Hunter Valley 2015: Things to do


Rising star Frank Fawkner, one of the brightest young talents in the region, has just opened his own eatery: EXP. at the Oakvale cellar door
After four years as right-hand chef to regional star Troy Rhoades-Brown at Muse and Muse Kitchen, Fawkner says EXP. is so-named because it is all about the ‘exp’erience’.

“EXP. is not just about the food and wine,” he says. “It’s about every little thing – the service, music, art, painting, crockery, aromas, furniture and fit-out. It’s about every little thing that plays its part in creating something memorable for customers.”

“My food is very contemporary. The name EXP. relates to the ‘experience’ but it also is about being ‘experimental’ having ‘expertise’ and ‘exposure’ to tastes and textures.”

Fawkner began his cooking career at the age of 15 at Mount Broke Wines. He was then part of the opening team at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley where he completed his apprenticeship before moving to London, where he worked his way up to the position of sous chef at Tom’s Kitchen.

When he returned home to the Hunter in 2011 Fawkner joined owners Troy and Megan Rhoades-Brown (chef and restaurant manager) at Muse.

Fawkner says diners should not expect a traditional dining experience. “I’ve divided the menu into Food from the Earth, Sea, Land and Sky, Cheese and Sweets,” he says. “There are no entrees, no mains. I want to give back the freedom of choice to the customer.”

EXP. Restaurant, 1596 Broke Road, Pokolbin. (02) 4998 7264.

Other star eateries:

The Verandah at Calais Estate is a showcase for chef patron Matt Dillow, who has several eateries in the Hunter. With sweeping views over the vineyards, Brokenback range and the estate, it offers al fresco dining, or a warm fire in winter and a modern tapas-style menu showcasing local produce. Dillow also runs the charming The Deck at Gartelmann.

Emerson’s Restaurant at Adina Estate is the new home of chef Emerson Rodriguez, who has worked at several Hunter restaurants, but has really hit his stride at Adina winery. The food on the menu tastes as good as it looks and it is well worth a trip to Lovedale to sample his outstanding cuisine paired with wines from the estate.

Bistro Molines in Mount View is set high in the hills with dramatic vistas of vineyard rolling hills and neighbouring farms. Chef Robbie Molines, a Hunter veteran, serves hearty French-accented food (think maybe a venison pie, or twice-roasted local duckling) and features a temptingly global wine list.

Muse Restaurant at Hungerford Hill is a top-notch winery restaurant where chef Troy Rhoades-Brown offers a stylish dining experience with innovative modern Australian dishes. There are also several wine and food matching options. Also sample the more casual Muse Kitchen at the Keith Tulloch cellar door.

Margan Tasting Room and Restaurant offers the chance to dine inside or out while enjoying a menu that features dishes where modern Australian cuisine meets the Mediterranean. Here you can enjoy a long lunch with vineyard views and many of the vegetables and herbs you’ll eat are grown on site.

Restaurant Botanica is part of Spicers Vineyard Estate, a laid-back resort with just 12 rooms. Botanica is a favourite with in-the-know Hunter locals. It highlights mod Oz cuisine paired with a wine list that highlights local boutique offerings and some enticing imports.

Villa du Pays restaurant at Leogate Estate serves sophisticated food in elegant surroundings and owners Bill and Vicki Widin supply the export quality Black Angus beef direct from their herd in northern New South Wales and have their own dry-aging room on site.


Festival Highlights

The Hunter Valley celebrates Wine and Food Month throughout June. Here are some of the
gourmet highlights:


Tuesday June 2 at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley

The Hunter Region takes on the Southern Highlands with the best chefs from each of these
culinary regions battling it out. Hosted by Matt Kemp.


Saturday June 6 at Whispering Brook Winery

The annual Whispering Brook Olive Long Table Luncheon features a Mediterranean-inspired menu
prepared by chef Andy Wright, wine, live music, a tutored walking tour in the olive grove and a
special guest speaker to talk about the properties and applications of extra virgin olive oil.


Saturdays during June & Sundays by appointment for groups of 12 or more

Start your day with a Tour of First Creek Wines with a seafood duo and wine to match, then travel
by bus between another three of the Hunter Valley’s leading venues, sampling Hunter wines
paired with tasty morsels prepared by renowned local chef Matt Dillow.


Saturday June 6, 13 and 27 at Il Cacciatore Restaurant

A fun, hands-on gnocchi making class followed by a two-course lunch with a small group who
enjoy Italian food, wine, a fun time and don’t mind getting down and dirty.


Daily throughout June at Margan Estate

Enjoy estate-grown Suffolk lamb served with heirloom garden vegetables and accompanied by a
glass of White Label barbera. Everything is grown on site within 100 metres of the restaurant!


Every Friday in June at the Hunter Resort

Each Friday a different Hunter winemaker will be on hand to host a four-course dinner limited to
20 guests. June 5: Andrew Margan, June 12: Lisa McGuigan, June 19: Andrew Thomas, June 26:
Matt Polin.