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Chez Pok at Peppers Guest House: Hunter Valley, Australia

Joanna Hall

The NSW Hunter Valley is not only one of the most famous wine producing regions in Australia, but also an ideal place to escape from the city for a romantic getaway. As savvy travellers will tell you, however, the "Valley" isn't all about wine. Along with luxury accommodations, from quaint B&Bs and rustic cottages to luxury golf resorts, there's also plenty of fine dining to be had, with a growing number of chefs and restaurants established in the region, many of which rival those in major cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. Chez Pok is one, part of the lovely Peppers Guest House tucked away on a mild bluff in Pokolbin - stay there and you only have to venture downstairs for a fine dining experience to put the seal on your romantic getaway.

The location and decor:

I was surprised to learn that Chez Pok has been established since 1984, given the trend for fine dining in the Hunter Valley is something more recent. This lovely restaurant, however, is something of an icon in the area, one of a few venues responsible for putting top quality cuisine in the Hunter on the map 30 years ago. It's open for breakfast daily, lunch on weekends, and dinner every night, catering to locals with an eye for quality, as well as guests of the luxury Peppers Guest House.

The restaurant occupies a cozy corner of the historic Peppers building on the ground floor tucked behind reception, enjoying views leading out to the manicured grounds. You can get there via the traditionally styled lounge, and the dark, moody bar area. The space follows the same decor as the rest of the guest house, simple and elegant with whitewashed brick balls, Victorian glass light fixtures, heavy satin blinds, and a leafy covered terrace for al-fresco dining when the weather permits.

Inside, the atmosphere is beautifully warm thanks to a large open fireplace and fire which a number of guests were able to enjoy close up thanks to well spaced out tables and chairs. There were mostly couples dining, the atmosphere hushed without being demure, and it was timelessly romantic, capturing the true essence of both the Hunter and provincial France. It's the kind of place for an impressive first date, a birthday or a wedding anniversary.

The menu:

Chez Pok has had a long association with local wine producers and growers, and its menus reflect that. There's a casual all-day dining menu, with tasty snacks including thick cut steak fries served with house made aioli, fresh pizza, and the popular three-cheeseboard served with accompaniments. The dinner menu is a showcase of seasonal ingredients sourced from local producers, as in chilli caramel pork belly teamed with pineapple sorbet and a salad of snow crab, mint, coriander and bean shoots. A superb list of local and international wines caps off the Chez Pok experience.

To start with we were served artisan breads with beurre de barrette and fleur de sel, that's a divine butter and salt combo too hard to resist. Choosing appetisers was the next challenge. For Ben it was simple: a dozen nude oysters. As he says, you can always tell the calibre of a restaurant's seafood by the oysters, and as expected they were fresh, juicy and delicious. I opted for a classic Caesar salad with egg, which came with super-crisp romaine lettuce, a light dressing, and was a generous portion I couldn't finish.

After sampling our local wine, we awaited our mains; choosing these had been equally tricky, with such gems as corn tortellini, and twice cooked spatchcock on the menu. Again Ben went down a more traditional path, opting for an Angus steak with truffled potato puree and heirloom carrots. The fish easily won me over, however, Daintree barramundi and Serrano ham with an aubergine puree. With both dishes there was quite a mix of flavours and textures, but it all worked. The fish was exquisitely cooked to perfection, just soft and very juicy, while's Ben's steak may have been more simple in concept, but equally stirred the taste buds. 

Besides the pleasure of our warm and romantic environment, the service was delightfully attentive yet relaxed; you didn't have to wait for long to have your wine topped up. Although the desserts which passed our table heading for other guests looked amazing, with more than a glass of wine left between us we opted to share a small selection of local cheeses served with quince paste, goat's cheese biscuits, lavish and muscatels. It was just enough to finish us off, but fortunately we didn't have far to stumble to our room to relax.

Here is our review of Pepper's Guest House.

Chez Pok is located at Peppers Guest House, Ekerts Road, Pokolbin, NSW 2320, 02 4993 8999,

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