The Wintergarden at the Hydro Majestic Hotel, Blue Mountains

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The Hydro Majestic Hotel has been a Blue Mountains icon for decades, constructed as far back as 1903 by the dashing retail baron, Mark Foy, as Australia's first health retreat. Located on the highway in Medlow Bath between Katoomba and Blackheath, Foy's Hydropathic Establishment, as it was dubbed, officially opened in 1904 in the middle of winter and a snowstorm, and over the coming years it attracted guests from around Australia and the world, including Australia's first Prime Minister, Sir Edmund Barton, who died there in 1920. Eventually it fell into disrepair, but today, this majestic hotel has undergone a major multi-million-dollar refurbishment and is owned by The Escarpment Group, which also owns the region's other iconic hotel, Lilianfels, along with Echoes and Parklands. It's an ideal romantic escape, just a couple of hours from the Sydney CBD, with features including an elegant bar, and a prime dining venue in The Wintergarden, which offers an alluring combination fine dining and commanding views of the dramatic Megalong Valley.

The location and decor:

We arrived an hour earlier at the hotel only to find there isn't really a bar as such. There is a lounge which is located in the hotel's foyer, but we were told it was for "residents only" except for weekend night. Fortunately, as we were staying at one of the other Escarpment properties we were invited in and enjoyed a couple of pre-dinner drinks, the integrated system billing our hotel room. We headed to The Wintergarden on time, which you enter via the grand domed "casino". We were greeted on arrival and shown to our table. The restaurant has pride of place at the back of this section of the property overlooking the Megalong Valley, making it a popular spot for a premium afternoon tea as well as romantic dinner for two. It's a large space bathed in natural daylight by day, and washed gently with soft lighting from overhead lamps by night. The layout maximises the panoramic views of the sweeping valley, with huge floor to ceiling windows, and many tables positioned to benefit from this; even our table, which was set back a fair way, would be able to take in the views had it been daytime. The decor is warm and timelessly elegant, with a royal purple carpet inlaid with patterns, comfortable plush gold chairs and crisp white table cloths. As the Hydro Majestic has a program of entertainment on offer on certain nights of the week, you can opt to enjoy a dinner and show package, which includes three courses, or a choice of two courses for $75 or three for $95 plus wine.

The menu:

The cuisine is quality mod-Oz, drawing on much local produce. The entree tasting plate comes with three bite sized portions which we were told you could enjoy in no particular order. They included a South Windsor duck cube with Cumberland sauce, a seared Balmain bug with leek cream, lemon and fennel pollen vinaigrette, and an heirloom beetroot salad with Jannei goat's curd vincotto, olive oil and olive crumb. There was, however a choice of five mains, including a fish option in the Gold Band snapper, a Great Southern lamb rack and a vegetarian option in the risotto of pumpkin. Torn between fish and meat, Ben opted for a Riverina grain fed beef stripling with local mushroom   and spinach pie with a Bordelaise sauce, while I tucked into twice cooked pork belly with parsnip cream, cavolo nero and prune vinaigrette. For the sides we tried to be healthy with a portion of broccoli with anchovy butter and almonds, and from a decent sized wine list we opted for a light red house wine which complemented everything. All our food was cooked to perfection. In the tasting plate the duck was juicy, and the bug grilled just right, while Ben's steak was a perfect medium rare, and my pork belly juicy with crisp crackling without being greasy. We don't often make dessert but our waiter insisted we have at least one. Like the entree, it's a tasting plate of three parts including heirloom chocolate fondant with dark chocolate streusel and vanilla cream, a frangipane tart with lemon curd and orange tulle, and a champagne pannacotta with spiced baby fig, pomegranate and pistachio.

The verdict:

Although it was a Tuesday night The Wintergarden was surprisingly busy with everything from friends and couples dinning to a large group. Some might find the menu a tad limited, in particular the entrees and desserts, but the quality is top notch and it's a must for anyone in the summer looking for a romantic dining venue.

We're working on a full review of Parklands, one of the Escarpment Group hotels and resorts, so check back here soon!

The Wintergarden at the Hydro Majestic Hotel is located on the Great Western Highway, Medlow Bath, The Blue Mountains, 02 4782 6885,

Joanna Hall