On my last trip to the Hunter to cover the famous Hunter Valley food fight, I was lucky enough to sample more Hunter fare. I say Hunter fare here because even though it isn’t too far from Sydney (slightly more than a two hour drive), a lot of the food I tried tasted like an entirely different cuisine.
First up on our food road trip was Newy Burger Co. It’s actually not in the Hunter Valley but en route to it in Newcastle. I’ll spare you the cliffhanger, Newy Burger turned out to be a detour well worth stopping by.
There are seven different burger options like the Dudley Burger and the Merewether Burger, but if you’re feeling extra hungry, try the Pasha Bulker ($20) which boasts a triple beef patty and triple cheese. The burgers’ homegrown names are a bit of an inside joke just for the locals as they stem from places in Newcastle. The Bar Beef Burger ($11) sits in the foreground of this photo. It consists of a grilled premium beef patty, bacon, cheddar cheese, tomato, house made BBQ sauce and jalapeño white sauce. It’s a strong contender against Sydney’s long list of beef burgers, although the BBQ is just a tad bit overpowering.
Behind it is the Stocko Burger ($11) that’s made up of Southern fried chicken, cheddar cheese, slaw, rocket and Sriracha aioli. I am a huge fan of chicken burgers and the Stocko is quite possibly my favourite one yet. The chicken was deliciously crunchy on the outside and exceedingly tender on the inside. Cheese, slaw and Sriracha aioli were great complements as they each brought a different flavour profile which resulted in a very well-balanced burger. That week’s Dirty Fries ($8) special creation featured more of my favourite sauce; Sriracha. I loved how it was overlaid with deep fried shallots which added an extra crunch factor to it.
The skies were a little dreary and overcast that Hunter weekend but it managed to clear up in the later part of the weekend.
First Creek Wines was our first tasting, a wine making company that’s been crafting wines since 1996. CEO Greg Silkman and General Manager Gus Maher personally showed us around the barrel storage area where wine was extracted directly from the barrels for us to try. Prior to this trip, I didn’t know much about wine and even less about the kind that I like. First Creek Wines gave me a real appreciation for whites especially their semillon and chardonnay. You get a really great vibe from the place and the people who work there as it’s very family-run and welcoming. Despite only having a relatively small shop front, they produce wine for many other labels, it’s this business model that allows them to sell such excellent vintages under their own brand.
Something I also had to get familiar with that weekend were spittoons. You’d get yourself very drunk, very quickly if you downed every single glass at a tasting.
My second tasting the next day was at Scarborough wines. It’s another family business that’s also one of the most recognised Hunter Valley wineries. I for one, really enjoyed Scarborough because they treated us to a cheese and nibbles platter that’s usually reserved for their VIP customers.
The business has started expanding into new varieties of wine such as Rosé, Verdelho, newer types of Chardonnay as well as a Pinot. The Verdelho was far and away my favourite variety that day due to its beautiful aroma and how light it was on the palette.
It’s gorgeous on the outside also!
One of the most anticipated meals for me that weekend was Margan and just by this photo I think you can understand why. Walking through its entrance made me feel like I stepped back to a time of old world luxury.
Margan Restaurant is based in the Broke Fordwich wine sub-region of the Hunter Valley. Part and parcel of it is also Margan Wines which includes 100 hectares of vineyards, a state of the art winery and an earth cellar door. The restaurant’s menu is planned around the seasons and availability of produce from their famed one acre Kitchen Garden and orchard which supplies up to 90% of the vegetables and fruit that gets on to their diners’ plates. As if this wasn’t already produce paradise , there are also free range chickens, beehives, Black Suffolk lambs and olive groves. You name it, Margan has it, and if they don’t, they make it a point to source as much from local producers as possible.
We opted for the wine pairing (extra $45) as part of our lunch time 5 course degustation ($100). The sommelier was incredibly helpful and accommodating, allowing me to have an all white pairing while my dining partner went for an all red. This was despite some of the courses being red meat while others came with fish. Despite the obvious ‘clashes’, I feel like her expertise meant we could still have a great wine and dine experience even if it meant having a white with beef or a red with fish.
Every plating, and even the plate itself, is a work of art.
It’s beautiful and unpretentious food with wholesome flavours that are balanced to a ‘t’. These are just preview shots but it has to be said, Margan is one of the best degustation experiences I’ve ever had in Australia.
I had a truly wonderful time at the Hunter Valley, made more special because it was actually my first time ever in wine country. Hunter hospitality is a thing, every winemaker, restaurateur and kind host of a venue treated me like I was family. Hunter cuisine is a thing, I cannot help but reiterate this again as tasted food like I never have in Sydney. And I think Hunter colours should be as well based on the beautiful warm tones of Autumn that I saw at every turn. I can only imagine how full of colour the area would be in Spring and Summer.
Samanthawxlow visited Hunter Valley as a guest of House of Airlie/Hunter Culinary. All photos by Samantha Low. Original post for The AU Review