Sometimes when you tell people that you're visiting a town, city or country they will say one of a few different things.
"What are you going to see there?"
Or in the case of one country I visited, "What on earth are going there for?"
But when I told people that Mr NQN and I were headed to Mudgee for a lovely Australia Day long weekend everyone's response was the same. "Oh you'll have a great time!" they would say and a long list of recommendations would follow.
Mudgee food: Logan wines, Leaning Oak wine and Goats Saint Maure cheese, High Valley cheeses, Mongrel wines, Lakelands olives, Angela's Edibles beetroot relish, Deeb's Kitchen Tarator and preserved Lebanese thyme, Mudgee honey, Mudgee food company vinegar, Broombee olive oil and Linda's relish.
Truthfully I didn't know what to expect. All I knew is that my dad had a Mudgee honey container that he stored bits and pieces in at home when we were growing up and that we may have visited there when I was too young to remember. But friends and strangers reactions, particularly those of the foodies among us told me there was a lot for me to explore. Home to the Wiradjuri people who named it Mudgee meaning "nest in the hills", there is vineyard after vineyard with 40 cellar doors as well as lots of food.
We set out to reach Mudgee by 1pm so we left Sydney at 8:30am. Stopping for bathroom breaks and a little snack (of course!) we made it by 1pm exactly just in time for lunch at the French Fork Cafe at the High Valley Cheese Company. Now Dear Readers, you know of my fondness for cafes or restaurants that have an area for buying things...well the High Valley Cheese Company is a winery slash cheese maker slash cafe slash store. Just the thing for when you have a large group travelling and everyone has slightly different interests. Or just Mr NQN and I who have different interests ;)
The waitress has nail polish and a hair scarf in French flag colours. The French Fork chef is former Sunshine coast chef Erik Von Alpen who relocated to Mudgee just 8 weeks earlier prior to our visit. The menu consists of pretty much every French bistro classic you could ever think of which makes choosing quite difficult and we sit there wondering if we should have the Australia Day set menu (prawn cocktail, roast lamb and trifle for $30 a person).
Greed wins out in the end and we try out their prix fixe menu (2 courses for $34 or 3 for $45 with a choice of four for each course) as well as regular a la carte. The cafe is quite busy and I do a bit of shopping picking up a lovely tray. We watch the Australia Day specials come out and people come in to try their signature feta and other cheeses. We're not waiting long as our entrees emerge.
Tartare de saumon fume $16
The salmon, hickory smoked here on the premises, comes out as a round on top of a bed of smoked beetroot salad with a light horseradish and herb dressing. The smoke flavour from both the salmon and beetroot is strong and takes away a bit of the sweetness of beetroot. The crunchy croutons add a good contrast.
L'escargots Lyonnaise $20
The menu mentioned that the snails were without their shell and they sit braised and tender in a creamy sauce of garlic, herbs and chardonnay which gives it a lovely depth of flavour. There is also a centre of braised leek, baby capers and frisee leaves and two squares of puff pastry-one underneath and one on top and this suits the rainy, cold weather.
Truite Meuniere Amandine $27
One of the most popular dishes, the trout with browned butter and toasted, slivered almonds and lemon jus was very good. The almonds give flavour and crunch as do the herbs and baby capers and there's a side salad with fondant potatoes. The trout fillets arrived from Sydney the day before and Erik tells us that he tries to use local produce as much as possible. He does admit that when local is not quite up to scratch he does import and this includes French butter and bread for their baguettes.
Confit de canard Roti $27
The weather was just calling out for us to order duck confit and it comes out in a deep red wine based sauce with braised red cabbage, confit potatoes and loads of thyme. Thyme is one of those herbs that I'm not fond of when it is too present and here we had 6 strands of it so I regretfully passed this main onto Mr NQN who ate it heartily. This was washed down with a glass of the High Valley 2006 Shiraz-very drinkable indeed.
Tarte tatin de pommes $12
The tarte tatin, which was a dish where Erik had shared the recipe, was good although I prefer a little more texture to apples. Mr NQN wolfed it down and it was served with their in house High Valley ricotta and almond cream.
Crepes Suzette $14
Closer to my heart was the Crepes Suzette, thin as thin could be cooked in an orange liqueur and butter sauce with little pieces of orange. I could have easily finished this by myself.
Before we leave we try some of the High Valley cheeses with Grosvenor, the owner of High Valley and the French Fork Cafe, in particular the fettas which are a Persian feta style which has garnered a wall full of awards. Persian is a softer style of feta than regular feta and takes two days to make (regular feta can be made almost instantly Grosvenor says). They started producing wine and cheese at the same time but he finds cheese making more fun.
Apart from their fettas (the pesto fetta is a favourite followed by the chilli fetta which has a resounding, satisfying kick to it), there is also caerphilly, brie, Mudgee rouge (a washed rind) and a blue. Grosvenor kindly puts together a "survival pack" for us although truthfully, I doubt that we will risk any danger of being starved but who am I to refuse cheese? ;)
Library in the Coach House
We take the short five minute drive to our accommodation at Trelawney Farm. Now this isn't just any sort of farm and when I was looking at the accommodation choices, this one immediately caught my eye. It is a 1880's vintage 5 bedroom brick cottage that comprises of two parts-the Coach House or the Barn End Cottage with one common entrance door that branches out into two separate, self contained areas each with their own security codes. In total it sleeps 10 people although you can rent out either or both. We're lucky enough to have access to both houses and I get very excited exploring both areas.
Lounge room in the Coach House
"Ooh that's the outdoor bath" I say to Mr NQN. He's busy trying to get the luggage inside and dodging the rainfall. I think I cursed the weather by saying that Australia Day is always nice and sunny. Not so this year.... I shall keep my mouth shut next time. The outdoor bath has white lanterns above it and it is so quiet and peaceful you certainly could have a bath outside and no-one would see you. Well, unless the other part of the house is rented... ;)
The Coach House is the larger of the two spaces although both are decorated in a similar fashion. There are vintage toys and details and it looks as though you've walked into Donna Hay's country home or somewhere similar. There are 25 acres of gardens and both areas are roomy and well appointed. And I'll shut up now and perhaps let the pictures do the talking :)
Kid's bedroom in the Coach House
Apart from vintage typewriters, there are claw foot baths, timber floors, working wood fireplaces, chairs from Bondi Tram Depot, vintage cups and saucers and books galore. It feels like it is made to be a country retreat and is family friendly with a children's bedroom which would make an adult envious.
Dining room buffet in the Barn End Cottage
The Barn End Cottage is brighter with natural light and there is a vintage pianola which is a family heirloom (although it is not for playing because of that reason). Bright, fragrant lilies decorate each area ad there is a welcome platter of cheese, crackers and fresh fruit and crackers and a bottle of chilled Logan wine. Little glass bottles of daisies adorn beside tables and there are vintage suitcases, clocks and frames with pictures and without. Both kitchens are fully functional with a mix of modern appliances and vintage ones with old fashioned scales and a meat grinder.
Kitchen in the Coach House
Kitchen in the Barn End Cottage
Bedroom in the Barn End Cottage
Bathroom in the Coach House
Each bathroom has a lot of bottles of bubble bath and shower gel and soap although anything beyond that you will need to bring yourself. Bedrooms have lovely tailored linens although one point that perplexed both of us was the small double bed as the rooms could certainly fit in larger ones and we find it a bit squishy in a double (Mr NQN is 6 foot tall and he needs longer).
Sometimes form exceeds function-in the case of the large bathroom bath, while showering in there you remain cognizant of the request not to get water on the timber floorboards and the second bath in the Barn End Cottage isn't really made for showering as you will inevitably get the timber floor wet as there is no shower curtain. There is also just one bin in each house which is in the kitchen. There are some things that you will need to bring along-your own internet connection, tissues, toiletries and coffee and tea bags if you are particular about both (instant coffee and Lipton tea bags are provided). Also bring along some fly spray because they seem to like it here as much as we do and appear to get in through the chimney.
I settle in for an afternoon doing work-thankfully internet signal is strong here. But during the afternoon I get up and feel compelled to explore the house more and even grab twenty minutes on the sofa with a magazine! Bliss!
Instagramed photo of lounge in the Barn End Cottage
Sometimes Mr NQN says things to me just to get a rise out of me. Like when we are sitting down at Mañana Tapas bar in the town centre and he tells me that I did a great job of pouring all of the water in the glass and not on the table (ok I am clumsy but really!). But he cannot distract me from the tapas menu that I have in my hand. It's a short tapas menu but easily full of delicious sounding items all at $11 each.
Sangria $15 per half litre
We take recommendations from our friendly waitress for the food and for good measure, start with a 1/2 litre jug of sangria. And Dear Readers will know how prone I am to well...being rather susceptible to the effects of alcohol so I have to take baby sips of the sangria which is absolutely delicious and fragrant with cinnamon, strawberries, orange and red wine with a measure of fizz too. Oh dear....I sense some uncoordinated water pouring!
We look around, Mañana's is in an odd place admittedly. Sharing the same building as a real estate agent, when I look to the right all I can see are the For Sale ads (which actually gives us a chance to see what property prices are like-a Sydney obsession). And when the night falls and the lights illuminating the signs for passers-by to see, the uplights can get uncomfortable when they shine in your eyes. Best bet is probably sitting outside where you will also see the real estate posters but you can sit away from the lights.
Lamb, tomato and pea empanadas with piperade
Back to the food. It comes out quickly and we start with the lamb empanadas. Empanadas can sometimes be quite dry and thick with pastry but these deep fried pastries filled with perfectly seasoned lamb mince are not dry at all, just crispy and full of flavour. They're enhanced by a thick, cooked down tomato, garlic and onion piperade which is also strong in flavour.
Baby beetroot and white anchovy salad with walnut dressing $11
The salad is a generously dressed leaf salad with chunks of the sweetest roast beetroot as well as a salty piquancy from the white anchovies. There is also halved cherry tomatoes and a vinaigrette dressing. And this is a generous serve that also disappears quickly.
Pan fried chorizo, squid and paprika oil $11
The chorizo and squid showed that the kitchen really had a good understanding of balancing flavours. And we also like the fact that there were vegetables served in this as tapas can sometimes be a meat heavy exercise. There was capsicum and spinach as well as fresh tomato as well as coins of garlicky chorizo and the softest, most tender squid. And get extra bread because the sauce, given extra depth and smokiness from paprika oil, is worth dipping for.
Pork Belly and fennel $11
The pork belly came as two slices on a bed of braised fennel. The fennel was a little chewy in parts and perhaps could have been pared back further but the pork belly was mild and all about the soft gooey texture of the striated meat and the crunchy cracking of the rind.
Peri Peri Prawns, spinach and onion $11
This was Mr NQN's favourite as he loved the periperi sauce which came with a good natured warning about the heat. The prawns were quite good-juicy still and smallish and came with a wedge of lemon, some sauteed spinach and onion and that spicy peri peri sauce which packed a punch but it wasn't a painful, long lasting one.
Crusty sourdough with olives and capsicum marmalade $11
We just had to order some bread to soak up the sauces even though we knew that we were going to order churros. The bread came out as six pieces of olive oil drizzled bread with two accompaniments: a sweet capsicum marmalade sweet but again an excellent balance of flavours and green and black olives-the black being a favourite, the green a touch too briney. The bread was served warm although it was not sourdough, and was crusty and light, like an Italian loaf and I thought that perhaps some char grill marks might have been a nice touch to enhance the smokiness of the other flavours but I'm just being picky here as we polished off pretty much everything.
What's the rule? Everything eaten on holiday has no calories? Excellent! Because a plate of seven deep fried churros and a shot glass of liquidy dark chocolate has just been set down in front of us.Crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside they're good and I become slightly addicted to dipping the churros in the deep dark chocolate. Most of the churros have icing sugar on them and oddly just one single churro has cinnamon sugar on it so we're not sure why that is.
We head home in the car and marvel at the lanterns above the outdoor bath. They're lit, ready for us.
So tell me Dear Reader, when you travel, do you like to travel as a couple, as a family or in a large group?
NQN and Mr NQN travelled and explored Mudgee as guests of www.visitnsw.com and www.visitmudgeeregion.com.au
The French Fork at High Valley Wine and Cheese Company
137 Ulan Road Mudgee NSW 2850
Tel: +61 (02) 6372 1011
427 Henry Lawson Drive, Eurunderee NSW
Mañana Contemporary Tapas
58 Market St Mudgee NSW 2850
Tel: +61 (02) 6372 9915