Top of the winery food chain
By Louise Johnson
There is magic in the matching of good food with wine and when combined with the perfect setting for such marriages, such as a vineyard in the Hunter Valley, you create a dining experience like no other.
Rock Restaurant at Poole’s Rock Wines in the Hunter Valley was named the country’s Best Restaurant in a Winery at the 2008 Restaurant and Catering Association awards, a great achievement for executive chef Andrew Clarke and his team in a fiercely competitive category.
The restaurant overlooks the original block of 90-year-old shiraz vines at the Poole’s Rock Winery estate and showcases the wine portfolio, which includes Poole’s Rock, Cockfighter’s Ghost and Firestick, as well, as the extensive cellar collection alongside their artful and inspired cuisine.
Andrew says he first decided to become a chef when he took a job as a kitchen hand at Mesclun Brasserie during university holidays. He apprenticed there with Anthony Musarra, learning the basics of contemporary Australian cuisine. After a year, he moved to The Edge restaurant to work with Gary Skelton at his popular fast-paced restaurant in East Sydney. He spent three years at Claude's Restaurant under Tim Pak Poy, learning the skills, knowledge and developing a passion for fine dining.
He swapped Sydney for the Hunter Valley, establishing the Rock Restaurant with his uncle, David Clarke, on the Poole's Rock site in 2006. The goal, to develop world class restaurant.
What do you love most about the role you’re in now?
Working with exceptional produce and wines.
What are some of the benefits of running a restaurant in a winery environment?
Fabulous wines and a more relaxed country lifestyle, when I’m not at work.
And some of the challenges?
Keeping good staff but that happens wherever you are
Do you have some rules for matching wine and food?
Overall the food and wine must be in balance together. that means that neither one is overpowering in acid or sweetness. The best matches on the menu at the moment are scallop tortellini with Riesling and veal and Pinot Gris .
What sort of trends do you notice in dining and how are these translated into the Rock’s dining experience?
We operate as Firestick Café during the day because people don’t want to go out for a full heavy lunch. All our dishes are served in three sizes (tasting, entrée and main) to allow a more flexible dining experience.
Has food become form of art?
I think it always has been.
Andrew’s Hunter Valley favourites:
- Nulkaba Hatchery - great free range ducks
- Bistro Tartine in Hamilton - unpretentious French bistro food. Iit is my sort of comfort food.
- Rock Restaurant - because of the great produce and flexibility
- 2005 Poole's Rock Chardonnay ticks all the boxes for a great Australian Chardonnay
- Brokenwood Graveyard Shiraz made with care and attention to detail ()
- 2005 Poole's Rock Semillon is a beautifully refined and elegant traditional hunter variety
One perfect day in the Hunter Valley:
- I would have to start with an early game of golf, followed by a relaxed lunch at Firestick Café eating wood fired pizza and a glass of Cockfighter's Ghost Riesling on the deck with my family, a bit of wine tasting, a quick afternoon sleep followed by a fantastic dinner at Rock Restaurant
- Lower Hunter (NSW)
- Hunter including Newcastle (NSW)
- Hunter Valley (NSW)
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