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Restaurant Review: Roberts Circa 1876, Hunter Valley, Australia

By:
Joanna Hall
 

There's nothing quite like a romantic getaway to the NSW Hunter Valley, one of the most famous wine producing regions in Australia, however, as most people who visit will tell you, it's not all about wine. Besides a wider spread of luxury accommodations, beyond quaint B&Bs and rustic cottages, there's also some top class fine dining to be enjoyed, thanks to a growing number of chefs and restaurants which easily rival the offerings of major cities such as Sydney or Melbourne. Roberts Circa 1876 is one, enjoying a picturesque location, and some of the best food to be enjoy in the Valley. It's also part of the lovely Peppers Convent resort - stay there and you only have a short walk down the driveway to a dining experience to remember.

The location and decor:

Run by the famous Cowley family, this iconic Hunter restaurant is located in a gorgeous combination wooden and brick building, and  surrounded by a lush, organic market garden. In the kitchen is Chef George Francisco, who fuses a modern style of Australian cuisine with a French influence, but what tends to set him apart from the rest, however, is a knack for sourcing the best and freshest local produce. The garden embraces the growing paddock-to-plate culture, and has been recently expanded due to demand, and the property has a vineyard deck, which in the summer is an ideal place to relax with a glass of wine before embarking on your culinary journey.

It was late autumn when we visited however, so by the time we arrived it was pitch dark and becoming chilly. Inside the decor is all rich wooden beams, highly polished wooden floors, elegant chandeliers, displays of vintage wines, and well spaced out tables and chairs with crisp white linen. What you have is a lovely a feast for the eyes, to set the stage for what would will be arriving on your plate. We were seated near the big open fireplace, which was warm and welcoming after a walk down the gravel driveway from Peppers Convent. It was a Thursday night, and the place was full, yet with enough noise and bustle to feel energetic and lively, without drowning out your romantic conversation.

The menu:

When many of the ingredients you're about to eat are produced in the garden beyond, it tends to give you a heightened sense of both appreciation and anticipation. This garden is not only a haven for growing plants and fruits, however; it's also is home to some pampered chickens. And between growing produce, raising chickens, curing his own bacon and harvesting honey, George cuts a swathe around the Valley sourcing anything else he needs from handpicked local growers. Although you can have lunch here, along with lovely country views, place really comes alive when dinner is served. It's basically the same menu, however, so you won't be missing out on anything.

Nibbles to whet the appetite while ordering your wine include warmed olives with balsamic reduction and olive oil, served with a hearty homemade bread. Then comes the difficult part of the evening - what to choose for your starter and main. After selecting a wine from the local Margan label, Ben opted for freshly opened Port Stephens rock oysters, which he saw being delivered to an adjacent table and looked incredibly fresh and perky. I opted for the spanner crab pasta in the smallest portion they could muster, aromatically flavoured with lemon, garlic chilli flakes and rich Parmigiano-Reggiano. The main course was somehow trickier, with blue eye trevalla, duck breast and free range hen on the menu. 

The blue eye won me over, while Ben opted for something else; a parcel of ocean trout and king fish. The trevalla came with a delectable olive oil poached fennel, trendy quinoa, confit tomato and a garden fennel salad with black olives. There was quite a mix of flavours and textures, but it all worked; and the fish was exquisitely cooked to perfection, just soft and very juicy. Ben's 'parcel' came with celeriac, creamed spinach, ocean trout roe and bacon crumble, looking not only like a work of art, but stirring the taste buds too.

Besides a warm and relaxing environment, and rustic decor, the service was super attentive but not stuffy; you didn't have to wait for long to be offered anything, or have your wine topped up. Unfortunately, as is a trait with us, we didn't leave room for dessert; but just a few of the mouthwatering options from the menu, and being enjoyed by diners at other tables, included a decadent white chocolate ice cream sundae, vanilla panna cotta, and a special 'For Chocolate Lovers Only' seven layer chocolate cake with mocha rum sauce and cocoa nibs. Maybe next time? It would be a good excuse to return!

We have a review of Pepper's Convent coming soon, so check back!

Roberts Circa 1876 is located at 64 Halls Road, Pokolbin, NSW, 02 4998 4998, www.peppers.com.au/convent/dining.

For more info on Peppers Convent visit www.peppers.com.au/convent.

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