It starts off simple enough: a friend and I are playing host to an old friend of ours from uni, and we’re keen to show off the best of our region to her. We’ve planned our Sunday around Fireside Festival events – our first stop will be Poachers Pantry for their ‘Music by the Fireside’ event – and I’m in charge of the booking. Easy done – or so I think.
There are options to either call or book online. I opt to call, not being hugely trusting of the online booking system. I think of Poachers Pantry as one of the most professional/commercial wineries in the region, and the three layers of “If you want X, press 1 now” begins to confirm this. By the time I’ve gone through three menu options, I’m reminded again that I can book online. Fine. I will.
Back to the Fireside Festival website I go. I click the ‘book online’ and am met with a range of times from which I can choose. (In fact, I still am.) This seems too good to be true. Are all these times still available? Surely not. But… I can’t do anything but try, right? I nominate for 1.30pm, and get an email from the Fireside Festival confirming this time. I can’t help but think both, “Great!” and “This is dubious.” This is dubious is right.
Four minutes later I get an email from Poachers Pantry (both polite and personal). Thanks for making a booking, but the only times available are 12pm and 2pm. Which would I prefer?
Here we go. I take the time to consult my friends before responding. But wait. Just six minutes later, I get yet another email – this one confirms me for 12pm. Hold on. I haven’t even replied yet? My phone buzzes, and I’ve also got a confirmation text for 12!
I reply to the email from Poachers which seems to be from a person flagging that I’ve just received confirmations for 12, but that it would likely be 2, and that I’d check. I’m pleased to get a quicky reply – apparently the 12 reservation “just means we can make sure a table that day remains available”. Okay… odd, but okay.
That afternoon, I confirm for the 2pm time, not the 12pm time. I don’t hear anything, and don’t hear anything all the next day, either. I follow up two days later in the morning – the Friday – and get a confirmation a few hours later. Finally! It’s sorted. Phew.
Of course, I speak too soon. It’s not sorted yet. At midday, I get a text which rather pushily states that my 2pm booking “must be confirmed”. Didn’t I just do that? I reply ‘confirm’ and hope that’s that.
That’s 400+ words on a booking process, but I’m just surprised that it has to be that hard. (For comparison’s sake, I book one other event online and get a simple confirmation, and book another over the phone with no trouble.) Anyway, onto the food!
It’s a simple trip to Poachers Pantry – down the Barton Highway, there’s a sign on the left hand side of the road pointing to the right hand side of the road, and then there are signs all the way in. The long road into Poachers Pantry has been recently re-gravelled, and there are plenty of car parks (among rows and rows).
For all our fuss, we still arrive just on 1.30pm! I’m not confident that Poachers is going to respond too well, but I’m pleasantly surprised.
The door to the Smokehouse Cafe is held open for us, and we’re asked if we have a booking. Yes, we reply, but we’re very, very early. Our host looks us up on the system and checks our table – it’s still occupied, but they’re clearly finishing up. We’re invited to head through into another area and try their wines while we wait for our table to become free – and there’s a promise that we’ll be told as soon as it is.
We start with the sparkling, and have just had a sip of the Sauvignon Blanc, when our host finds us and takes us to our table. The debacle of days past is almost forgiven.
Poachers Pantry does an excellent menu. Everything sounds simply divine, and it’s hard to choose. One discriminating feature is the price – entrees are all under $20, but mains average in the early $30s. We agree this seems a bit extreme for lunch, and opt instead for a range of share plates (and one entree which we ask to be a share plate). Our waiter hears us waxing lyrical about the desserts, and suggests we order with our main meal: the desserts have a tendency to run out. It seems like a ploy, but none of us needs convincing.
It’s not a long wait before the food appears, and all at the same time (nice).
The spinach and ricotta gnocchi ($17 entree) isn’t huge, but of course is filling. The gnocchi is silky and melting, and while there’s a lot of flavour on the plate, all of it is subtle. The sauce is slurpable.
The leek and Poachers ham croquettes are my favourite. There are four, which doesn’t divide well by three, but my friends very kindly let me have the final piece. Its sauce is divine and the croquettes are light and delicate, with a crunchy outside. Seriously good.
The pizette is like a little, small pizza with bresaola, caramelised onion, Meredith goats cheese and beetroot leaves. It’s essentially a pretty mess, difficult to pick up and transport to our individual plates, but the flavour marriage means we don’t mind. (And really, how can you ever go wrong with goats cheese?)
Our desserts, already ordered, come out in just the right amount of time – we’re full, but ready. Bring it on.
The dishes are huge. Theres’s a collective ‘wow’ as we each admire our own and the others’ dishes. I think my dish (Belgian chocolate pudding) is the most disappointing in terms of looks and taste.
There’s just not enough sauce to make the pudding unforgettable. The right side of my brain thinks the icing sugar all over the plate and napkin looks pretty, while the left side of my brain thinks it’s an unecessary mess which could have been better used on the pudding.
Of course, it doesn’t stop me practically licking the plate clean.
The white chocolate and sour cherry pudding is large and a work of art, and I’m reliably informed it was excellent. Looking at it, you wouldn’t expect anything less.
The baked rice pudding creme brulee has a hard crackly top, with the rice of the rice pudding buried in the bottom. Again, I’m told this is an excellent dish, and the Greek shortbread is buttery and melts in the mouth.
For all the booking issues, the ease with which the staff handle a large dining area (and bookings arriving half an hour earlier) impressed me, and the food was excellent and came out in good time. Its reputation isn’t so strong for nothing!
Date: Sunday, 4 August 2013
Cost: Entrees <$20 (just), share plates ~$20, desserts <$20 (just), glasses of wine ~$10
Worthwhile factor: The experience was highly worthwhile; however, its professionalism/commercialism also means it’s harder to forgive mistakes which at other wineries might be excused as idiosyncratic
Want more? T2 reviewed brunch at Poachers Pantry in April 2012. The Fireside Festival is on for the month of August, where our best wineries (and chocolate makers!) are putting on special events (maybe think twice before you book online). The Poachers Pantry website can be accessed here.
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