Hunter Valley Wine Country is full of great places to eat, but none has been such a long term favourite of both locals and tourist as The Cellar Restaurant. This month we caught up with Chefs Vanessa Blake and Gary Schofield to find out a little bit more about why it’s such a popular spot.
Hi Vanessa and Gary. You are relatively new to Hunter Valley Wine Country. How long have you been here now and how long have you owned The Cellar Restaurant?
We have been here for just over a year now and took the restaurant over in September last year.
What is your background in hospitality, and what do you love most about the industry? We are both chefs and have been for all of our working lives. What we love about the industry is that no two days are the same, and food trends are changing all the time. Also, the different people we get to meet and work with every day mean we never get bored.
Who else is involved in the restaurant, what are their backgrounds/roles?
Apart from ourselves, we have a mix of seasoned professionals both in the kitchen and also working ‘front of house’. We like to encourage young people coming into the industry, so we also try to employ people who are finding their feet in hospitality.
What motivated you to get into the restaurant business/hospitality industry, and what keeps you turning up every day?
We were looking at getting out of Sydney, and the Hunter Valley was the perfect choice for us because of its long-standing traditions, but ever-changing dynamic. Learning about ourselves, the business and our community keep us turning up every day – we’ve had great support from locals since we moved to the Hunter.
Describe The Cellar Restaurant’s ambience/style – what are your specialities, and where are you located?
Is there a reason you are located here? What is the best thing about your location? We have a relaxed and casual ambience in the restaurant, and we are located at the entrance to Hunter Valley Gardens (Shopping Village), off Broke Rd. The best thing about our location is all the different people that pass through and the reasons they are visiting.
Can you tell us in more detail about your menu? Is it seasonal? What are your most popular items, and why?
The Cellar Restaurant has a reputation for quality food and service – everything we put on our menu is made in-house, fresh and where possible locally sourced.
Yes – our menu is seasonal; we like to prepare our menu with twists and surprises for our customers and our most popular items change per week per menu – so it’s a bit difficult to put the finger on that one as its literally different every week.
What do you think sets The Cellar Restaurant apart from other restaurants in the Hunter Valley?
I think The Cellar is good for both summer and winter dining. The courtyard is great for summer, and our open fire keeps it cosy in the winter. Also - we are central to most places, so this is an excellent advantage for the restaurant because it’s easy for diners to find and it's close to most major accommodation.
Who is your “usual” diner/guest? Are you seeing any trends or a change in the type of customer you attract?
We have many different guests that come through – families, couples, tourists, business people.
We have seen a change to our clientele since reopening after COVID closures in that some of our guests have never been to the Hunter Valley, and many have not visited for a long time.
What other changes has COVID-19 had on the way you operate? Have these changes impacted you positively in any way?
We have had to be a lot smarter in how we operate due to the restrictions, and mindful of keeping our guests and staff in a safe environment. COVID has been positive for us not only from our workload increasing but also the satisfaction of knowing that we can play our part by giving customers a relaxed and safe environment to dine in.
Do you have a mission or a vision for the restaurant moving forward? What are your plans for the future? Do you see any key trends in your industry that you are working towards?
Our mission is always to keep improving and learning with our small team and to always maintain our reputation for quality food and service. We would love to expand our team, knowledge, acumen, and who knows, if things progress in the right direction, perhaps there’s the possibility of a second restaurant with a difference! With the current changes, we have all just experienced, our biggest priority now is to maintain stability and grow from there.