SINCE the recent good rains, the Broke-Fordwich sub-region of the Hunter Valley is revelling in a new, green lease of life. Healthy cattle and sheep graze on lush pastures, dams are refreshed and vines are putting on a flush of growth in preparation for the imminent harvest.
Add a sunny, clear sky and blessedly low humidity and you couldn't ask for a more perfect day for a trip up the valley.
Margan's 4000-square-metre kitchen garden is at its seasonal best: heritage tomatoes, zucchini flowers, cucumbers, baby beets, salad greens and herbs; along with black suffolk lambs and free-ranging chickens, all find a place on the current menu. Olive trees, visible from the dining room provide a generous bowl of tasty olives for every table.
Flies and hornets are part and parcel of summer in the country. Unfortunately, today their presence has shut off the terrace to dining and driven guests indoors to the light-filled dining room, but there are still views from most tables of the Mediterranean-inspired courtyard, or across the lawn to the kitchen garden and the Brokenback Range beyond.
The menu follows a well-tried formula - four "smaller", four "larger" and four "to finish" with a suggested wine match.
An amuse bouche combines tiny, just-picked, purple, red and cream-coloured radishes with whipped, spiced butter and wedges of early figs on tangy yoghurt.
Freshly baked bread rolls, glazed with unfiltered honey from Margan's bees and served with more housemade butter, continue the theme of "estate grown and estate made".
Jewel-bright segments of heritage tomatoes spike a small lake of spicy, chilled gazpacho along with wedges of buffalo mozzarella, ricotta-filled zucchini flowers, sweet and crunchy almonds and pieces of baby zucchini; lovely with Margan white label verdelho 2013.
Don't be put off by the pig's ear with grilled tiger prawn and pork jowl. This is offal at its most inoffensive. The ear is a crisp puff; the pork jowl has been slow cooked, the meat shredded and enrobed in light, golden batter. Add a perfectly grilled prawn, a scattering of golden corn and smears of corn cream for a dish that goes beautifully with a glass of Margan white label chardonnay, 2013.
Local duck - breast and confit leg meat - makes a fine main for a smaller appetite with its baby golden and purple beetroot, charred baby leek and vanilla bean-speckled duck jus.
Dry, aged Wagyu makes a duo appearance in a gutsy dish: a medium-rare and well-rested sirloin sits beside a slow-cooked, fall-apart wedge of short rib and a segment of marrow bone. This generous dish also includes a crisp onion ring, sweet roasted parsnip and creamy smoked potato mash. Make sure you have some bread left to mop up the sticky jus. And Margan special release "claret" (cabernet/merlot blend) 2013 could have been made for it.
I love chocolate, the darker the better, but usually don't choose a chocolate dessert. The kitchen is trialling a new one, whose description even makes your mouth water. Mousse-soft dark-chocolate creme, white-chocolate ice-cream, crunchy peanut brittle, in pieces and crumbs, a feather-light peanut sponge and a ribbon of dark chocolate jelly is arranged across the plate in a symphony of browns, beige and cream. There are many reasons for visiting Hunter Valley; the lovely Broke-Fordwich with a meal at Margan is just one of them.
What: Margan Restaurant;
1238 Milbrodale Road, Broke; 65791372; margan.com.au.
Chef: Michael Robinson.
Wines: Award-winning wine list including Margan’s wines at winery prices and an extensive selection of regional and international wines; all Margan’s wines by the glass.
Hours: Lunch: Fri-Sun; Dinner: Fri-Sat; Breakfast: Sunday, 9am-11am; Mondays for lunch most public holidays (bookings essential).
Vegetarian: one entree, one main.
Bottom line: Two courses, $65, three courses, $80; five-course degustation, $100 ($145 with matching wines) per person.
Wheelchair access: level access through the wine-tasting room.
Do try: grilled tiger prawn, pork jowl, crisp pig’s ear, sweet corn.