Thursday, September 22, 2011

A race through Hunter Valley - part 3

It had already been a massive day in the Hunter Valley - we'd been through vineyards and cellar doors; into wineries and into the air; and ate and drank until we could no more. It was finally time to determine the winners of the 'Amazing Hunter Valley Race'.

I think we were all winners at this point, especially anyone who managed a nap before the final official event of the weekend. A bumpy ride to Broke (from Pokolbin) brought us out to a chilly night and into a stunning setting for dinner.

The Barrel Hall at Margan Restaurant, Milbrodale Road, Broke, Hunter Valley
Past the restaurant reception area and normal dining room, doors open to the breathtaking Barrel Room at highly rated Margan Restaurant. With soft lighting illuminating the wine barrel-lined room; two long, white clothed tables created a celebratory ambience for the excited race teams.

The Barrel Hall at Margan Restaurant
The room is cool in temparature as I suppose the barrels aren't just there for display. The length of the room, and the ingenuity of turning it into events and dining space, makes it ideal for large private dinners, weddings and celebration in general.

Barrels in the Barrel Hall at Margan Restaurant
We mull the day over with Margan wines - a Shiraz Rose and a lightly bubbly Semillon Frizzante - and canapes, including unforgettable natural oysters with a blackberry vinaigrette and prawns with a sparky harissa sauce.
Crusty ciabatta with fresh pressed olive oil and aged balsamic,
and local marinated olives
Not long after we take our seats, pillows come out. Pillows of ciabatta, that is. The most plump looking loaves of ciabatta bread are served with olive oil and sweet aged balsamic vinegar, alongside somewhat shrivelled, marinated black olives.

It keeps us quiet as we hear from Andrew Margan, winemaker and founder of Margan Wines, who talks about the Margan winery and restaurant. Most of the vegetables we'll dine on at dinner come from their very own one-acre fruit and vegie garden, whilst other produce is selected from local producers in most cases.

Jerusalem artichoke soup, seared scallop, apple salad, lobster oil
The three courses was an alternate drop, but we all knew there'd be swapsies in between. I was happy to land the jerusalem artichoke soup entree, as it was definitely soup weather outside.

Amid the creamy and nourishing soup, the sweet diced apple salad was a surprise in the bottom centre of the bowl. The three scallops were still nice and juicy while the Manjimup truffle shavings were just the luxurious icing on the cake.

Venison carpaccio with fried goat's cheese ravioli and spicy beetroot
There was a lot happening on the other entree, in terms of ingredients and colours. Thin rounds of venison circled the centre of the plate where a puffy, golden fried ravioli sat, all encircled with a herb oil, shavings of parmesan cheese and crunchy croutons.

The venison was surprisingly delicate and almost too thin to even pick up from the plate. The combination with goat's cheese was definitely a winner, however, for quite the innovative dish.

There was plenty of wine at the table, and I mean plenty. There would have been four different whites down one end of our table alone (I vaguely remember a Scarborough Semillon), which were changed out for several bottles of red wine as we got to mains (having too good a time to remember them all, sorry).

Slow braised lamb shoulder, parmesan cavalo nero, eggplant and oregano
We were well and truly on the winter menu with two braised meats featuring on the mains. In front of me was a generous serving of braised lamb shoulder atop a dark pile of cavalo nero and spiced eggplant.

The vegetable component seemed to have some Middle Eastern flavours, including cumin, that was near overpowering the more delicately flavoured lamb. The meat was, as expected, able to be eaten by spoon; so tender and fall-apart soft it was.

Braised wagyu shin with baby veg from the garden, horseradish and cauliflower cream
The prettier braised wagyu dish featured carrots, peas and leaves from the Margan vegetable garden, and the taste proves they're worth the effort. The cauliflower cream is the perfect foil for the rich, buttery beef, which seems to have been pulled and reformed into shin-like cylinders, while the jus was exquisite.

No meal is complete without dessert, some say (and indeed, it seems no meal is complete without three courses in the Hunter Valley). At this point, the Margan Botrytis Semillon comes out of hiding, along with the Scarborough Late Harvest Semillon (and possibly other sticky wines too).

It's hard not to fall in love with anything late harvest, but especially so the Scarborough sticky which tastes of many tropical fruits having a late harvest party on my palate.

Poached rhubarb, toasted almond cream, and mint
The toasted almond cream resembled a panna cotta, with similar textures and flavours. The feature was definitely the soft cooked pieces of rhubarb, which along with the biscuit crumble, made for a comforting, homely dessert.

Chocolate marquise with caramel and salted hazelnuts
I had my full attention on the chocolate dessert - a narrow helping of gooey, creamy, pure chocolate decadence. Despite the richness, I couldn't say no to the halo of caramel nor the extra lines of chocolate.

Surprisingly, the big star of this dessert was actually the hazelnuts: perfect crunch, perfect roast flavour and without doubt, the best hazelnuts I've ever had.

Lights and ceiling in the Barrel Room
Food aside, I should mention that our team didn't perform so well in the race, landing in a not-so valiant third place. Nonetheless, we all had a fantastic time and were even rewarded for the bronze placing.

We all probably would have stayed in the charming Barrel Room all night (and probably would have drank all the wine too) if not for our homeward bound transport awaiting us, returning us all to our accommodation with warm thoughts of food, wine and the adventure-filled day in Hunter Valley.

So sad to leave Margan Restaurant
With the end of the 'Amazing Hunter Valley Race', some of us still had the next day to revel in more of the Hunter Valley, and in my case, particularly wineries in the Polkolbin region and a necessary stop in at the Smelly Cheese Shop. See photos here on my Facebook page (and Like me while you're there!).

The Hunter Valley is easily a favourite weekend getaway for me: the proximity to Sydney and the quality focus of the food and wine make compelling enough arguments. But add a dash of bike riding, a dusting of helicopter rides, perhaps even a middy of boutique beer - and I think the race is on to get back as soon as permitted and possible.

Food, booze and shoes and guest attended the 'Amazing Hunter Valley Race' famil courtesy of Hunter Valley Wine Country Tourism and the fabulous girls at Agent99 PR.

Margan Restaurant on Urbanspoon


Dumpling Girl said...

Lol, Tina you are too hard on yourself, at least you still placed. Your post wants to make me to visit Margan again.

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Like they say it's not whether you won or lose but that you played the game!

Von said...

The restaurant looks beautiful! The chocolate marquise looks so good- I want to try it! The race sounds fun- congratulations getting third place!! Now to read the previous posts....haha ;)

Vivian - vxdollface said...

Sounds like you had an 'amazing' time, great way to experience the Hunter :) really liking the look on that artichoke soup!

Tina said...

Hi Dumpling Girl - I perhaps forgot to mention that there were only three teams... :S

Hi Lorraine - You're right; we had so much fun!

Hi Von - That Barrel Room is really something special.

Hi Vivian - Was a fab weekend away; even though our team came last (third!) :D


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