Sunday, 20 December 2009

Happy hunting in the Hunter

We celebrated our first 6 months in Australia and Gus' birthday with a weekend in the Hunter valley. This is a wine producing area about 3 hours north west of Sydney. Like all wine areas it has become a haven for restaurants and an overall foodie experience to complement the wine tasting.
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Gus picked the accomodation and choose well. Patrick Plains turned out to be a great place - a small guest house with just 8 rooms, cool decor and a female owner who just loved the gay boys!

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She has owned the place for about 2 years and is refurbishing it to her own style. We chatted to her about her many trips to Sydney and her search for new tables for the rooms - this was a relief to us as we had thought the god awful pine monstrosity of a table was a permanent and deliberate feature! We practically had the place to ourselves and enjoyed the privacy and peaceful setting.

Our wine tasting took us first of all to Peterson, where we were presented with a terrible dilemma

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Chocolate or champage? Which one to pick first?

We really weren't sure about the wine tasting etiquette in the Hunter - we've been to the Sonoma and Napa valleys in the USA and to Franschhoek and Stellenbosch in Cape Town, and they all have different systems. Sometimes the wine tasting is free and sometimes you pay a nominal amount. Well we were obviously forgetting about the Aussie love of alcohol, as not only was the wine tasting free - but you were often given a wine tasting menu which guided you from dry whites, through reds to sparkling and then dessert! We ended up buying champagne from Petersons as it was quite delicious.

Friday night was Gus' birthday celebration, and he had picked Casuarina. This is a vineyard, a hotel and a well known restaurant. Indeed it was one of the original three restaurants that established the Hunter as a culinary destination. And it has not changed since then. The decor and the food are firmly rooted in 70's! When we arrived I did think the whole thing was going to be a bit Fawlty Towers but we loved it. It is known for the tableside flambe's - the chef cooks your meal next to your table, and chucks in a whole load of alcohol before setting it alight. With flames shooting high into the air this was a great experience - the lobster and prawn dish we had was superb - it's their signature dish.

The next night we went for a more modern choice - Botanica. With a great view of the vineyards from our table, we had a great meal - three courses for $60. And top entertainment too. Not laid on by the restaurant but by the couple at the next table. A young couple - they told the waiter that they had come down from Newcastle to see the Xmas lights at the Hunter Valley Gardens (more on that later). She had dressed up for the occasion in a stylish black dress; he was wearing denim shorts, a t shirt and canvas espadrilles! You see this all the time in Australia - the girls make an effort, the boys can barely bring themselves to put on clothes. They were a good looking couple, but dear lord, he had the manners of an ape. Does no-one get taught how to eat anymore? You bring your fork to your mouth - you don't lean down, bringing your mouth to the plate and shovel it in....this ain't Maccas. No wonder they'd gone out for the night, she probably knew not to take him home to meet Mum & Dad....

After dinner we too headed off to see the Xmas lights. Hunter Valley Gardens are display gardens - their Xmas lights display is a major attraction. And on that night it seemed that the entire population of Newcastle was there. Too many over excited children for me. Though we did see ape boy again - he had changed out of his canvas espadrilles and was now wearing flip flops (thongs to the Aussies). Clearly even canvas shoes were too formal for him.

Driving home the next day we met more of the local wildlife! These ones had much better table manners and even took time out from their meal to smile and say hello!

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