What: Restaurant Botanica at the Vineyard Estate, 555 Hermitage Road, Pokolbin; 6574 7229; spicersretreats.com.au
Chef: Joshua Duncan
Wines: Extensive wine list, predominantly Hunter and also many from premium areas in SA, Tas, WA and Vic, NZ, France, Italy and Spain;16 by the glass.
Hours: Lunch, 12pm–3pm Saturday and Sunday; dinner, from 6pm, seven nights per week.
Vegetarian: Vegetarian menu available.
Bottom line: $79 per person for 3 courses, $69pp for 2 courses with amuse bouche, unlimited house bread and butter.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Do try: Slow cooked pig cheek, horseradish, fennel, golden beetroot, parsley.
AT Restaurant Botanica at the Vineyard Estate, Pokolbin, there's still enough light in the sky in spite of the overcast, misty evening to revel in the views of the early autumn vineyard and distant Brokenback range. Even the name suggests a return to nature - a theme carried through in the locally sourced and kitchen garden-grown produce on the seasonal menu.
Inside, the botanical theme continues with polished timber floors, sparkling glassware set on well-spaced Australian hardwood timber topped tables and subdued lighting - perhaps a little too subdued, but it was turned up after a comment on not being able to read the menu.
The amuse bouche is a real mouth tickler; a disc of diced ocean trout, just "cooked" in a citrus juice and herb infusion. Perfectly seasoned, perfectly balanced flavours and at a perfect temperature, it sets taste buds up nicely for what is to come.
The silky smooth brick of wobbly pea panna cotta brings a well executed texture counterpoint to the crisp and crunch of finely shaved almond and toasted wild rice; and there's colour contrast as well; pink-edged radish, pink flower petals and white goat's curd and smoked yoghurt against the fresh greens of the panna cotta, baby herbs and pearls of pea puree.
Complementary house-baked ciabatta and sourdough helps finish off every last drop of eggplant puree and spring onion emulsion that partners the two sweet and springy bug tails, along with a smoky and tangy salsa of piquillo peppers.
The extensive wine list reads like a who's who of well known regions around the world, with an emphasis on good Hunter drops.
All wines by the glass are poured at the table from a fresh bottle into appropriate glasses. Choose either the Hart and Hunter Ablington shiraz 2013 or the Tyrrells's HVD and The Hill pinot noir 2013 to drink with a main of slow cooked pig cheek. The melt-in-the-mouth pork with its gelatinous sauce gets another flavour and texture kick from a creamy horseradish and fennel puree, tiny golden beetroot and a shower of deep fried parsley.
Mandagery Creek venison from the central highlands near Orange is always a hit. Rare, perfectly rested slices perch on a bed of sweet potato, goat's curd and pea pesto. A glass of David Hook De Novo Rosso 2013 goes very well. And there's still enough of that bread left to clean the plate of every last unctuous drop.
This is a place that does seriously good and quite generous desserts. Caramelised popcorn, a bar of spiced tea cake, a scoop of ginger ice cream, a shower of pomegranate arils, a thatch of Persian fairy floss; this one's all about texture and taste, crisp, crunch, spice, sweet, salt, soft, smooth.
And then there's the tropical-themed dessert; a brick of mango parfait topped with two perfectly ripe raspberries sits beside a scoop of pineapple sorbet and a mini wafer cone filled with diced, ripe mango, spiked with mint.
A green tea-infused marshmallow with the coffee is all you need to see you on your way. And if even the relatively short trip home on the Hunter Expressway is too much to face you can always stay overnight. This is part of Spicers Vineyard Resort.