The Cellar Restaurant is in a word ‘‘unique’’ and without a doubt one of the finest restaurants in the Hunter. Owners Andy and Janet Wright have made The Cellar Restaurant a summer and winter favourite amongst both locals and visitors to the Hunter. In winter there is no better place to be with the centrally located fire keeping diners warm over the cooler months and in summer you get to enjoy the longer warmer evenings dining alfresco.
The welcome is warm and friendly. We are shown to our table, close to the huge stone fireplace in the middle of the room, which gives the place an unpretentious and yet almost medieval feel, further enhanced by the lush foliage growing around the perimeter of the restaurants interior.
After a quick study of the extensive menu, which is divided into sections that include oysters, smallgoods (for sharing), entrees, mains, from the grill, sauces and desserts, you soon come to realise why The Cellar is considered one of the Hunters most outstanding restaurants. Andy, who is also the head chef, has created a refreshingly diverse and well thought out menu with Mediterranean inspired influences and an emphasis on fresh local produce.
The wine list is generous and includes a large range of excellent local Hunter Valley wines, as well as those from other regions around Australia and a few overseas comparisons thrown in for good measure.
For entrée we deliberated long and hard over the Indian Spiced Kangaroo and Bass Strait Scallops with chorizo and white beans before finally settling on the Chargrilled Quail and the Queensland Prawns.
The service was excellent and attentive, and we did not have to wait long before our entrees arrived. The quail was superbly presented with a scotch egg, green tomato relish and fig balsamic. This delightfully simple dish with its complex flavours was beautifully prepared and delicious. The quail meat was delicate and tender, and the green tomato relish provided a wonderful contrast to the sweet and sour flavours of the fig balsamic.
The Queensland prawns were a superb choice and accompanied by salt cod fritters and slow roasted tomato with caper and tarragon mayonnaise. Queensland prawns are always a crowd pleaser, and these did not disappoint - perfectly cooked and wonderfully offset by the saltiness of the capers and the tangy sweetness of the tarragon, which took the mayonnaise to a completely new level. The cod fritters were just as delicious, and these golden nuggets of deep-fried love had the perfect texture and delightful with the rich flavoured mayonnaise.
For our main dishes we selected the free-range Berkshire Pork Chop and the Pan-Fried Barramundi with sides that included garlic mash and green beans with almonds.
The Berkshire pork chop arrived perfectly prepared – succulent and juicy, and the sweetness of the meat was further enhanced by the spicy fig and apple relish. The crackling delicately perched on top of the chop was wonderfully golden and perfectly crisp.
The pan-fried barramundi was served exactly how it should be, with the flesh firm and moist with a delicate flavour and served with beurre blanc sauce – a hot emulsified butter sauce reduced with white wine. To me, this was a perfect example of inspirational cooking with great flavour combinations.
Dessert at The Cellar Restaurant is always hard to refuse. On this occasion, we let our inner-chocoholics loose with the Chocolate Tasting Plate of opera cake, white chocolate mousse, strawberry and hazelnut cremeau. The Vanilla Bean Creme Brulee with rhubarb jam and gingerbread ice cream was also something to be savoured, and so of course, both desserts were shared equally (sort of!)
Despite the inequitable division, both desserts were a wonderful end to a perfect meal, and excellent with a glass of Constable Estate Moscato.
There is a great deal to love about The Cellar Restaurant – the wonderful setting, the food and warm, attentive service. With the emphasis on simplicity of ingredients, great execution and presentation, The Cellar Restaurant is up there with the best in regional dining.