Briar Grillade, Hunter Valley
I’ve been to the Hunter Valley more times than I care to remember. When I travel I usually like to discover new places, but there are some places that are worthy of multiple trips. Two and half hours drive from Sydney, the Hunter Valley is one of those places. With about 150 cellar doors to visit you could go and try a different place each time, which I do try to do, but I am also a creature of habit, and when you’ve found somewhere good that you like, why change?
Briar Ridge is one of those places. Admittedly, it doesn’t have the best wine in the Hunter, it is not one of James Haliday’s 5 Star wineries for 2012, but it does, according to the Hunter Valley Visitors Guide (2012) have a “consistent record of excellence… for at least two years, with at least two wines rated at 94 points or above”.
But it’s not the wine that keeps us returning to Briar Ridge; don’t get me wrong the wine is good but the food is even better. The Briar Grillade, hidden amongst the gum trees in the Mount View area of the Hunter, delivers consistently good, freshly cooked food at a very reasonable price. Every time we visit the menu is different (a distinct selling point in my book) and each time we find multiple dishes that tempt us from the short and simple menu.
Start your visit with a tasting at the wine bar, a selection of barrels with stools where you can sit and work your way through the tasting list, from the Semillon to the Verdelho, followed by the Shiraz, and finishing off with the Muscat Liqueur, affectionately know as “Christmas pudding in a glass”.
You can also order some nibbles or your lunch while you are tasting your way through the wines. During one visit I enjoyed a trio of dips and Turkish bread sat at the barrels. But not on this occasion it was a full on feast in the cafe. It was a bit chilly for me to sit outside this weekend, but it summer sitting in the bush setting is gorgeous, we even spotted a tawny frogmouth with his chicks on one visit.
So what did we eat at this visit? Well, I can never go past a pate on a menu, but there were numerous other options that tickled my taste buds, so I persuaded the husband to share a couple of starters. The pate was a delightful smooth chicken liver and pear affair served with crispy croutons.
We paired the pate with some stuffed zucchini flowers. Little zucchini stuffed with goats cheese, battered then fried to leave you with crispy morsels of goodness. This was accompanied by a rich tomato sauce and pesto.
If I had seen the portions size prior to ordering, lunch would probably have stopped there, but I was seduced by the specials board. Despite there being a twice cooked pork belly and fillet Mignon on the menu, I fancied trying the pizza; an interesting combination of duck, pumpkin, onion and pine nuts. I’m usually a bit of a purist when it comes to pizza toppings, preferring the simplicity of the Italian classics, but after a morning of wine tasting anything goes. And I’m glad I branched out, as it was suitably tasty, if not particularly authentic.
This wasn’t quite the light lunch we’d planned, which meant the husband escaped his evening cooking duties. But that didn’t matter I enjoyed every mouthful of the smooth chicken liver and pear pate; the zucchini flowers and of course the pizza.
The three generous dishes cost $48, which for lunch for two in the Hunter is a bargain. We were all wined out by this point, but you can order all the wines from the cellar door by the glass to accompany your lunch if you so desire.