So what do you need to know about Circa 1876 restaurant in Hunter Valley?
For starters Circa 1876 is set on a three-acre organic permaculture kitchen garden. They have 18 chickens that produce all the eggs for breakfast and bees that supply the restaurant with its honey. Executive Chef George Francisco makes his own bacon on site. Any excess produce from the garden is juiced to make an amuse bouche, pickled or made into jam and sold at the restaurant or local markets. Impressed? This is just the beginning!
Formerly known as Roberts the restaurant had a name change at the end of last month. The new Circa 1876 pays homage to the historic cottage, built in 1876, which makes up part of the restaurant today. Entering through the old cottage entrance, you pass the former cooking quarters now transformed into a Champagne Taittinger Lounge and the old cellar. Further along the convict brick hallway and you’ll reach the main dining room that was added on in 1991. With exposed dark wooden beams, chandeliers, and three-metre wide sandstone fireplace decorated with eclectic antiques it’s a luxurious setting.
Francisco (previously Tower Estate, Jonah’s and Dish) draws on his upbringing in Northern California and the USA’s Deep South as well as his French training to create a modern ‘soul-food’ menu with a focus on seasonal, home-grown and organic ingredients.
What Francisco can’t grow in his garden he buys from local producers where possible and sources meat from the Estate’s nearby cattle farm. So it’s a good feeling when you sit down and peruse the menu. Look outside at the garden then look down at your meal, then back to the garden. This is the real paddock to plate!
On this occasion we start our lunch with an amuse of juiced tomato, fresh from the garden. For entrees we have the tempura zucchini flowers filled with ricotta, pinenuts, currants topped with a basil pesto sauce. It’s a popular dish on the menu and easy to see why. It’s a nice, light start to our lunch and perfect for sharing. The charred garam masala scented foie gras is a heavier choice and not for everyone though cooked perfectly and presented like a small piece of art.
For mains we order the roasted fillet of murray cod and grilled hunter valley grass fed beef tenderloin both tasted as good as they look.
In fact, all of Francisco’s dishes have beautiful presentation, the sort of dishes you eat with your eyes before lifting a fork. That was certainly the case when the “sweet endings” dessert plate was presented. It was full of naughty nostalgic treats including raspberry jellies, strawberry and vanilla macarons, tiramusu cones, choc chip cookies with mini vanilla milk, salted caramel fudge and my favourite, the strawberry, white chocolate and coconut nougat.
Circa 1876 is just two hours drive from Sydney and is part of the same group that owns boutique hotel Peppers Convent, located a short stroll down the road. Treat yourself to a weekend away and experience the Hunter Valley in style.
64 Halls Road, Pokolbin NSW 02 4998 4998
Open 7 days, lunch and dinner. Kitchen open from 12pm – 3pm and again from 6.30pm.