While Sydney is without a doubt my favourite city in the world, sometimes there’s nothing better than leaving it for a weekend in the country. Although my usual getaway is a weekend at Mount View with my folks, it made a very pleasant change to be high-tailing it out of town on Friday evening with my good friend Mel on the M4…. With a full weekend of eating, drinking and being merry ahead of us and a magnificent sunset over the Blue Mountains we were happy girls.
With only a quick pub grub stop at the Mount Victoria Hotel, we were warmly greeted when our convoy turned up the poplar tree lined driveway of Mel’s family’s farm just out of the village of Milthorpe. Although it had been about ten years since I last enjoyed the hospitality at Westbrook, I felt instantly at home as we were greeted by Bruce, Jan and Ellie the corgi…. ah the country life…
After a deliciously decadent sleep in we arose for a leisurely breakfast. Copious cups of strong milky tea, flannel pjs and bed socks, white toast with Jan’s gorgeous apricot jam, duplicate copies of the SMH divided and shared, a wintery sky outside, nowhere pressing to be…. weekend bliss…
With the arrival of the expectant parents, the final members of our party, we braved the wintery outdoors for lunch and possibly some wine tasting. The Union Cafe in Orange proved to be the perfect location for a bit of both. Designed to showcase the wines from Belgravia, the Union is one of those superbly flexible places with a mostly tapas menu punctuated with some classics like bangers and mash and a chunky beef and gravy pie served with Paris mash and tomato chutney…the hands down favourite…. Although to be fair the spicy Italian sausage balls with a divinely smoky chilli jam were pretty hard to go past…as was the frito misto of prawn and squid with lemon and garlic aioli…. Throw in some very solid 01 Belgravia Shiraz (made by David & Jane Lowe in Mudgee) a real steal at $26/bottle and you have a definite return visit on the cards…..
Not wanting our hosts to think us completely lazy we decided to delay our afternoon nap long enough for a spot of wine tasting. With a quick phone call we arranged to try the wares of Peter and Terri Robson at the charming Ross Hill Vineyard. A private tasting with the entertaining Peter seated in the railway car tasting room was an education in itself. We tasted some very good wines also made by the Lowes which showcased the strength of Orange as a winegrowing region and managed to pick up a bargain half case of their 2003 Cab Franc before meandering back to home base for a hard earned pre dinner nap.
The main focus of the weekend: dinner at Lolli Redini proved to be the highlight we all anticipated. Greeted at the front door by a gorgeous deep crimson wall: the perfect backdrop to an arrangement of quinces we felt instantly welcomed and warmed. With a glass of local sparkling in hand: the 04 Mayfield Pinot Chardonnay there were no complaints from me.
While a little on the large side the entrees got us off to a great start and reminded me that it can be so much fun dining out as a table of 12 when you get to experience most things on the menu. While I was alone in my choice of Ross Hill Snails (grown by our vineyard friends) they were a delight served out of the shell on a creamily dressed crunchy celeriac salad. This was my first experience of snails served in something other than the traditional Burgundian manner (in shell with serious quantities of both garlic and butter) and I’d be hard pressed to choose between the two. T
he most popular entree was easily the twice baked buffalo mozerella souffle which was enthusiastically demolished as was the next most popular: a gorgeous looking tart served with a fresh fig on top (I will admit having some twinges of food envy when I saw this one). The risotto of artichoke was also well received.
Before the main courses arrived we tried out a local pinot: 04 Word of Mouth (also Lowe made) which proved to be a representative example of most Australian pinot: fruit driven and simple. We then settled on a NZ version: the 03 Main Divide Pinot Noir to see us through. A lovely wine with just the right amount of earthy funkiness to keep it interesting.
The only disappointment of the evening for meÂ was the cassoulet which only two of us experienced. Call me a purist but how can a cassoulet possible capture your heart when it comes sausage-less and without a crispy crust of breadcrumbs, with borlotti beans that are still crunchy? Although to be fair the duck was delicious, but the rest was just a shadow of the great southern French cassoulet.
Fortunately the rest of the crew had nothing but praise for their mains. A whole rainbow trout stuffed with herbs and served with raisins and pinenuts: simple perfection…. the loin of Mandagery venison with a beetroot chutney (again the food envy twinge) served on the bloody side of rare…yum.
Desserts also proved crowd pleasers. While the squashed chocolate souffle manifested itself as a dense fudgey cake that even managed to satisfy Mel’s chocolate cravings, the equally popular creme brulee was a winner topped with fresh berries. The cheese plate can often be a bit risky in country restaurants when even if they do source great cheese, the storage and serving conditions can be less than desirable. Not so at Lolli Redini with a super salty Spanish Manchengo providing a counterpoint to the delicious French triple cream brie (who’s name escapes me) and an equally gorgeous French blue (Fourme d’Ambert). All three uniting to fill every last ounce of my available stomach space…. If most people have a separate dessert stomach I think mine is dedicated to cheese but unfortunately it is in desperate need of an upsizing………
Completely satiated and extremely well rested thanks to the additional daylight savings hour, we arose Sunday for another gentle start to the day with tea and pjs but this time warmed by the sun. After a site seeing drive around the farm we headed to Milthorpe for our brunch destination: Tonic Cafe.
Now Tonic is another great example of how the combination of local produce and a country setting can result in a stellar dining experience. After a quick perusal of the lunch menu I was slightly disappointed that we were only to be staying forÂ brunch on this occasion, but these thoughts were soon banished as I tucked into a creamy cappuccino that would do many a Sydney barista proud. A little research led to the discovery that they use Bills beans…note to self….
For work my team often goes out for breakfast to tap into new trends and have a bit of a team building. On these occasions I tend to feel obligated to explore the sweet breakfast options and have had some great museli and pancake experiences. But a weekend breakfast just screams for eggs. Great, decision made…not so fast…. should they be poached or scrambled or benedict? how about accompaniments? mushrooms? home baked beans? breakfast sausages? rosti? your traditional bacon? I suspect that there was a sausage conspiracy going on in Orange because by the time we got to ordering the bangers had already sold out. But the disappointment was soon forgotten as a plate was placed before me:Â doorstep thick toast with field mushies, creamy scrambelled eggs (which even managed to surpass the famous bills as my all time favourite), crispy smoked bacon and beans ….An Orange tinted weekend….all good things…
Belgravia at Union Bank
Sale Street Orange
NSW 2800 Australia
Telephone: 61 2 6361 4441
Facsimile: 61 2 6365 0646
48 Sale Street
+61 2 6361 7748
Ross Hill Vineyard and Snail Farm
Peter and Terri Robson.
+61 2 63600175
(tastings by appointment only)
cnr Pym and Victoria Sts
+61 2 63663811
Kingham Family Guesthouse
(for very lucky family friends only!)