Australia’s New Culinary Capitals: New South Wales

Australia’s New Culinary Capitals: New South Wales

This article appears in Volume 29: The Taste

plane swoops so low over Sydney
Harbour that I can make out the armadillo-esque sails of its iconic
Opera House. However, I’m heading somewhere lesser-known and far
more bucolic. Despite the fact that I’ve been averaging seven
courses per meal for nearly two weeks, I’m looking forward to this
part of my gourmet grand tour most of all: the Hunter Valley. After
all, this is the countryside region where concepts such as “local
sourcing” and “farm-to-table” eating first emerged in

After lunching at Pretty Beach House, an immaculate
hideaway in Bouddi National Park, we pull into Bar
, a rustic gelateria and gin bar housed in a romantic
1970s mud cottage. The menu reads like a summer stroll through its
garden (honeycomb and lavender, anyone?), while the interior blooms
with luscious murals of petals and pomegranates by local artist
Nicole Berlach. “We have an agreement with our neighbour, who’s a
florist. She does our flowers once a week and we pay her in ice
cream and coffee,” explains ex-Sydneysider Julia Hughes, as she
serenely sips an iced long black (the Aussie equivalent of an
americano) against a backdrop of tumbling roses. This agreement
seems to embody much of the appeal for young creatives to flee the
city and set up cottage food businesses: there’s a supportive
community and the space to create something beautiful without the
pressures of high rent and ruthless competition.

As the sun sets, golden vineyards cascade all the way to the
Brokenback Range, parting around imposing farmhouses with shady
porches and cavernous cellars. However even here, in this bastion
of good taste and old money, change is afoot. “We call this one The
Enneagram, because it’s made from nine types of grape. It’s our
Willy Wonka blend: just the right amount of bonkers,” explains
winemaker Ebony Tinkler, as she splashes what looks like cherry
juice into my glass. We’re sitting on stools made from barrel racks
in a converted church filled with paintings by her friends, while
Eighties hip-hop echoes around the bell tower. Tinkler and her
husband, Usher, are part of a new wave of young vintners keen to
attract a more diverse crowd to the valley. “We all swap ideas and
spur each other on to push the boundaries. And drink a lot,
naturally,” she adds with a playful smile. Dutifully, I raise my

The Hunter Valley wasn’t always this open to change, however.
“When I first arrived, people insisted on having their steak burnt
to a cinder. I had to ask myself whether they were ready for
mushroom risotto. My god!” Gesticulating so enthusiastically that
he knocks over a wine glass and with an accent as thick as the
crème brûlée served at his famed hilltop restaurant, Robert Molines
could hardly be more French – and with its chalkboards, baskets of
lemons and terrace canopied with twisting wisteria, Bistro Molines itself could have been transported
whole from his native Provence. Yet there is also something
innately Australian in Molines’ values – his affinity with nature
recently led him to tumble into a stream as he reached for a bunch
of wild watercress, while his egalitarianism sees him bantering
with the teenager washing the pots and personally prepping
vegetables. “I came here in 1977 with nothing and bought 17
hectares for a few thousand dollars. I’m 68 now and people offer to
buy it off me all the time, but it’s not for sale. My family and my
home are the achievements of my life. My roots are here and I’ll be
doing this,” he gestures around the restaurant to the valley
beyond, “forever.”

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