Fine wine and dine in Hunter Valley is nothing new, restaurants come and go, but one new restaurant opened last year is worth visiting. After four years as executive chef for Peppers Hunter Valley group, Emerson Rodriguez finally took the plunge and opened his own restaurant with his wife, Samantha, under his own name Emerson's at Pokolbin.
The restaurant has only been opened for 16 months and already been raved about by many as one of the coolest kids in town. It is located inside Casuarina Estate at Pokolbin, surrounded by twenty-five acres of vineyards with the view of the Brokenback Mountain Range.
The spacious restaurant is painted in shades of pearl white, perfect for wedding functions. An impressive old butcher wooden board has been polished and given a new life is now a feature right in the middle of the restaurant. Samantha is the manager of the restaurant whilst Emerson reigns the kitchen. Warm bread and truffled butter that has been whipped to an ethereal lightness welcome us as soon as we are seated.
Amuse bouche is presented soon after to tantalise our tastebuds. These little golden croquettes are crispy yet warm and soft on the inside, filled with shredded lamb shoulder meat that is one mouthful of sheer satisfaction, sweet corn and the aromatic salsa verde balance with the strong lamb flavour nicely. It is a great start to our 6-course wine matching degustation dinner.
Each course is matched with exciting local wine selected by our friendly and knowledgable sommelier, Bill. First course is matched with a fruity, easy drinking Piggs Peake Sauvignon Blanc, a variety of what Hunter Valley is famous for.
And, we are off to a good start. Pretty as a picture, the carpaccio of Himarasa Kingfish is simply stunning and elegantly presented. The pink velvety smooth flesh is dressed in black bean dressing that bursts with saltiness which enhances the sweetness of the fish. The umami from heirloom tomato makes the dish even more meaty, slightly spiced with radish wafers and pickled ginger.
Since we've just been to the Mount View Estate and spent a whole morning with Philip the winemaker to learn more about their wine, we are rather excited that sommelier has chosen a fruity MV Reserve Pinot Noir to pair with our next dish.
This duck dish has the classic combo of gamey duck meat pairs with sweet orange sauce, a duck a l'orange inspired dish perhaps, but of course, this modern take is a lot more sophisticated and delectable. I love the idea of cooking sous vide which guarantees the most tender and flavoursome duck meat, but in the mean time, it also will never give me the crispy duck skin that I am hoping for. Nevertheless, pink juicy meat with silky smooth parsnip cream is flawless, sweetened with orange glaze drops and Moorebank pickled grapes.
It is fascinating to see the sommerlier starts pouring a white, since we already had a red earlier as my common sense tells me to drink white first then red. As he explains, the MV reserve pinot noir is fruitier and sweeter then the Gartelmann Chardonnay which is a lot dryer and heavy on the palate, "it is quite common to serve red then white again, nothing wrong with that so long it pairs well according to the dishes and not in the order of white and then red," he adds. It makes totally perfect sense.
We gasp follow by an exciting groan in anticipation, the slow cooked pork belly is more picture perfect than any paintings by Picasso or Monet. I sink my fork into the small rectangular block of pork belly, it disintegrates right in front of my eyes, ridiculously tender and juicy, served with savoy cabbage that adds texture and cuts through the richness, a teardrop in vivid yellow apple puree with Madeira sauce adds a touch of spiced sweetness to the pork, if it isn't sweet enough already.
But the superstar of the dish has to be that perfectly long, thin and straight strip of pork crackling balancing on top of the pork belly. However they are able to make the pork crackling to be so perfectly shaped is mind boggling. But more importantly, the earth shattering crunch enough to make my body trembles in joy and send my happy feet to dance. There is now a symphony of crunching rhythm in the restaurant echoing from table to table.
For the next course, a 15-year old McGuigans Bin 9000 semillon has been chosen as matching wine. It is so old that it needs to be decanted to let it breathe before pouring. The semillon is a lot more yellow in colour almost like Chardonnay, it has less tannins and a lot smoother on the palate but still quite light and not as meaty. It is interesting to try a wine that is so old and see how the characteristics of the wine changes with food.
The wine is paired with snapper, pan fried to a golden crisp on the skin while the flesh is still delicate and flakey. I mop up the curd-like jerusalem artichoke cream with the fish on every mouthful. The fingerling fennel adds texture and the aniseed flavour completes the dish perfectly.
And, for our final savoury dish is another beautiful presented art piece. The oven baked lamb rump is exceptionally succulent and tender, served with pea puree that has been artistically piped on the plate. Two caramelised sweetbreads are just melt in the mouth creamy, with diced Mediterranean vegetables to cut through the richness of the dish. This dish rounds up the meal perfectly.
For dessert, it will be paired with a sweet but spicy, peppery dessert Shiraz by Piggs Peake called Suckling Pig, how appropriate. My guessing for the dessert will be something chocolate as chocolate and shiraz goes very well together.
And I was right, the dessert is simply to die for! It is chocoholics' dream come true, a block of chocolate pave that is so rich, I can feel my heart pumping twice as hard on every spoonful but absolutely worth it. But that's not it, there's also chocolate soil adds crunch and house made chocolate ice cream that is incredibly silky and smooth. If that's not enough to send you on a sugar high, then a few crumbs of honey combs might just do the job. But of course, no complaining from me and love every single bit of it.
The meal to Emerson's has to be one of the best I've tasted in Hunter Valley. Emerson's is still new but already been awarded Savour's best new restaraunt 2011, I am not surprised that it will soon gain its first chef's hat in the SMH's Good Food Guide. Go now when the price is still affordable and beat the crowd before everyone finds out.
A Table For Two is the ambassador blog for Hunter Valley Tourism
Emerson's Casurina Estate
1014 Hermitage Road
P: 02-4998 7733
Dinner - Thur - Sat, 6pm - till late
Lunch - Thur - Mon, 11am