Just look at this cute little face, how could you say “no dogs allowed” even though she will be on leash at all time, quietly sitting by our side under the table at the outdoor dining area? Sadly, that’s exactly what we experienced during our recent day trip to Hunter Valley to find most restaurants at the wineries are not ready to take dogs in despite The Companion Animals Amendment Bill to allow dogs in outside eating areas here in NSW was passed since 2010. Ironically, they even published three books about these four-legged friends belong to the wineries around Australia! So obviously dogs are okay around the premises, but just not yours or mine.
First thing we always do as we arriving at Pokolbin is to stop at the information centre to find out which restaurants will allow dogs in the outdoor dining area. We were told that dogs are okay at Pepper Tree wines, but turned out there was only a coffee roasters with outside tables on the lawn, not quite the lunch we were hoping for and turned back to look elsewhere. The Pom suggested to head to Wandin which he had been before together with his mum and our little pooch, Amelie, where they had lunch at the outdoor area of the restaurant. We arrived at the restaurant and told to grab a seat anywhere we like outside of the restaurant, and she would come back to look after us shortly. 15 minutes later, we were still sitting outside under the 30 degrees sun unattended and the dog also started panting from the heat. It left us no choice but to get up and walk back to our car.
And we had one last chance to find a spot for lunch where dogs are allowed, and headed to Muse Kitchen at Keith Tulloch, all the way on the other side of the valley at Hermitage Road. We’ve been here before and had a great meal at the alfresco dining area, and Amelie was also with us at that time (pic above). But how quick the story turns, we were dumbfounded to be told that dogs have never been allowed here and we were being turned away.
The Pom suggested we should give up to look for another restaurant and just grab a sandwich from the shop and eat it at the park somewhere. Frustrated and defeated, if not somewhat upset, I tweeted exactly how I felt. Every cloud has a silver lining, Chef Andrew Wright of The Oliver Tree and The Cellar saw me whinging and took us in like homeless orphans.
We chose to visit The Cellar as it was closer to where we were in Pokolbin. We came to this restaurant last year and had a great meal sitting outside at the courtyard, so it was nice to be here once again and also able to bring our little pooch along.
The service here is always top notch with friendly and knowledgeable waitstaffs; especially Louise the restaurant supervisor will always make you feel right at home. A bowl of water was also brought over for our thirsty little Amelie.
For the menu, you can choose from the sharing option of little morsels and charcuterie or the a la carte menu of entree, main and meat section which comes with a long list of pairing sauces, butters and relishes for you to choose. For $3, a still warm house sourdough roll was served with pickled olives, balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil for dipping. I simply couldn’t go past a glass of sweet yet refreshing David Hook’s pinot grigio to beat the summer heat.
The Pom had his eye set on the Yorkshire pudding with braised wagyu skirt, obviously no sharing here so we ordered two. The bite-size pudding is soft and pillowy, filled with shredded wagyu meat soaked in rich gravy, a dollop of horseradish creme fraiche slowly melting away added that extra touch of indulgence. We also shared a braised lamb pie, moreish lamb meat encased inside a buttery short pastry, balanced nicely with refreshing cucumber tzatziki.
It has somewhat become a fetish, whenever there is black pudding on the menu, I have to order it.
This black pudding from Rodriguez smallgoods in Sydney tasted pretty darn good, it was soft and mealy, with a subtle peppery kick, paired exceptionally well with the sweet braised apple, and who would say no to tendrils of crunchy pork crackling, really?
The underrated cut of skirt steak also made it on the menu, the 250gm Tajima skirt steak was little chewy which was expected as being a cut of cow’s stomach close to the liver; the yielding muscle was rich in liver flavour. And for the pairing butter, the Pom went with the classic steak and horseradish creme fraiche combo. I went for a big hunk of Berkshire pork chop, with more crackling of course. The perfectly cooked pork chop was succulent and juicy, the sweetness of the meat was enhanced by the spicy fig and apple relish.
With our mains, we ordered two sides to share. Loved me some crispy fat chips that was soft and fluffy on the inside embellished with a crispy golden shell. The roast beetroot and garlic was a great addition to our meat, the beet were sweet and earthy and I kept finding myself spreading the roasted garlic on my pork like butter.
We were actually quite full by then but the desserts menu was simply too tempting. The Pom’s raspberry and white chocolate parfait spiked with boozy morello cherries was a nice cooling summer sweet treat. My hazelnut brûlée wasn’t too shabby either, soft brûlée custard studded with toasted hazelnuts for the crunch. I had to be careful with the honeycomb though as the summer’s humidity has made them painstakingly chewy and stuck between the teeth everywhere; those with tooth filling – you’ve been warned.
I am glad that we didn’t end up with a soggy sandwich at the park but a rather scrumptious lunch here at The Cellar. I do hope there are more dog-friendly places/restaurants in Hunter Valley. As we will be back in Hunter Valley next week with our friends from Malaysia who are here visiting currently; but of course we simply can’t leave our little pooch behind.
So let the saga of finding another restaurant that is dog-friendly in Hunter Valley continues…The Cellar Restaurant Hunter Valley Gardens/2090 Broke Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320 (02) 4998 7584 Opening hours: Monday – Saturday, 12pm – 3pm; 6.30pm – 9pm