There were so many 'Oh my God' moments during our lunch at Margan's, we should have been in church. That moment, when you place the spoon or fork in your mouth, and your eyes widen as the flavours hit you, and you are searching for something intelligent to say, but all you can manage is profanity.
In the lush sprawl that is the Hunter Valley, there are more award-winning and chef-hatted restaurants than there probably are in the entire state of Western Australia, my home town. I was determined to visit at least one of these, and on finding out that Margan's was practically walking distance from our cottage in the tiny village of Broke, it was a simple decision.
The restaurant is only open Friday and Saturday for lunch and dinner, and Sundays for breakfast and lunch. This is long lunch territory, with groups and couples coming in until late. An open fire burns warmly on one side, the semi-open kitchen presents a team of chefs, tattooed yet immaculate in their clean white uniforms. The view across the vines to the hills constantly changes as the weather moves in and out, and the sun highlights different aspects of the peaks. It's quiet, still and stunning.
You know something special will happen when the bread is perfect
We started with the $7 ciabatta which came with pressed olive oil, aged balsamic and a perfect mound of house-churned fresh butter. This was my first moment, as on top of the butter were tiny flakes of salt which melted in the mouth. I considered sitting there and eating nothing but bread and butter all afternoon, but when the bread is superb, you know that the main event will be worth waiting for.
Margan's offer complimentary starters and truffles
We were then presented with a complimentary starter of beef tartare: two spoons with a little mound of melt-in-the-mouth diced beef. It's amazing to think how the simple addition of fresh herbs and clever condiments can transform something considered taboo (raw meat) to something that makes you speechless (in a good way).
Although the menu changes seasonally, when we visited the Winter lunch menu had five entrees ($24-$28) and five main dishes ($34-$38). For example there was a confit ocean trout with beetroot, apple, watercress and horseradish $26 and roasted duck breast, parfait, date and chamomile $28 on the entree menu.
My beautiful companion chose the butter poached chicken, which was presented with a tiny tower of spanner crab, two pieces of the best crackling I have ever eaten (sorry Mum), and a delicate, charred baby leek. The chicken was moist and full of flavour, and as she passed over a fork with a morsel for me to try, we sat there nodding speechlessly as we ate.
The mains menu includes dishes such as local partridge with caramelised carrot, Jerusalem artichoke and hazelnut ($36) and Black Angus bavette with smoked onion and bone marrow $38.
Each dish on the menu comes with a suggestion for a perfectly matched Margan wine, and while the food is enormous with flavour, they are served in such a way that it is almost essential that you also order side dishes. These are typically salads or cooked vegetable dishes and are written on the specials board over the kitchen.
With the mist practically knocking at the door, we weren't interested in salad, we wanted roasted vegetables and we were not disappointed with an enormous bowl of the softest, sweetest roasted pumpkin (from the garden) served with tangy cumin yoghurt. Perfect.
The 100m special - everything must be grown within 100m of the kitchen
I elected to have the daily special, which at $45 came with a modest side of garden vegetables and a glass of matched wine. My dish was lamb cooked two ways, a tender cutlet and a chop (that word sounds too crass for what it was) that had been slow cooked and simply melted in the mouth. The vegetables included radicchio, Jerusalem artichoke and caramelised parsnip.
These are vegetables I would normally avoid, simply because I have no idea how to cook them. If I thought I could have walked into the kitchen to ask the chef how he makes these modest veggies taste so extraordinary I would have done. But I was too full to contemplate moving.
Despite that, we had to have dessert and with a choice of four delicacies, we found the wine wasn't helping our decision making skills. I wanted them all. At $16 each though, it is wise to eat in moderation and so we chose the apple tarte tartin with cinnamon icecream, and the chocolate cremaux, salted peanut brittle and milk sorbet.
Let me give you a moment while you look at the pictures.
The tart looks modest, but like a can-can dancer it's all about what's underneath. My friend declared it the best thing she had ever eaten, and after she was forced to put her fork down and move her chair away from the table (she's much more petite than me), I lunged across the table and tried to scrape up the remaining syrup with my fork.
Chocolate cremaux with salted peanut brittle and milk sorbet
My chocolate dish, specifically the salted peanut brittle has been etched into my food memory forever. Chocolate cremaux is essentially a super rich mousse, the type that makes you close your eyes and forget where you are. The milk sorbet was the perfect foil for the velvet of the chocolate and the peanut brittle was crumbly and crunchy and salty and sweet, and so delicious I found myself taking only the smallest mouthfuls, elfin sized, so that I could make it last.
When we finally thought we were finished, and we were shocked to find out we still had a third of a bottle of our wine remaining, we simply sat in silence for a while. Our waiter, terribly friendly and efficient, then presented us with a small dish with two house made honey infused chocolate truffles on a bed of cookie crumbs. We almost cried, but as everyone knows, there is a separate stomach for chocolate.
Margan's has so many awards and medals I couldn't possibly mention them all here, not only for their food but also for the wines and cellar door.
Dedicated to sustainable production, the kitchen garden and orchard provides over 90% of the restaurant's fruit and vegetables, as well as providing their own free range chickens, lamb, honey and table olives.
On days like this Margan's will have a roaring fire