Simple … But Amazing | HUNTERS QUARTER
In 2016, attracted by the region's lifestyle, wine and food, head chef Brian Duncan, his wife Jen and their young children decided on a treechange to the Hunter Valley where they opened Hunter's Quarter at the Pooles Rock vineyard in Pokolbin.
Fast-forward five years, and Hunter's Quarter has become a firm favourite for both locals and visitors to Wine Country. This month we caught up with Jen to learn more about their extraordinary journey.
HVMAG: Hunters Quarter is known for it’s amazing hospitality, can you tell us a little about your team?
HQ: The team is made up of industry professionals who have an amazing ability to change and adapt to the ever-changing horizon of our guests and the current working conditions. We are consistently reminded of their loyalty and hard work on a daily basis by the outstanding customer feedback that they receive as a team. All of the staff have very similar abilities to be able to apply skills to different tasks and responsibilities. We often explain that we are a family run business and our team give a whole new meaning to commitment to each other and to Hunters Quarter. The combination of their natures' and knowledge is quite remarkable, especially when considering the pressures that Covid-19 has placed on their working environment. We are extremely proud of their forward-thinking approach and support.
HVMAG: We know that Brian is a world-renowned Chef, can you please tell us about his stellar background?
HQ: Brian brings a wealth of global and local experience in fine dining to HQ, having worked at the Dorchester Hotel (Three Michelin stars) and Claridges Hotel (One Michelin Star) in the upmarket area of Mayfair in London. He was the executive chef at Level 41 and The Establishment - two of Sydney's premier restaurants. His breadth of experience and exposure to a variety of world cuisines brings a unique and refined quality to his product, and his belief in food is based on simple, fresh, local and seasonal produce.
HVMAG: What would you say Hunters Quarter is best known for?
HQ: Brian has a simple food philosophy - it's about high quality, fresh products, combined with carefully crafted techniques that allow the natural flavours and textures to shine. Our team work with the fundamental outlook of simplicity and elegance, and we believe that the manner in which we work reflects our principles. Our guiding principle, or mission if you like, is "we believe in the simple things in life; they just need to be amazing."
HQ (as it is known to the locals) features floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors, every seat in the restaurant provides panoramic views of the surrounding vineyard. The restaurant is furnished with lightcoloured wooden tables, dark plush chairs, and crisp white lounges; the restaurant features a handcrafted suspended timber ceiling with pendant lighting, all housed in a modern, architecturally designed building. We can seat up to 120 guests for a more formal event or 160 guests for canapes, with a veranda providing stunning views across the vineyard.
HVMAG: What changes have you made in the restaurant to meet the challenges of the last two years?
HQ: We have rolled out a new online booking system to ensure ease of booking for all of our guests and limited daily trades to help with labour shortages and volumes of demand that are being experienced Australia wide.
HVMAG: As a team, what's kept you motivated (and sane) during this everchanging environment?
HQ: We have changed our opening times to ensure the team works within a balanced work-life environment for mental and physical wellbeing. We have created online chat groups to stay in contact at all times. Training and personal development have certainly helped, with regular weekly communication. We are delighted to say that our customer base has been flexible and understanding during this challenging time for all. We have noticed the attitude and patience of humans have been outstanding by checking in with team members and words of encouragement and support. We have noticed during this time the human quality of being graceful.
HVMAG: What changes have you adopted that you will stick with that positively impact the restaurant and its diners?
HQ: We have noticed that the ease of booking a three-course option has helped with the decision of what experience to book in the Hunter Valley. We have opened the lunch and dinner service a half-hour earlier to enable guests to either enjoy a later wine tasting experience or an earlier dinner to return to loved ones. We still offer the a la carte option instead of a set menu, which allows guests to choose dishes instead of sticking to a set menu.
HVMAG: How often do you re-invent the menu? When it comes to ideas for the menu, where does the inspiration come from?
HQ: Every six weeks the menu options are changed according to fresh produce availability and seasonal changes.
HVMAG: What local produce do you utilize at Hunters Quarter – what are your favourite local ingredients to work with?
HQ: Our olive oil served upon arrival with our sourdough bread, and whipped butter is sourced from a local Estate, 3km from the restaurant, Olio Mio. Our Laguna honey used in our desserts is from a local farmer and personal friend of our sous-chef. The finger limes are also sourced from a local grower in Lovedale, and we also have a HQ vegetable garden on site.
HVMAG: What's coming up in 2022 for Hunter's Quarter?
HQ: We're very excited to be part of the 2022 Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and a feature on the Foxtel lifestyle channel. We're also planning on working with local transport companies to arrange diner transport.