The Hunter Valley is a region I rarely get to but when I do make it up there I always hear myself saying “I have to come here more often.” Fresh air, no traffic, rolling hills abundant with grape vines and when it’s only two hours from Sydney I really have no excuses to not visit. A recent invite from Billy to partake in the Amazing Hunter Valley Race didn’t require much pondering as all I needed to do was take a day off work and hire a car to get up there. You can read more about the actual race here and here and while we had some top food over the two days in The Valley I only brought out the camera for the dinner we had at Margan Restaurant, the fine dining room at Margan winery.
Tucked behind massive doors leading off the restaurant is the Barrel Hall, a spacious room lined floor to ceiling with wooden barrels of vino and long tables that seat large groups such as ours. The rooms décor goes beyond the wine barrels with wood-framed patterned cut-steel partitions, large spherical pendant lights, raw concrete walls and a ceiling cladded in sheets of plywood. The night kicks off with wine and canapés of mildly spiced prawns in harissa and plump oysters sploshed with a sharp blackberry vinagrette and a great deal of chatter about the race that took up most of the day.
Once seated we tuck into warm and crusty ciabatta with balsamic and olive oil plus some delectable and buttery local black olives. Chef Josh Davidson prepared a three course menu featuring two starters, mains and desserts that were alternately placed on the tables and thanks to sitting next to Billy we swapped plates halfway as to get a taste of everything.
The venison carpaccio came topped with spiced beetroot and a crispy fried goats cheese ravioli. Shavings of parmesan, croutons and a green ring of herbed oil made for a very visual dish and while it was nice on the buds I found the venison was cut too thin as it almost dissolved when you took a fork to it. The other starter is a warming soup of jerusalem artichoke with caramelised rafts of scallop, golden blobs of lobster oil and crunchy apple lurking beneath the creamy depths. And that black stuff? Manjimup truffle, of course. Loved it.
Somewhere in amongst all the lip smacking food and chatter were various bottles of wine I barely took note of other than how good they were. We had red, we had white, we had it all. I reckon I even had a glamorous red wine smile. Classy. Both main courses were of the braised format but that’s where the similarities cease. The slow brased lamb shoulder took on some heavy Moroccan flavours along with eggplant and cavalo nero and while I found it a little sweet the meat was melting perfection. The alternate main is an equally tender trio of braised wagyu shin wedged on creamy horseradish and cauliflower cream and topped with vege’s from the 1-acre garden out the back. The rich and savoury jus brings the whole dish together and in my eyes it’s a hands-down winner.
The sweeties came out as pretty as a picture. To the left – poached rhubarb, toasted almond cream and mint, and to the right – chocolate marquise with caramel and salted nuts. The almond cream, some would call it panna cotta, is a silky and creamy vehicle for the sharp rhubarb and ends with a defining crunch from the crumble and nuts. The room-temperature marquise is like chocolatey sex that melts on the tongue. A tumble of crunchy and salty hazelnuts add texture and the swirl of caramel and dollop of crème fraîche round it all up nicely, especially when you’re sipping on a dessert wine from somewhere in the neighbourhood.
Thanks to all that made it happen.