If you’re staying overnight in the Hunter Valley, my dinner recommendation for somewhere a little fancy that won’t completely blow your budget is Restaurant Botanica in Spicers Retreat. You can get two courses for $69 or three courses for $79 – and it was totally worth it. The service was phenomenal – our waitress for the night was so friendly and chatty, and we really did feel at home. They also served complimentary bread (including their own sourdough) with a beautiful honey butter that we could have eaten by the spoon. The waitress recommended that we eat the bread with the honey butter and a sprinkle of their shiraz infused salt though personally I felt that the sweetness of the honey butter didn’t need the salt for balance. They also served a complimentary amuse bouche which was a gorgeous mushroom soup with a sampler of a white wine (I think it was semillon but don’t remember for sure). I really dislike mushrooms, but this blended mushroom soup was great – really savoury with strong mushroom flavours and almost a toasty fragrance.
Entree 1: Moreton Bay Bug, gnocchi, prawn butter, chilli, finger lime, tomato
This was the star dish of the night for me and my dining companion (who had been the one to order the bug but was forced to share half with me). Really light dish with almost Asian flavours. The gnocchi was lightly fried and not the dense texture that I was used to from other gnocchi I’ve had before. The dressing was a little tangy from the lime, a little spicy from the chilli and overall, so nice and light. Perfect start to the meal!
Entree 2: Robata grilled scallops, leekchi, pickled ginger, wild puffed rice and miso corn
Scallops are one of my all time favourite things to eat, particularly grilled and this entree did not disappoint (just look at that sear!). This was a twist on some Japanese flavours from the Robata grill to the pickled ginger and miso corn. But so damn innovative – the drops of the light pink sauce you see on the plate? That’s the pickled ginger sauce which I absolutely loved as it packed so much ginger flavour without being too strong. Similarly, the miso corn sauce was just yum and both sauces were great with the juicy scallops.
Main 1: Venison, fig, leek, garden beans, chocolate
The venison was beautifully cooked at medium rare. I have to say though that my favourite part of this dish was the leek underneath. I don’t eat leek very often but this leek was so well seasoned and still had ‘integrity’ i.e. crunch.
Main 2: Wagyu beef cheek, tomato, pea, mint, goats curd
The cheek just melted in my mouth. This was definitely my favourite of the two main dishes. The side vegetables (carrots and tomatoes) weren’t as great as the beans and leek on the venison main but that beef cheek was just heavenly.
We didn’t opt for the 3 courses because after a long day of eating in the Hunter Valley, we didn’t think we could fit another course which was probably the right choice. Overall, I would rate Restaurant Botanica right up there with other top restaurants in Sydney. What a magical meal.
Details: Restaurant Botanica, 555 Hermitage 1Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320