Winter has finally descended over the Valley. The majority of vineyards have shed their leaves and now resemble a thousand spindly silhouettes of skinny fingers grasping at the cool evening air. The sunsets out here are even more dramatic and beautiful now that the air is crisp and clear. A panoramic window stretches across the Hunter’s Quarter dining room and reveals a sweeping view of shadows creeping slowly over the silent vines, with the Brokenback range in the distance.
Hunter's Quarter is located in the same spot as the Poole’s Rock/Cockfighter’s Ghost cellar door, in Pokolbin. White walls are split by a series of long, sleek black beams that reach up and over the roof where thin cashew coloured slats anchor dome-shaped pendants that shine (a little too) brightly. It's the Hunter Valley's newest dining HQ and features modern Australian cuisine with that ubiquitous Asian twist that seems to be quite popular nowadays. Chef, Brian Duncan's CV is impressive: the Dorchester and Claridge's in London, and Level 41 and Establishment in Sydney. The menu reads like it would be at home at either one of those places, but Duncan takes a more casual approach to his food, service, and style.
We start with a bit of crusty bread and a glass tray filled with soft butter, mixed olives, and olive oil. Wine is ordered first, then entrée and main: house-smoked salmon, wasabi yoghurt, radish and sprout salad, and Saltimbocca quail breast, goat’s curd, zucchini and tomato relish. Followed by Hiramasa kingfish supreme and mussels in a tomato and basil broth, and spice-crusted lamb rack, ragout of barley, caramelised onion and slow roasted lamb shoulder.
The house-smoked salmon sits in a sea of white wasabi yoghurt with two crispy thin radish discs, topped with a sprout salad that looks like a delicious overgrown garden. Where the salmon is soft, delicate and mild, the radish discs and salad give a crispy bite to a simple but effective little curtain raiser. My dining associate reports that the Saltimbocca quail is rich and gamey, and the flavours remind her of parmigiana, which I'm told is a good thing. The deep fried zucchini flower is a nice touch and looks tempting from where I'm sitting.
Our waiter is friendly and very helpful when I ask questions about the wines on the list. Most of the wines come from Cockfighter’s Ghost, Audrey Wilkinson or Poole’s Rock. We opt for a bottle of 2013 Hart & Hunter syrah. It's light enough to complement the rich seafood elements of our meal, but cosy enough to keep the cold air at bay outside.
Both mains arrive on large, sunken white plates where the sauces can pool around the protein and look inviting enough to want to dive right in. My dining associate ordered the Hiramasa kingfish, where two large mussels on the half shell sit either side of a generously portioned piece of seared yellowtail, surrounded by chickpeas soaking in a bright red tomato and basil broth. The fish is soft and falls apart, the mussels are firm without being chewy, but the flavours are a little restrained for such a rich looking dish. The lamb, on the other hand, is cooked pink and to perfection. Two fleshy cutlets encrusted with savoury spices sit on top of the barley ragout, caramelised onion, and slow roasted lamb shoulder. The extra serve of lamb is too much, I think. It’s far more flavoursome than the kingfish, but less focused in terms of what's on the plate.
We end with Chocolate Textures, which is exactly what it says on the tin. Dark chocolate presented as crumbly soil, tempered shards, and fudge balls with gooey ganache inside, dusted with powdered sugar and accompanied with fresh raspberries and a raspberry coulis.
Hunter's Quarter is both classy and casual, with excellent views of the vineyards, great service, and a food menu that's tempting and tasty.