What: Bistro Molines at Tallavera Grove.
Where: 749 Mount View Road, Mount View, NSW 2325.
Prices: Entrees, $24 to $27 ; mains, $39 to $42 ; sides, $9 to $10 ; desserts, $17 ; cheese, $17.
Chef: Robert Molines.
Owners: Robert and Sally Molines.
Wines: A selection of French and Hunter Valley wines, showcasing Briar Ridge, Pepper Tree and Tallavera Grove wines.
Hours: Lunch Friday to Monday; dinner Friday and Saturday.
Vegetarian: Four entrees.
Bottom line: Entree, main, dessert for two without wine about $165.
You can take le français out of la France but you can never take la France out of le français. And this is never more evident than when Robert Molines prepares the dishes of his native Provence or shows off one of his passions – his herb and vegetable garden outside the restaurant kitchen door.
The enduring reputation of this SMH Good Food Guide one-hat restaurant, which nestles into the side of a hill and enjoys an enviable outlook over a sea of vines to the northern rim of the Hunter Valley, bears witness to this passion and that of Robert’s talented wife, Sally. Add some dedicated staff and you have a winning formula.
And what about the food? With a loyal following of locals and visitors from Newcastle, Sydney and beyond, the menu reflects a commitment to locally sourced, in-season produce but keeps the long-time favourites. Expect to find Robert’s duck liver pate or terrine de campagne, lamb brains, rabbit and venison; all that changes is the method of preparation or the accompaniments. Blanquette de veau in winter, fillet of veal wrapped in prosciutto in spring; rack of lamb in spring, lamb shank in winter.
Each table receives an amuse bouche. You can never predict; it depends on the whim of the kitchen. It may be a creamy stuffed egg half, or a crisp pastry star topped with fish mousse and salmon roe.
Even though the place is full, the efficient service guarantees the meal proceeds at a pace well suited to a pleasant Sunday afternoon. And there’s always the stunning view to distract.
It’s hard to go past the leek tart with its crisp pastry and creamy filling topped with a raft of tiny white asparagus spears and a vibrant green chervil hollandaise – a substantial dish that would make an excellent vegetarian main.
Where would a French menu be without St Jacques au gratin? This is Australia so they’re called scallops. Four plump specimens, each one in its half shell sitting on a bed of spinach, coated with a basil infused gratineed bechamel sauce. Very traditional, very delicious.
Venison and roasted beetroot is a marriage made in heaven, the rich, well rested-meat perfectly offset by earthy vegetables including broad beans, carrot and cannellini beans. I wish I had kept some of the delicious crusty ciabatta to soak up every last drop of the sticky blackcurrant jus.
The white bean and chorizo cassoulet brings Mediterranean pizazz to a perfectly trimmed rack of lamb. This is more restrained than it sounds; there should still be room for some dessert.
And what to choose. Not only are there 10 listed on the main menu; the blackboard has three more. But I have spotted the chocolate mousse millefeuille on another table.
A fine, crisp pastry sandwich is filled with two scoops of creamy, airy dark chocolate mousse and offset by caramelised orange slices topped with vanilla ice-cream – heaven on a plate.
Excellent coffee and petits fours confirm what we have always known. France is not as far away as you think. Formidable.
HEAVENLY: Bistro Molines has great views over the northern rim of the Hunter Valley. PICTURE: RYAN OSLAND