It’s not the rustic dirt road that leads you in. It’s not the charming French provincial decor either. It's not the gorgeous view that overlooks the sloping natural amphitheatre; a space filled with rows and rows of flourishing grape vines hung with the promise of vintage to come. It might be the wine list, and it certainly could be the food. In truth, it's the 40-plus years of hospitality knowledge and experience that makes Bistro Molines the best restaurant in the Hunter Valley in which to relax and indulge your inner gourmand.
Yet, some might say the food is old-fashioned; that it's not modern enough, that there's a distinct lack of edible films and foams and jellies and gels among the rich flavours, heavy textures and generous sauces that grace almost every plate. Some might also think that food is a fashion show rather than a way to acquire sustenance and draw on elevated pleasures from an almost infinite collection of recipes and techniques, many of which were written and perfected long before most of us were born and will certainly continue to be cooked, eaten and enjoyed long after we're gone … which, is why I chose the lamb brains, the rabbit, and the blueberry pie.
Filled with light, air and casual diners, Bistro Molines is a rustically decorated white, sunlit restaurant set among the undulating slopes and rolling hills of Mount View, near Cessnock. The dining room rambles around a square space that spills out into a brick paved patio where diners while away the afternoon with friends and tolerable family members. Sally Molines runs the front of house and her floor staff are friendly and professional with a keen eye for declining water levels.
The food menu reads like it could have been written by Robert and his head chef, Garreth Robbs, while they sat somewhere along the Saone river dressed in Breton stripes, sipping from a bottle of Bandol and plunging into an assortment of cheese; intensely French, and unapologetically so.
To start, consider the terrine, duck liver pate, and rabbit rillette set among a charcuterie of ham, pickled vegetables and cornichons, or, be adventurous, and try the lamb brains; the type of dish you know is better left to the professionals. Fried, soft but crispy cigar-shaped morsels are loaded with fresh and finely chopped tomato, capers, spring onion, parsley and other herbs, soaked in an unctuous garlic butter sauce.
The quail too is an especially delicious dish. Delicately gamey flavours merge into an al dente pumpkin risotto, which is topped with crispy bits of prosciutto, toasted grains and seeds for an added dimension of texture.
Follow the entree with veal osso bucco served in red wine with field mushrooms and polenta, or slow-cooked pork collar with roasted cauliflower, date jam and muscat jus. Perpetually popular with regulars and locals, Robert’s rabbit stew (civet de lapin) is a rich mix of Dijon mustard, green olives and indulgent mash potato (pomme mousseline) and it’s perfectly acceptable to finish it off using your hands and to soak up any remaining sauce with the accompanying crunchy, house-baked bread.
For dessert, end proceedings with the chocolate fondant raspberry coulis and strawberry ice cream, or sample from the tray of petit fours often served after Sunday lunch. However, if there’s pie, regardless of flavour, eat it. The blueberry pie is a sweet short-crusted affair that will stain your white shirt a deep purple, and is served with a scoop of the most revitalising house-made mint ice-cream.
By now, Robert and Sally Molines’ reputation as gastronomic pathfinders is surely confirmed. Every restaurant they’ve opened in Wine Country in the past four decades has set a high water mark for quality and consistency. Bistro Molines is no different.
- What: Bistro Molines
- Where: 749 Mount View Rd, Mount View, NSW, 2325
- Owner: Sally and Robert Molines
- Drinks: Wine, beer, spirits and liqueurs, tea and coffee
- Hours: Lunch - Thurs-Mon 12pm-3pm. Dinner - Friday-Saturday 7pm-9pm.
- Vegetarian: Yes
- Bottom Line: $250 (three courses incl. drinks)
- Wheelchair Access: Yes
- Do Try: Rabbit, dessert (pie, if available).