Sunday 18 August 2019

Wine and dine in Australia - A travel guide to Sydney and Hunter Valley

As Australia's famous wine region gears up to celebrate its bicentennial, here's a taste of New South Wales...

Australia's Hunter Valley. PA Photo/iStock.
Australia's Hunter Valley. PA Photo/iStock.
Brokenwood winery in the Hunter Valley. PA Photo/Destination NSW.
Bennelong Restaurant in Sydney. PA Photo/Destination NSW.
Chef de Cuisine, Rob Cockerill placing the finishing touches on a dish at Bennelong Restaurant, Sydney. PA Photo/Destination NSW.
An Usher Tinkler tasting session. PA Photo/Jonjo Maudsley.
Tulloch's winery. PA Photo/Jonjo Maudsley.
Charcoal steamed buns at Alibi. See PA Feature TRAVEL Sydney. PA Photo/Jonjo Maudsley.
The annual Vivid Sydney festival. See PA Feature TRAVEL Sydney. PA Photo/Destination NSW.
The Prince of Brighton, a dish served at Henry Lee's in Sydney. See PA Feature TRAVEL Sydney. PA Photo/Jonjo Maudsley.

Jonjo Maudsley

In 1820, land prospector John Howe carved out a path through the wilderness between Sydney and the fertile Hunter Valley, paving the way for the creation of one of Australia's, and indeed the world's, best-known wine regions.

With its 200th anniversary on the horizon in 2020, this region - along with the wider state of New South Wales, including Sydney - will be serving up troves of delicious wines and flexing its culinary muscles too.

Here are some of the many places you must try...

Best for... Instagrammable brunches

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The Prince of Brighton, a dish served at Henry Lee's in Sydney. See PA Feature TRAVEL Sydney. PA Photo/Jonjo Maudsley.
 

Henry Lee's, Sydney

Nothing quite embodies Sydney's aspiration to be a world-famous foodie destination like Henry Lee's (henrylees.com.au) - a paragon of experimental cafe cuisine set against a hipster backdrop, located in the middle of the up-and-coming Redfern district.

I'm immediately drawn to The Prince of Brighton, a butter croissant stuffed full of crab slaw and other yummy bits and bobs, topped with a poached egg and togarashi (a spicy Japanese seasoning).

Henry Lee's also serves excellent coffee, and they've just launched an evening menu - two reasons to go back. Meals from AUS$16/£€10; coffees AUS$3.80/€2.35.

Best for... Gourmet vegans and veggies

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Charcoal steamed buns at Alibi. See PA Feature TRAVEL Sydney. PA Photo/Jonjo Maudsley.
 

Alibi at Ovolo Woolloomooloo, Sydney

Set inside a glammed-up boutique hotel, this restaurant's hot neon decor and Dada-esque panache helps me work up an appetite that only an eight-course plant-based tasting menu can satisfy.

At the nexus of fine dining and offbeat experiences, Alibi (alibibar.com.au) strikes the perfect balance; every dish is a painting, every flavour transporting me to some far-off corner of the world.

The drinks pairings are just as avant-garde as the decor: Charcoal steamed buns match with hoppy beer, while baby turnips and wasabi yoghurt work alongside Japanese sake. Tasting menu from AUS$70/€43pp.

Best for... A truly unforgettable experience

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Chef de Cuisine, Rob Cockerill placing the finishing touches on a dish at Bennelong Restaurant, Sydney. PA Photo/Destination NSW.

Bennelong, Sydney

Costing $102 million to construct, the Sydney Opera House was designed by J0rn Utzon and Ove Arup to look magnificent and produce impeccable sounds, but with Bennelong (bennelong.com.au), the brainchild of chef Peter Gilmore, it pleases another sense; taste.

While revelling in the incredible view of Sydney Harbour, lit up in glorious technicolour for the annual Vivid Sydney festival of lights, I sip a butterscotch, walnut and pear old fashioned - if Harry Potter's Butterbeer had a whisky chaser, this would be it.

The impeccable meal kicks off with red prawn and roasted rice congee with salted egg yolk, followed by Hawkesbury confit duck with persimmon, Kampot pepper and pickled black fungi.

Finally, the crescendo, chocolate cake paired with a Rutherglen Topaque dessert wine - sweetness galore. For the pre-theatre menu, two courses costs AUS$90/€56; three courses AUS$120/€75. Wines from AUS$60/€37.

Best for... Kitschy seaside cuisine

Little Beach Boathouse, Port Stephens

With a picturesque location and a menu full of delicious fish - some flaky, some chunky, all served alongside hearty sides - the light, airy, and delightfully simple Little Beach Boathouse (littlebeachboathouse.com.au) serves up some of the finest, freshest seafood New South Wales has to offer.

After a little dolphin spotting in Port Stephens, it's the perfect place to relax and absorb the gorgeous Pacific view. I'm tempted by the fish of the day (Jewfish) but opt instead for the miso glazed Atlantic salmon.

The oily flesh shuffles off the steak, letting me know I've made the right choice. Mains from AUS$17.50/€11. Wines from AUS$32/€20.

Best for... Local seafood, expertly prepared

Rick Stein, Bannisters, Soldiers Point

As I'm staying overnight at Bannisters, a delightful hotel set upon the postcard-worthy peninsula of Soldiers Point, I pay a visit to the esteemed Rick Stein (bannisters.com.au/rick-stein).

If you're a fan of Rick's restaurants in Cornwall and the South of England, expect something not entirely dissimilar. But with local Australian fare forming the basis of every dish, Rick's signature styles come alive in ways that make this location quite distinct to his kitchens in Blighty.

Mains from AUS$32/€20. Wines from AUS$48/€30.

Best for... Quintessential wine tastings

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An Usher Tinkler tasting session. PA Photo/Jonjo Maudsley.

Hunter Valley wineries

Designed by Villa + Villa, the $8 million Brokenwood winery (brokenwood.com.au) only opened in December last year, but it's already teeming with character. Hunter Valley is famous for Semillon, and Brokenwood's mellow 2013 vintage impresses, with hints of elderflower. Single vineyard tasting AUS$25/€15pp.

Next up is Tulloch (tullochwines.com), which proudly celebrates 125 years next year. The Hunter Valley is not only famous for wine, but chocolate too, and this is the best place to try a wine and chocolate flight. A highlight is the 2018 Cellar Door Late Picked Verdelho ($22/€14 a bottle), which goes delightfully with chocolate macadamia. Spare time for the small museum featuring a selection of beautiful vintage labels. Wine and chocolate flight from AUS$25/€15pp.

Finally, Usher Tinkler Wines (ushertinklerwines.com) is a craft wine specialist set in a modest church building beneath the enormous green hills of Pokolbin. The tasting is a whirlwind of eight wines, but look out for the 2019 Mixed Varietal, a blend of all nine grapes grown on the estate. Wine tasting from AUS$5/€3pp.

How to get there

Plan your trip with Destination New South Wales at uk.sydney.com. Qantas (quantas.com) flies from London Heathrow to Sydney via Singapore.

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