Any road-trip to the Hunter Valley would be incomplete without sampling some of the fine cuisine available there, and EXP. promised us just that. Walking through the large open garden at the front, we initially sat down being quite unsure what to expect. Two hours later, we left thoroughly impressed and pleasantly surprised.
The menu is arranged by categories (‘Earth’, ‘Sea’, ‘Land & Sky’ etc.) and all dishes are around an entrée size. This left us with carte blanche to order, and we decided to take four courses to have a wide sample of what was truly available.
Right after taking our seats, we were surprised with a rather breathtaking task. A bowl of herbs that had been cooled with liquid nitrogen was placed on our table and we had to crush them ourselves with a pestle. Butter was then added and we mixed it to create our own herb butter, which was quite fabulous. This set the tone for what was to be a continually surprising and unique lunch experience.
For our opening course, we had the house-made haloumi, with carrot, olive, tarragon and cider. The cheese was contrasted fabulously with the sauce which left an intriguing, yet satisfying taste on the tongue. This was followed up by two dishes from the ‘Sea’ component – the pan fried scallops, and the petuna ocean trout. The scallops were fantastic in their entirety, and was served with distinct fruity sides that worked together nicely. Unfortunately I did not find the trout to be of the same calibre however others on the table appreciated it – for those who enjoy sashimi, it will be a satisfying experience. Even for me however, the potato gnocchi that it was served with was a thoroughly delicious and full flavour, and more than adequate to make up.
Moving through the categories, we decided to indulge with all three of the ‘Land & Sky’ options. The Byron Bay Pork and the Little Hill Farm Chicken were both solid selections, however the Milly Hill Lamb Rump was simply fantastic. The beetroot and goats cheese that it was paired with blended together in an unexpectedly delightful way and no sooner had I finished the first bite that I realised I was craving the second.
Thoroughly impressed with our experience so far, we were excited for dessert. The lime sponge cake was somewhat standard however the caramelised white chocolate fondant was simply something else. A must order – we were left desiring so, so much more long after every crumb on the plate had been devoured. An admittedly rich taste, it has something for everyone, whether you enjoy chocolate or not.
The plating was a touch of mastery and comfortably rivalled some of the finer dining establishments we have had the privilege of going to.
The restaurant’s interior is small and homely, and the staff are welcoming. There are options to sit at a traditional table, or next to the kitchen to watch the cooking. The true stand-out however comes from the service – the chef himself delivered each course and explained what each was; a nice touch to top off the quality of the food.
Their website promises an EXP.erience. Four courses later, we were not let down. A true standout and a glistening gem amongst the beauty that is the Hunter.