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Spring into Seafood. Our top picks for seasonal favourites.

Spring is here! That means it's time to start eating lighter after all the hearty winter fare we've been wolfing down while wrapped up against the cold. And what could be better than some fresh, light seafood on a sunny spring day?

Our chefs love the change in season as there are so many seafood-friendly wines made in the Valley, including the flagship Semillon, that pair beautifully with the bright, flavourful seafood dishes they offer.

Here are five top picks where you can kick back, relax and enjoy a few seasonal favourites.

Sustainable seafood is a hot trend with some of Australia's leading chefs pledging to only serve sustainably sourced seafood on their menus. Botanica head chef Shayne Mansfield is one of them.

"It's our ethos in work and life – as a group [Spicers Retreats] and certainly myself as a chef – to reduce our footprint on the world and especially the oceans," Shayne says. "We will always try our hardest to use sustainably fished/farmed seafood and produce in general, and that's why we are heavily involved in the GoodFish project."

The Australian Marine Conservation Society runs the GoodFish project, which aims to build a community of chefs, restaurateurs, fishers and fishmongers championing sustainable seafood. The chefs at all seven Spicers Retreats are now part of more than 40 leading Australian restaurants who have signed up to the project.

This season he showcases a range of sustainable seafood offerings including butter poached Fraser Isle spanner crab, beach greens, fermented radish leaf emulsion and smoked macadamia; there's also a Mildura gold Murray cod with brassica and sauce vin blanc (pictured above), as well as octopus salami, sorrel buttermilk, pickled rhubarb with finger lime from the garden.

But his signature spring dish is beef fat king prawns, fermented garlic honey with a punchy prawn head sauce, which he pairs with a Mount Pleasant Elizabeth Semillon 2017.

In addition to the regular restaurant menu, Botanica also holds a seafood and Semillon dining experience on the last Friday of every month. It's a celebration of Australian sustainable seafood where you can enjoy a five-course seafood degustation with local produce matched with Hunter Valley Semillon. 

Whiskey Cured Salmon at The Wood Restaurant. Credit: David Griffen Photography

There's a strong seafood focus at the 90-seat Wood Restaurant too. It's the culinary cornerstone at Brokenwood Wines' $8 million cellar door redevelopment and the newest food and wine hotspot in the Valley.

Owned by local hospitality dynamos Andy and Janet Wright, who ran The Cellar Restaurant for 18 years before selling it last month, it's a fine diner with fresh seafood on the menu and available for retail if you want to re-create one of Andy's inventive dishes at home.

"Semillon and Chardonnay are spectacular when paired with seafood, so it's no surprise our menu features the freshest seafood from the Sydney Fish Markets," says Andy. "I've used Shane's Seafood, based in Carey Bay near Toronto, for more than 20 years now and he delivers four days a week."

So what can you expect on his spring menu? Two of his seafood stars include whiskey-cured salmon with razorback prawns, pickled shimeji mushrooms, horseradish yoghurt and radish matched with a Brokenwood ILR Semillon. And the other is a beautiful Daintree barramundi with Stormy Bay clams, n'duja, caper and anchovy butter and Serrano jamon, which Andy says is perfect with a Brokenwood Maxwell Chardonnay – but the dish will hold up to a Brokenwood Forest Edge Vineyard Pinot Noir as well.

"The inspiration for these dishes comes from my love of fresh seafood and the great combination of cured meat with fish," Andy adds. "It's a delicious combo and a real winner with diners."

Oysters at Peterson House

You can start your seafood fest beside the vines at Peterson House. The Oyster Bar at Restaurant Cuvee is seafood central, showcasing local Port Stephens oysters – Sydney Rocks – with matching sparkling wines.

They go through a whopping 80-100 dozen oysters every weekend in spring! Easy to see why when you're relaxing under the cherry blossoms, the sun's beaming down and you're enjoying a glass of bubbles with a platter of fresh oysters, served natural with a squeeze of lemon.

You can also opt for a platter of fresh prawns with a house-made American cocktail sauce, or a mix of prawns and oysters. They like to get a bit creative with their weekend seafood specials, so you might see speck and sparkling wine baked oysters on the menu too.

There's plenty of seafood being served in the restaurant as well, including the popular chorizo and prawn entree tossed in an apricot glaze and sprinkled with local feta. A new dish that head chef Chad Pridue says is perfect for spring is Szechuan pepper squid served with crispy tortilla, fresh coriander and lime. Then there's a selection of fish on roasted fennel, tomato, and asparagus served with grilled lemon and caper butter.

"Having a dish like the fish main lets me get creative with each new fish that we select," says Chad. "It allows me to find the best seasonal fish our local suppliers have to offer. I want to provide our customers a delicious and fresh seafood meal they can enjoy with the perfectly matched Peterson House 2014 Sparkling Semillon Pinot Noir".

Prawn Saganaki at Baume Restaurant

Baumé (pronounced bow-may) has a pretty straightforward mission statement: to serve delicious share plate dishes that showcase the unique flavours of the large wood-fired oven that dominates the open kitchen.

Chef Adam Bartley puts a Mediterranean spin on most of the contemporary bistro dishes with pasta and pizza doing a roaring trade year-round – they served their 10,000th pizza in July, just after they opened a new pizza deck out front.

As you'd expect, seafood is a big part of the mix with garlic king prawns and lemon-peppered calamari two favourites. Adam also likes to bake a range of fresh local fish in the wood-fired oven but there's one dish that diners come back for time and time again.

"Our September menu will once again include our signature dish – prawn saganaki," says general manager Joe Spagnola. "It's a Greek-inspired dish baked in a ceramic ramakin consisting of king prawns, a tomato-based sauce and melted goats' cheese. And while you would think this dish would be accompanied by a white wine such as Semillon, it really goes well with a light Hunter Shiraz," Joe adds.

Located in one of the Hunter's most historical properties at the old Lindeman's Estate, founded in 1843, it's an airy, open-plan dining space that's perfect for a casual outing. 

Hiramasa kingfish at Muse Kitchen

You can't see the ocean from the one-hat Muse Kitchen, but you can certainly taste it in many of Josh Gregory's excellent European bistro-style dishes. The head chef has a commitment to fresh, local ingredients and seafood.

"We always run seafood throughout the year and work very closely with our supplier Shane's Seafood," Josh says. "The key to us having seafood on the menu is quality, vibrancy and sustainability. To do this requires a massive amount of communication between us and Shane's."

"What I love about seafood is the attention to detail it takes to cook it properly. Fish will overcook in seconds, so it's a great skill to cook seafood well," he adds.

"Our market fish changes daily dependent on what fish the supplier says is best. We always look for fish caught that morning or the night before and this level of communication gives us the best product."

So, you know when you order fish here if it was any fresher it would still be swimming! On this month's menu you'll find gems such as Shoalhaven clams, Appellation oysters and Josh's current kingfish dish – Hiramasa kingfish with white almond gazpacho and green grapes which he matches with a fresh and zingy Keith Tulloch Semillon.

Time to splash out and enjoy a seafood feast methinks.

So, you know when you order fish here if it was any fresher it would still be swimming! On this month's menu you'll find gems such as Shoalhaven clams, Appellation oysters and Josh's current kingfish dish – Hiramasa kingfish with white almond gazpacho and green grapes which he matches with a fresh and zingy Keith Tulloch Semillon.

Time to splash out and enjoy a seafood feast methinks.

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