The alarm went off on a Sunday morning at 5:45am. It wasn't a pretty sight, I had only had a few hour's sleep and I make it a rule to sleep in on Sundays. Unless of course I've got something I've been looking forward to all week and that was the Lovedale Long Lunch. The nice people at Tourism NSW are taking a bus load of us from Sydney to the Hunter Valley for this annual event where you can participate in a progressive lunch across seven vineyards in the Hunter Valley that pair up with seven restaurants. For $42 people can buy a main meal, a cheese or dessert course and tasting glass which allows you to sample the wines at each winery. The bus was a great idea as it would allow us to enjoy ourselves tasting the wine without having to worry about getting back home.
We got onto the bus with the other journalists from Masterchef magazine, Ninemsn, Daily Telegraph and Getaway and everyone is friendly and excited. We all have a little breakfast box packed for us and we take the 2.5 hour drive to the Hunter Valley napping and chatting on the way. We use the time to go through the menus to see what we like the sound of. There are gluten free as well as vegetarian options at some.
First stop: Wandin Valley Estate! We survey the location and see that there are bales of plastic wrapped hay for people to sit on and there are two wine tasting areas. The first tasting area has the more premium wines where there is a $5 refundable entry upon purchase and then there's a second a free wine tasting area. Mr NQN has become a bit of a wine lover so he became rather excited at the idea of coming along and he goes forth to try the wines here. He finds that the premium wines are worth trying as do the rest of the group who like the sparkling red.
As it's rather early we walk around and take a look at the River Flats Estate produce that is sold here and try some of the cheeses. I like the feta cheese marinated with garlic and dill and we buy some of that. Their signature item is the pineapple and macadamia chutney which they've completely sold out of but they offer us a sample of it. It's gorgeous and such an unusual pairing with a slight tingle to it. It sounds like everyone else loved it yesterday having depleted their supply! :(
Succulent barbequed pork loin on roasted seasoned cocktail potatoes, topped with white balsamic apples and finished with an orange & red current glaze
It's not long before we see the plates of food being carried past us by hungry punters so we buy our first main, a pork loin which is tender and juicy served with halved roasted cocktail potatoes and a tangy white balsamic apples. There is a generous serve of the orange and red currant glaze which is perhaps a bit too generous (it's quite jam like) but the pork is so deliciously cooked so we scrape the glaze off and eagerly feast on it.
Trio of cheeses accompanied by chutney and crackers
The three cheese are Jindi Blue, A Wattle Valley Brie and a Cheddar. The serving size is generous and it comes with a spiced chutney that is aromatic with cloves, cinnamon and other Christmassy spices although the cheeses themselves are supermarket cheeses and not quite as special.
Jan Gartelmann from Gartlemann Winery
Onto our second stop: Gartelmann Winery! When we last visited the Lovedale Long Lunch it was on a Saturday and things were busy and hot with people all over the grounds in various strange outfits. This Sunday is quieter and we all agree that this is the day to go. Sundays are when people recover from their Saturdays here we are told.
We're offered a taste of the Liqueur Muscat which comes in this gorgeous Italian bottle which makes it impossible to ship so it is only sold at the cellar door.
Cured Ocean Trout with a carrot and cucumber salad, creme fraiche and salsa verde
The menu has changed somewhat as they weren't able to source barramundi so we try the cured ocean trout on a bed of carrot and cucumber "noodles" and topped with streaks of a creme fraiche and salsa verde. The trout is very fresh and nicely paired with the creme fraiche and piquant salsa verde.
White and Dark Chocolate Brownie, with rich dark chocolate sauce and soft cream
I try a little of Michael's white and dark chocolate brownie and whilst the flavour is there, the brownies have been made ahead of time and have been refrigerated so that sadly the gooey brownie texture is absent.
The wine purchase made here were the Gartelmann 2009 Benjamin Semillon and Mr NQN enjoyed the 2008 Merlot.
Onto our third and penultimate stop: Tatler Winery! The atmosphere at Tatler is wildly different. There are people dancing to the Black Eyed Peas and Justin Timberlake's Sexy Back. There's an element of a wild country style party and I suppose as time passes in the day, people get a bit tipsier. There's a strong breeze and we plonk down at a table in the centre of it all.
Tapas of char grilled king prawns marinated in chilli and garlic & smoked Atlantic salmon and crab rolls with zesty lime dressing, served with a "classic Greek salad".
Not quite tapas but you get the drift, the plate arrives of three skewers of barbecued prawns with four prawns to each stick. It's great value and a large serve and the prawns are cooked well with a light char on them and they sit on a Greek salad with lettuce, tomato feta and olives.
Crunchy nougat & honey semi freddo with compote of Autumn berries
The nougat and honey semi freddo ice cream is a big hit with the table with the toasted almonds although we didn't get the autumn berry compote. The almond count is generous in it and there's a crunch from the honey toffee.
Duo of cheeses with home made Tatler quince paste and water crackers
The cheese plate here like the rest of the dishes is also generous in proportion and it comes with a creamy blue cheese and a brie which are both quite gorgeous, especially combined with the home made quince paste.
The wines divided people here - Mr NQN likes a lot of the wines here as do a lot of wine critics but our group are torn with liking some and not liking others. We end up purchasing a wine here, the "Over the Ditch" Semillon Sauvignon Blanc which is 55% Australian Semillon (what the Hunter Valley specialises in) and 45% Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, thus the "Over the Ditch".
"I've saved you a cheesecake" Tanya from Allandale Winery who arranged today's itinerary tells us. I'm relieved although I wonder whether it was one slice of cheesecake for the ten of us (which I've done, hey a taste is a taste!) or a slice each. Thankfully it's a slice each. As we reach here at 3pm they've sold out of the lamb shanks (waaah!) but there are still serves of the curry left.
Malaysian prawn and calamari curry with roast pumpkin, coriander and kaffir lime rice dumplings
We take a seat at a table while the sun starts to set and try out the seafood curry which is unexpectedly served on a plate rather that in a bowl. The laksa curry is fragrant with shrimp paste and the rice dumplings are unusual with a crusty layer on the outside. The seafood is tender and generously portioned out and the whole thing is topped off with rocket salad which is of course not an Malaysian ingredient but gives it a peppery flavour.
Chocolate caramello cheesecake with vanilla bean crème anglaise
The item that had us all swooning with the chocolate caramello cheesecake. It's a large slice - ambitiously so and after having so many courses and cheeses and desserts if it were half the size it would have been just about perfect for us. There's a bottom layer of biscuit crumbs and a layer of caramel and chocolate and throughout the cheesecake there are specks of caramel and chocolate.
Chef Andy Wright comes out and we ask him about coking for a crowd. He gives us the lowdown on the quantities used at this year's Lovedale Long Lunch. They baked 120 whole cheesecakes which each yielded 12 slices and for this they used:
80kg cream cheese
30 litres of double cream
28 kilos of brown sugar
7kg Alpen blend chocolate
14kg of biscuit crumbs
10kg of butter
For their mains, they used 1270 lamb shanks, 120kg of prawns and 95 kgs of calamari and 210 tins of coconut milk for the curry!
The wine purchases made here were the 2004 Semillon and the Anna 2009 Semillon Sauvignon Blanc dessert wine.
After our bellies are filled (or more than filled let's be honest) we climb back onto the bus for our drive home where we chat and nap peacefully, some in rather "jollier" states than others... ;)
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever had a progressive lunch or dinner?
NQN and Mr NQN attended the Lovedale Long Lunch as guests of Tourism NSW.
Lovedale Long Lunch
15th and 16th May, 2010