Hunter Valley Food and Wine Month.

Carla Grossetti was a guest of Hunter Valley Wine Tourism and the Mercure Resort Hunter Valley Gardens.

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