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HUNTER VALLEY BLOG

With more than 150 wineries and cellar doors, 65 restaurants and 180 comfy accommodation places to stay, where do you start?

Follow our insider tips by the people who know best… the locals. We ask talented winemakers, chefs, farmers, brewers and journalists to blog about their favourite places and experiences in this fertile wine region.

The January hit list: four standout dishes every visitor should try

There are some dishes that put a restaurant or a region on the map. Those outstanding dishes that diners share and remember long after they've returned home. So what are the standout dishes in the Valley right now? We asked some of our top chefs for their signature dishes.

MUSE RESTAURANT: THE MUSE COCONUT

"I dislike the phrase 'signature dish' – and I'm sure most chefs do as we like to think of our menus as forever changing, evolving and reinventing," says owner/chef Troy Rhoades-Brown. "But I concede there are sometimes one, maybe two dishes that come along in a restaurant that seems to inherit their own individual momentum and success.

"The Muse Coconut falls into that category. It's been on the menu for over four years now, unfortunately it doesn't particularly stand true to the ethos of local, seasonal ingredients, but we find peace in knowing we are a restaurant for the people and this dessert makes lots of people very very happy.

"It has become one of the country's most Instagrammed desserts. It seems crazy, but we have some diners booking their reservation at Muse Restaurant specifically to try the Muse Coconut before they book their accommodation and plan the rest of their trip.

"The inspiration for this was quite an organic process, like most of our dishes. We had created a light, airy, frozen whipped coconut 'cloud' which was so delicious it formed the base of a dessert that was finished with local lavender petals, mulberries and crystallised violet. For me at the time the pairing of the coconut cloud and crystallised violet was something outstanding. A few weeks later when the local mulberries finished up, I worked with head chef at the time Frank Fawkner [now owner/chef at E.X.P. Restaurant] and we evolved the dish to be focused on the combination of coconut and violet, whilst introducing chocolate and presenting as a small, lifelike coconut husk (made from Daintree dark chocolate), resting on the cloud.

"We sell around 200 a week and the dish is very labour intensive but we seem to have it down to a fine art. Long live the coconut." 

E.X.P. RESTAURANT: MYRTLE GUM

Owner/chef Frank Fawkner clearly loves his desserts. He helped develop the Muse Coconut into the Instagram favourite it is and is continuing the trend at his own restaurant with an attention-grabbing ice-cream dessert.

"My signature dish is our 'Myrtle Gum'," says Frank. "The inspiration for this is the Magnum Ego as it's my favourite ice-cream and I wanted to recreate it with native and Australian ingredients.

"The centre is wattle seed ice-cream, encapsulated by a thin layer of dark chocolate infused with eucalyptus. The third layer is lemon myrtle caramel and finished with tempered milk chocolate from Daintree Estates. But it doesn't stop there. It's served on an ice-cream stick wedged in a block of native wood," he adds.

That's my kind of bush tucker! The eye-catching dessert is on the tasting experience menu.

MARGAN RESTAURANT: FIGS, HAZELNUTS AND HOUSE-CURED COPPA

Margan's chef Thomas Boyd is another who doesn't have one signature dish. Margan is renowned for showcasing seasonal produce with 90% of the ingredients on the menu sourced from the estate's kitchen garden, orchards, bee hives and olive groves. So instead of one signature dish they have a signature dish each season.

"As our menu is based around what we are able to grow in our one-acre kitchen garden we like to refer to our garden as our "signature"," explains Thomas.

"Each year we try to utilise our estate-grown produce in a different format. This year I am using our figs in a savoury dish; a classic combination of house-cured pork with the sweetness of the fig.

"We have eight fig trees in our orchard – six are brown turkey figs and two are white Adriatic figs. We mostly use the brown turkey figs in this dish as they are noticeably less sweet than other figs and work well as a contrast with the savoury coppa.

"Our fig trees produce fruit from late December through to the end of February so this dish is featured on our menu throughout this time."

BISTRO MOLINES: FRESH FARMED RABBIT

When asked what his signature dish was, owner/chef Robert Molines came up with four! But when pressed, decided on a traditional rabbit dish.

"This rabbit dish is a typical French recipe as it consists of a fresh farmed rabbit done with French mustard, pitted green olives, finely diced vegetables, chicken stock and, of course, white wine," explains Robert.

"It's a very popular dish on my menu – summer or winter – but so are many dishes on my extensive menu. To be fair, the pate with pickled vegetables, the twice-roasted duckling with any seasonal fruit (orange, pear, plum, apricots) or a simple elegant entree of cured Scandinavian-style ocean trout are right up there too."

So, what is the secret to his rabbit dish?

"We brown the rabbit pieces in light oil and butter, add the diced vegetables, pitted olives, lightly flour the top, stirring all the time, and add two big spoons of Dijon mustard (it has to be genuinely French one), then deglaze with a preferred white wine and slowly cover with chicken stock. Cover with a lid and bake for one hour at 170°C pre-heated oven, then serve with sautéed baby carrots and kipfler potatoes."

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