Wednesday, 8 November 2006

hunter valley gem

Shakey Tables
1476 Wine Country Drive
North Rothbury, Hunter Valley
T: +61 4938 1744
Flickr set here.

When you leave the city and enter the country you leave behind the hustle and bustle. You leave your stress, anxieties and pressures. You leave the dog-eat-dog attitude of the city dweller rushing to and fro and enter the mellow pace of the country.

More often than not you also leave behind good service.

I recognise that the country is running on a different time concept than the city and that the water and bread don't need to land on the table a millisecond after you're seated, but there is such a thing as too slow, too easy going, too lax.

This was my experience on a recent 'bridal' weekend with my friends in the Hunter Valley. After three days of excruciatingly poor service, Shakey Tables was an oasis in the desert.

A friend, Ban-Foo, had recommended this restaurant to us and, knowing his fine taste, I was not at all surprised to find it to my liking.

What seemed to have been a log cabin was converted into an elegant space with candle light and tiny colourful bulbs sprinkled across the gable ceiling like a multi-coloured planetarium. Tables were vast reclaimed wood surfaces and chairs were cushioned and covered with bright, solid colours. Sideboards housed bottles of wine and a huge candelabra at the entrance was encrusted with years of candle wax, adding rustic, cathedral-like charm.

The walls were decorated with brightly coloured canvasses painted by the chef. Those with artistic know-how at our table weren't too keen on the paintings, but I liked them and thought the style and colours fit perfectly with the restaurant's overall look.

The second our ramshackle group walked into the restaurant we were greeted courteously and led through the crowded dining room to our very comfortable table.

We were served by winemaker, Simon Rengger, who owns Shakey Tables with his wife and who was more than happy to walk through the menu with us, pairing our choices with local wines, including a few of his own (the 2004 Shakey Tables Estate Shiraz was great).

In the kitchen, Paula Rengger devised some pretty spectacular fare.

An amushe bouche of clear tomato jelly was tiny with a salad of baby green leaves and a button of delightful basil sorbet. This was delish. We also received some cheesy tomato scrolls, which were substantial but a little dry.

Our mains were wonderful ($36). Vicky and Jo ordered the slow roasted Wagyu brisket, a perfect cut for the lengthy cooking. It was as a soft as butter and the flavour was certainly impressive. This came crowned with a bone marrow dumpling, sticky and pleasantly sweet. Caramelised onion and witlof and a steamed baby leek were placed upon a pool of celeriac puree and the whole dish was topped off with jus from the slow roasting process.

Shelley ordered the rainbow trout, which came rolled around green beans and its crispy skin on display. It balanced upon three garlic potato croquettes and the whole plate was encircled with toasted flaked almonds, caramelised onions (or it could have been leeks) and fresh chives. This was both decorative and delicious, adding flavour and crunchy texture to the meal. A burnt lemon butter sauce completed this dish.

Em and I opted for the roast pigeon, which startled the others a little. It always interests me how people compartmentalise animals, some being for eating and others certainly not. I don’t have that block in my mind and the only thing that would stop me from eating an animal is if a) it was endangered or b) it was extremely intelligent i.e. whale, dolphin, primate or elephant. To be honest, I’ve always had a flash of guilt when eating pigs for that reason. None the less, I enjoyed my roasted pigeon with piggy by-products.

The pigeon was stuffed with rich black pudding and sweet prunes then wrapped in bacon. The flavour of the prunes and pudding had seeped through the inner flesh while the bacon had braised the outer surfaces. This tight bundle of pigeon was placed upon two elegant cabbage parcels that were filled with fine breadcrumbs soaked in butter. A red wine jus surrounded the plate.

To offset these extremely rich main courses we had a baby spinach, pine nut and parmesan salad with orange dressing ($8). It was really good and we all tucked into it eagerly, but dessert was the jewel in the crown.

A fantastic cranachan ($16), described as a traditional Scottish wedding dessert, was reinterpreted into a modern ice cream terrine. Since it was a "bridal" weekend the cranachan was a perfect fit.

Three light, crispy tuille cigars were filled with whisky and almond praline cream. On top of this a chequerboard terrine of caramelised oatmeal and honey ice cream merged square by square with intense raspberry sorbet. We were all stunned with the wonderful flavour and I couldn’t get enough. I adored this terrine.

Overall, we walked out of the restaurant extremely satisfied. The prices were reasonable for the exquisite food and I really loved the feel of the restaurant with its log cabin design, bright colours and dreamlike art.

I thoroughly recommend Shakey Tables to anyone visiting the Hunter Valley. You will be delighted.
Check out the photos here.

Shakey Tables on Urbanspoon



  1. I think they need a better name than "Shakey Tables" :)

  2. i know, the name makes you think something is going to go terribly wrong. maybe it's all about managing expectations?

  3. Oh. Yum. I love the Hunter and have always meant to go there. Hmm am heading up that way in January, we may have to take our lunch stop at ST.

  4. squab anna. pigeon is such a gauche way of describing ones meal.


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