Newcastle Herald Feature – 02/12/2016
Diamond days at Upper Hunter gem | Dining
Daniel Honan – Newcastle Herald
2 Dec 2016, 1:30 p.m.
Blue and green should never be seen, unless you happen to be in the glorious Upper Hunter.
A stunning vista of bright blue sky, strewn with white woolies, contrasts against row upon row of leafy green vines and their native counterparts, with the ancient, purplish grey ridgelines of the Wollemi National Park in the distance. All this can be seen from inside the woolshed-esque dining hall of Vines Restaurant at Hollydene Estate Wines at Jerrys Plains.
Set within this sprawling complex of soft green lawns and alfresco dining areas, Vines is open for lunch seven days a week, with breakfast and dinner on weekends. Giant timber beams reach out and across the dining space, above timber top tables and comfy cane backed chairs. Natural light pours in from outside through tall panes of crystal clear glass, while strategically positioned down lights and vine-themed chandeliers illuminate parts of the restaurant where the natural light won’t go. The high ceilings bounce around diners’ voices in a spacious echo, yet the place feels cozy, almost warm, were it not for the ducted air-conditioning that denies the soaring temperature outside. It’s modern country style ambience with food to match.
The lunch and dinner menu reads like a meditation on surf and turf with a Mediterranean twist. There are lots of seafood offerings, such as smoked salmon and nori terrine, caramelised sea scallops, and beer battered barramundi fillets, alongside more pastoral offerings, such as venison rubbed with juniper berry, slow-roasted pork belly, or glazed lamb with seasonal vegetables.
There are plenty of sides to share and to start, including Hollydene’s Moorish plate, consisting of crispy-spiced eggplant, hummus, pomegranate molasses, lemon oil, baby mint, sumac, and lavosh. We order this to start, followed by the venison rubbed with juniper berry and pepper and the glazed lamb served with seasonal vegetables, mint, mango and chilli.
Staff are friendly with an eagle eye for detail; our water is topped up almost as soon as the last drop is drunk, every time. We also order a glass of wine each from the list, which features many of Hollydene’s distinctive Upper Hunter drops. There are tap and bottled beers, plus soft drinks.
Hollydene’s Moorish is most definitely moorish. It arrives on a large white bowl with broad shards of lavosh leaning above a generous wave of hummus topped with little red jewels of sweet, acidic pomegranate and fried, smoky bits of eggplant. A splash of lemon oil adds moisture to the earthy flavours of the hummus while slithers of mint and a dusting of sumac enlivens the dish with a citric tang.
For main, my dining associate’s glazed lamb is huge for a lunchtime serving, and comes with a ton of seasonal vegetables and fruits. The ‘potato smash’ the lamb sits on tastes more like a potato bake than an unrefined mash. It soaks up a splash of meaty demi-glace and feels a little foreign when eaten with the mango and chilli dressing; the sweetness hinders the provincial flavours.
The juniper berry and pepper rubbed venison is delicious, but again, the portion size could be slightly smaller for lunchtime. Pink, tender strips of cervine rest on a heap of crushed potato next to fresh vegetables consisting of crispy kale, broccolini, squash, cherry tomatoes and snow peas soaking in a deep purple and velvet smooth beetroot and raspberry sauce that melds together with a hefty Shiraz jus. There’s a lot going on, it’s delicious, but sometimes the complex mix of flavours and textures cancel out each other.
Hollydene is a hidden gem in the Upper Hunter and the Vines Restaurant is big on space, service, and meal size. The view is priceless, if you go for lunch. If you go for dinner, you won’t see the view, but the stars will shine bright and you will roll out of there wholly satisfied.
What: Vines Restaurant at Hollydene
Where: 3483 Golden Hwy, Jerrys Plains, 2330
Chef: Steve Houghton
Drinks: Wine, beer, soft drink, tea and coffee
Hours: Breakfast: Sat-Sun 9am-11am; Lunch: Mon-Sun 10am-3pm; Dinner: Fri-Sat 6pm-9pm
Bottom Line: $120 for two, incl. drinks
Wheelchair Access: Yes
Do Try: Hollydene’s Moorish w/ glass of Semillon