Complimentary corn bread with olive oil, dukkah and pesto
If there was one restaurant that kept popping up during my internet research on the Hunter Valley, it was the multi award-winning Chez Pok at Peppers.
So with only a little gentle persuasion of my colleagues, we headed here for dinner after a boozy day out exploring vineyards, cheese shops, an Irish pub and a microbrewery. [Yes, yes, I'm still blogging about our Hunter Valley trip, but this is the second-last post, I promise]
Peppers Guest House is enveloped in a romantic plushness that makes it popular for wedding receptions and honeymooners. In the guest house car park, we trail behind a newly wedded couple, the smitten pair languidly disentangling themselves to finally roll their luggage bags to their suite--still holding hands of course. Meanwhile we make our way along the leafy paths, past the love seat and underneath the wooden archway that is presumably covered in flowers in spring.
At reception we are directed past the bar (elegantly cosy) and through to the back verandah where diners are already clinking cutlery. There's a larger dining room indoors, but tonight we're all dining on the porch. The view is instantly calming. Endless rolling hills, the scent of flowers and the occasional twitter of birdlife, all set to the gentle flicker of tea lights on every table.
We begin with complimentary American-style corn bread served with olive oil, dukkah and pesto. The corn bread is light and sweet and rather good, although it doesn't quite work with the dips provided. We check with the waitress and apparently the breads are all baked inhouse and rotated according to the chef's whim.
This is followed by an amuse bouche of cherry tomatoes filled with goats cheese and topped with baby cress leaves. It's an elegant little starter that is very pretty to look at.
By the time our entrees are served, it's dark outside. The single tea light on our table is barely sufficient to make out our meals; the camera can barely see anything. Don't you just hate that, or is that just the foodblogger in me? Excuse the photos, I've resurrected them as best I could.
Left: Sauteed king prawns, melon, prosciutto and verjuice
Right: Pan-fried duck liver, roasted corn salsa, corn picklet
and fried shallots
B has the sauteed king prawns which come entwined with melon and enclosed with prosciutto. I can't resist the duck liver which has been pan-fried to a slight crisp, moist and rich within.
The other entrees included:
Salad of boned quail, baby beets, figs and pecans;
Honey-cured ocean trout, red apples and peach with a mixed cress salad; and a
Fetta and kalamata olive ravioli with sweet garlic coulis and a parsley and celery salad.
Left: Char-grilled beef tournendos with black pepper and
caramelised onion sausage and a cherry reduction
Middle: Seared lamb loin with braised lamb shoulder cannelloni,
summer baby vegetables and lamb jus
Right: Pan-fried snapper fillet with saffron potatoes and
cherry truss tomatoes
For mains I have the beef tournendos, a thick slab of meat that is cooked to a perfect medium-rare as requested. This is topped with chunky slices of black pepper and caramelised onion sausage. A swirl of cherry reduction sauce has some tartness but altogether it's a little too sweet, even though the whole stewed cherries are much appreciated.
B has the lamb loin which is tender and pink; Geet has the snapper which is deliriously moist, the skin on top fried to a shattering shard of deliciousness.
We also share a salad of mesculin leaves and herbs, a simple offering that comes with a light dressing that contains local goats cheese.
The other mains included:
Crisp baby barramundi fillet, stone fruit chutney and saute russet potato;
Seasoned roast chicken with panzanella, an uncooked sauce of tomato and herbs;
Spanish onion and sweet potato tart tartin with truffle mascarpone.
Left: Candied pinenut tart with pineapple chips
and pineapple ice cream
Right: Peach sorbet with a soft vacherin and
poached peaches in cardamom syrup
Ahh dessert. My biggest dilemma of the evening. After toying with the idea of a dark Belgian chocolate pudding (the black cherry ice cream sounded particularly alluring), I finally decide on the candied pinenut tart after a few questions of our waiter (nothing worse than ending your meal on a poor decision).
One of my questions had been whether the tart was singular, or a slice of something bigger. It's all about the pinenut to crust ratio, and really, once I had the dish before me, I actually had nothing worry about. The pinenut tart was packed with pinenuts, a doorstop of filling with nothing but creamy crunchy pinenuts. Pineapple chips were wafer thin slices of whole pineapple, air-dried to a crusty chewiness. The scoop of cool pineapple ice cream was folded through with tiny pieces of juicy fresh pineapple.
Geet had the peach sorbet, something so healthy sounding I barely gave it a second glance on the menu. Its construction was most impressive however, eliciting oohs and ahhs and perhaps a jealous glance or two. The four-storey tower included a rounded scoop of peach sorbet, half a poached peach and a cloud of pistachio Persian fairy floss puff built on a circular foundation of meringue, all crisp on the outside and chewy marshmallow within.
Other desserts included:
Dark Belgian chocolate pudding with fresh honeycomb and black cherry ice cream;
Strawberries and cream with crisp pastry;
Gingerbread cake with milk chocolate ganache and coffee flavours;
Selection of cheese with lavosh shards and fuji green apple jelly.
My pot of Earl Grey tea arrived with real tea leaves and the accompanying petit fours were the tastiest macadamia cookies I've ever eaten. Buttery, crisp, generous chunks of macadamia, and most definitely homemade.
We had a lovely peaceful meal with the perfect touch of "special-ness". Exemplary friendly service was a treasured highlight, and if you can't make the trip, you could always try out one of their recipes at home.
Chez Pok at Peppers Guest House Hunter Valley
Ekerts Road, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley
Tel: +61 2 4993 8999
Dinner: 7-9pm (Two courses $55, Three courses $70)
Tel: +61 (02) 4993 8999
Bookings strongly recommended
Related GrabYourFork posts:
Hunter Valley 2008/1: Maitland Gaol tour
Hunter Valley 2008/2: Morpeth Pie Man and Morpeth Sourdough
Hunter Valley 2008/3: Dinner at the Newcastle Travelodge Hotel
Hunter Valley 2008/4: Vineyards and cheese tasting
Hunter Valley 2007/1: Cessnock
Hunter Valley 2007/2: Vineyards, cheeseshops and an olive centre
Hunter Valley 2007/3: Lunch at Harrigan's Irish Pub
Hunter Valley 2007/4: A vineyard, cheeseshop and beer brewery
Hunter Valley 2007/5: Dinner at Chez Pok
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2/27/2007 11:57:00 p.m.