Review: Sabor in the Hunter, Lovedale, Hunter Valley

We finished our recent stay with friends in the Hunter Valley with a final meal at Sabor in the Hunter, a dessert cafe. It’s located a little bit outside of the usual wine tour trail in Lovedale, and unlike many of the other restaurants and cafes in the area, isn’t attached to a winery. It’s an establishment that truly stands alone on its own merits. The main downside is that all seating at the cafe is outside, which can be challenging on warmer days with the sun beating down on you.

Sparkling Jaffa, $3.50

Sparkling Jaffa, $3.50

I ordered a cool drink to start, as it did turn out to be quite a warm day when we went. The Sparkling Jaffa caught my eye as soon as I saw it, as I love the combination of chocolate and orange. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure what to expect – how would they make a sparkling soda out of chocolate? I was very pleasantly surprised when this sparkling orange soda came out – it tasted initially of fresh citrusy orange, but had a lingering creamy chocolate aftertaste. I don’t know how they did it, but it worked!

Flat White, $4

Flat White, $4

Other drinks ordered included a smooth and milky Flat White in a cute mug designed to wrap your hands around ergonomically.

Fresh scones with jam and cream, $6.50

Fresh scones with jam and cream, $6.50

K and I shared some Fresh Scones as we hadn’t had lunch yet and needed something a bit more filling than just dessert. The scones were light and fluffy having clearly been freshly baked that day. The sweet jam on top was just delightful.

Sabor's Tasting Plate (Flourless Chocolate Cake with a Mini Macaron, Salted Caramel Mousse with Sticky Date Pudding, Dark & White salted burnt caramel Portuguese Mousse, Coffee  & Walnut Slice and a Jaffa chocolate mousse with chocolate ganache & Orange cube), $25

Sabor’s Tasting Plate (Flourless Chocolate Cake with a Mini Macaron, Salted Caramel Mousse with
Sticky Date Pudding, Dark & White salted burnt caramel Portuguese Mousse, Coffee
& Walnut Slice and a Jaffa chocolate mousse with chocolate ganache & Orange cube), $25

We went on to try Sabor’s Tasting Plate, a sampler of their best chocolate-based desserts. It looks very impressive, and slightly daunting for two people right? I’m proud to say that we managed to finish the platter off between the two of us, tasting a mouthful of each and then splitting it by preference. K prefers coffee so he got most of the Coffee & Walnut Slice, and I can never walk past anything with salted caramel in it, so I claimed the mousse as my own! With five decent-sized mini desserts offered on the platter, $25 is really a very good price for what you get.

Flourless chocolate cake in the tasting platter

Flourless chocolate cake in the tasting platter

The Flourless Chocolate Cake was a favourite for both of us though, so I had to split it evenly with K despite the fact that I could have eaten it all! While it was still very much a sweet treat, it wasn’t overly sticky and sickeningly sugary.

Now quickly, just a few of the other desserts ordered around the table. I tried a spoonful of most, and concluded that most, if not all, desserts at Sabor in the Hunter really hit the ‘sweet’ spot of being a sweet sugary dessert treat that doesn’t sit too heavily in your stomach afterwards.

Biku Banoffee, $14

Biku Banoffee, $14

Everyone loved the way the Biku Banoffee pie had been deconstructed and was presented like a trifle.

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The toasted Passionfruit Meringue isn’t on the menu but my friend B picked it as soon as she saw it in the display cabinet in the shop. It proved to be extremely light, melting on your tongue as soon as you took a spoonful.

Blueberry & Ricotta Crumble Cheesecake, $14

Blueberry & Ricotta Crumble Cheesecake, $14

The crumble on the Blueberry & Ricotta Crumble Cheesecake provided a good textural point of difference to the creamy cheesecake.

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta, $11

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta, $11

The simple Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta was really enhanced by the concentrated strawberry syrup and fresh strawberries on the side.

Red Velvet & Winter Lime Cheesecake, $14

Red Velvet & Winter Lime Cheesecake, $14

This Red Velvet & Winter Lime Cheesecake was a favourite for those of us in the group who like to take photos of food, and we held everyone up as we tried to manouevre ourselves into the best possible position to take a shot of the beautiful presentation of this dessert.

Double Chocolate & Caramel Wave, $14

Double Chocolate & Caramel Wave, $14

Coated in a sticky caramel sauce, the Double Chocolate & Caramel Wave was probably the sweetest dish of the those ordered, explaining why our friend R was the only one to leave any dessert on his plate by the time we left.

Overall, I really enjoyed our visit to Sabor in the Hunter – it’s a little bit different to what you would normally classify as a traditional “Hunter Valley” activity, and really makes a nice change from the usual winery tours and tastings, especially for someone like me who wasn’t drinking. I would definitely visit Sabor again the next time I’m in the area.

Sabor in the Hunter Dessert Bar on Urbanspoon


Review: Muse Kitchen, Pokolbin, Hunter Valley

Continuing our early trend of showing up at fancy restaurants with little to no notice and certainly without making a reservation, my friends and I showed up at Muse Kitchen for a late lunch on our second day in the Hunter Valley. At 2pm, the main lunch crowd was just beginning to leave, but it was about half an hour before the staff could cobble together two tables of four for our group.

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The wait wasn’t an issue though – located on the beautiful manicured grounds of Keith Tulloch Winery, the surrounds of Muse Kitchen is enough to keep you occupied while you wait for your table. While some of us wandered upstairs to do the wine tasting while we waited, I stayed downstairs and browsed through the artisan chocolate stall run by Cocoa Nib Chocolates…and I may have bought a few sneaky treats!

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We were lucky enough to get two tables outside for lunch, so we could enjoy the beautiful weather. With blue skies above us and the sun shining bright, we got our daily dose of Vitamin D in a beautiful setting.

Selection of Australian Salami, white anchovy, Binnorie marinated feta,  toasted bread, 22.00

Selection of Australian Salami, white anchovy, Binnorie marinated feta, toasted bread, 22.00

Our table started off with a simple antipasto sharing platter – we were all hungry, and needed an appetiser that would arrive quickly and satiate our hunger while we waited for our mains! I was a big fan of the slightly vinegary pickled white anchovies, while others loved the different varieties of Australian salami on the platter. I also liked the little cornichons as well, and sneakily took more than my fair share!

Slow cooked Berkshire Pork with celeriac and mustard remoulade, caramelised apple puree, $38

Slow cooked Berkshire Pork with celeriac and mustard remoulade, caramelised apple puree, $38

Our friend T ordered the Slow Cooked Berkshire Pork, a melt-in-your-mouth sweet cooked pork that went very well with the apple sauce and even better with the ‘bitey’ celeriac and mustard remoulade.

Crispy skin confit duck leg, salt baked beetroot puree, blood orange, hazelnut and watercress salad, $36

Crispy skin confit duck leg, salt baked beetroot puree, blood orange, hazelnut and watercress salad, $36

K and our friend N opted for the confit duck leg, which proved to be as crispy as advertised. The meat was still tender and juicy as well, which is often hard to achieve with duck! The ‘salad’ that the duck rested on was a hit as well – crushed and crumbled hazelnuts mixed with baby watercress and chunks of tart blood orange went well with the sweet beetroot puree.

Beef, Garlic and Blue Cheese Burger with caramelised onion, gherkin, french fries, aioli, 25.00

Beef, Garlic and Blue Cheese Burger with caramelised onion, gherkin, french fries, aioli, 25.00

In the mood for something a little more downmarket and cheap and cheerful, I went for the beef and blue cheese burger – because honestly, how can you go past anything on a menu if it has blue cheese in it?! Unfortunately this didn’t quite hit the spot as the ratio of the burger wasn’t quite right – there was much too blue cheese for the size of the beef patty which left you with an overwhelmingly fragrant and sharp lingering aftertaste in your mouth. On the plus side though, the fries were super crunchy and went really well with the creamy aioli.

Chocolate, Banana, Caramelised Pecan,  vanilla ice cream, puffed rice, date, 14.00

Chocolate, Banana, Caramelised Pecan, vanilla ice cream, puffed rice, date, 14.00

Onto dessert, and I opted for the chocolate & banana dish…and boy, did I love my choice when it came out! The thin dome of chocolate was picture-perfect, and once you cracked the top and mixed the chocolate in with the caramelised pecans, sweet banana, puffed rice, dates, and herbs, it made for a strangely satisfying dessert. Simply dreamy, especially towards the end as the vanilla ice-cream slowly melted and integrated with the rest of the dish.

Other desserts ordered on our table were the chocolate mousse, coconut cloud and the trifle.

Chocolate Mousse, Milk Sorbet, nougat, salted peanut caramel, coffee, 14.00

Chocolate Mousse, Milk Sorbet, nougat, salted peanut caramel, coffee, 14.00

The highlight of the chocolate mousse for me was definitely the salted peanut caramel, though others liked the complexity of flavours afforded by the coffee on top.

Coconut Cloud,  roasted pineapple, mint, 14.00

Coconut Cloud, roasted pineapple, mint, 14.00

K’s light as a feather Coconut Cloud was similar to a Asian shaved ice style of dessert. The ‘cloud’ was light and refreshing, but made bolder and more memorable with the strong sweet roasted pineapple slices.

Trifle with poached pear, verjuice jelly, warm doughnut, custard, 14.00

Trifle with poached pear, verjuice jelly, warm doughnut, custard, 14.00

The deconstructed trifle was interesting, but probably not one that I, or our friend, would order again.

Overall, Muse Kitchen offers a satisfying dining experience in the Hunter Valley, but one that comes with a hefty price tag. $25 for a burger is quite steep, and a $40 pork main even more so, especially considering that this was a lunch menu rather than a dinner menu. I don’t think I’ll rush back the next time I’m in the Hunter Valley, as I’m sure I could find similarly enjoyable dining options that offer a more reasonable bill at the end of the meal.

Muse Kitchen on Urbanspoon


Review: Bistro Molines, Mt View, Hunter Valley

K and I are currently at that stage of life where everyone around us is having milestones. From 30th birthdays, to engagements, weddings and babies, it feels like we have a celebration every second weekend. And let’s be honest, it all starts to add up and you really have to start counting your pennies in order to have enough money to go along to every celebration you’re invited to.

For some friends though, money doesn’t even come into the equation – you spend whatever you need to spend, in order to celebrate with them. And hey, if that means that you spend a weekend away in the Hunter Valley with eight awesome people for a 30th birthday, what could be better?

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We went up to the Hunter Valley for a weekend in September to celebrate one of K’s closest friends birthdays. On our first night, we were stuck for ideas of what to do about dinner – nothing had been booked and we were at a loose end.

Quickly jumping onto Yelp, another weekender R said, “This place looks alright. It’s got a pretty good rating and the reviews seem decent. It’s a $40 main kind of place, is that within everyone’s budget?”

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Not knowing anything more about the restaurant, we all agreed, called to make sure they had a table for eight, and showed up at Bistro Molines only to realise we were all severely under-dressed for a regularly Chef Hatted restaurant. Luckily it was a relatively quiet night, otherwise we could have had other better-dressed guests frowning down their nose at us!

Crusty Sourdough, $1 per  person

Crusty Sourdough, $1 per person

Our waitress was very friendly, and explained the menu to us in great detail, taking extra care to point out some of the day’s specials. Once we decided on our choices (just one course each, and a few different bottles of wine for most of the table), she brought out with some crusty sourdough for the table, which comes with a great creamy light-as-air butter.

Chef's appetisers - deep fried cauliflower with aioli

Chef’s appetisers – deep fried cauliflower with aioli

I particularly liked the little chef’s appetisers that came out to whet our appetite for our mains. Most of us had these super crispy lightly battered cauliflower florets with a tangy aioli, and I sneakily managed to get a second floret because it was just that more-ish. The one gluten-free person on the table was served a little canape of (if I recall correctly) dressed salmon. Bistro Molines is very accommodating with any dietary requirements that you may have!

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Of course, given that we’re in wine country, more than a few bottles were ordered and shared amongst a few on the table. I abstained as I (still!) haven’t been drinking since February, but everyone else enjoyed their tipples!

As each main came out, there was much ooh-ing and aah-ing from around the table. Each main was quite beautifully presented in a classic French style.

Beef filet mignon with caramelised onion, potato rosti and wilted spinach, red wine jus, bearnaise, $41

Beef filet mignon with caramelised onion, potato rosti and wilted spinach, red wine jus, bearnaise, $41

The cooked-to-medium-rare filet mignon was by far the most traditional dish ordered on the night, with a heavy and sweet red wine jus and a superbly crispy potato rosti.

Whole roasted French style "Poussin" spatchcock with buttered pencil leeks, light peppercorn cream, $41

Whole roasted French style “Poussin” spatchcock with buttered pencil leeks, light peppercorn cream, $41

K’s chosen spatchcock dish was very dainty, but with a creamy buttery sauce that left you moaning with pleasure after every mouthful.

'Cote de Bouef a la Moelle' - Prime rib of beef with marrow sauce bordelaise, baby vegetables and wilted spinach, $40

‘Cote de Bouef a la Moelle’ – Prime rib of beef with marrow sauce bordelaise, baby vegetables and wilted spinach, $40

The prime rib came with a serve of the most beautiful baby vegetables, lightly sauteed and still crisp and fresh.

Cannelloni (entree size)

Cannelloni (entree size), $22

One more health-conscious friend chose an entree sized dish as her main, of a cannelloni special. Topped with a few different cheeses, it was a surprisingly filling and left my friend satiated without being over-full.

Loin of pork filled with apricots with Toulouse sausage, parsnip pie, baby turnips, muscat jus, $41

Loin of pork filled with apricots with Toulouse sausage, parsnip pie, baby turnips, muscat jus, $41

This was the dish that had everything exclaiming when it came out though. The pork loin was beautifully presented with tiny little baby turnips and carrots, and a slice of parsnip pie. With the muscat jus and fresh herbs scattered around the plate, it almost looked like a country garden.

Aromatic goat tagine with fennel, tumeric and chilli, cracked burghul, dried cranberries and roasted eggplant, $40

Aromatic goat tagine with fennel, tumeric and chilli, cracked burghul, dried cranberries and roasted eggplant, $40

And my daily special of the goat tagine was simply to die for. Served with a side of cracked burghul (that unfortunately came out later than the rest of the dish, so that I was already quarter of the way through the dish before it arrived), the rich spices of the tagine evoked thoughts of French Morocco. Goat can be a difficult meat to prepare well, but this was done superbly – the meat was extremely tender and had really soaked up the spices and flavours.

Vanilla pannacotta with blood orange gel, meringue mixed berry sorbet, $17

Vanilla pannacotta with blood orange gel, meringue mixed berry sorbet, $17

While we were all quite full from our appetisers and mains alone, we knew we simply couldn’t go by some of the desserts on offer. A few people ordered the vanilla pannacotta – beautiful presented as a summer bouquet with a great mix of textures, colours, and flavours. The soft creaminess of the pannacotta was really set off by the intensity of the blood orange gel.

Crusted chocolate fondant with honeycomb, caramel ice cream, $17

Crusted chocolate fondant with honeycomb, caramel ice cream, $17

The molten insides of the chocolate fondant oozed out as soon as soon as K dug his spoon in. Mixed with the sweet caramel ice-cream, this was one intense sugar hit that nearly made my teeth go numb.

Quince tarte tatin with muscat gel, blueberries, roasted macadamias, vanilla bean ice cream, $17

Quince tarte tatin with muscat gel, blueberries, roasted macadamias, vanilla bean ice cream, $17

One friend ordered the quince tarte tatin – while I think it was a really enjoyable dish, I think she was hoping for something a little more visually spectacular like the pannacotta.

Ille Flottante 'Floating Island' on Vanilla Creme Anglaise, berries and langue du chat, $17

Ille Flottante ‘Floating Island’ on Vanilla Creme Anglaise, berries and langue du chat, $17

Or perhaps like my floating island? This was a wonderful mix of light fluffy meringue, palate-cleansing cream, and the sweetest fresh berries. Visually spectacular, and the type of dessert that I would hope to reproduce at home one day!

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By the time we left Bistro Molines, most of the restaurant had cleared out. We went from being last minute customers, to the last customers.

Bistro Molines was a lovely dining experience, especially with a larger group. The service is top notch, the food is hearty, the desserts beautifully presented, and the wine list impressive. I would love to return for another meal the next time I’m in the Hunter Valley – perhaps for lunch next time so that I can enjoy the amazing views over the hills which is largely lost when you’re dining at night!

Bistro Molines on Urbanspoon