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?
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?”
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
K’s chosen spatchcock dish was very dainty, but with a creamy buttery sauce that left you moaning with pleasure after every mouthful.
The prime rib came with a serve of the most beautiful baby vegetables, lightly sauteed and still crisp and fresh.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!