Rob In­gram fol­lows the tempt­ing trail of coun­try pubs around Mudgee

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

VE been fully trained in how to pick a good English coun­try pub. You ask the pub­li­can if the colonel has been in yet . . . and you get a sen­si­ble an­swer. It wouldn’t work here. Maybe Curly, maybe Shorty, maybe Gazza, Bazza or Dazza . . . but not the colonel. In coun­try NSW you find out who’s not been in by not ask­ing. Stroll into the bar, spot the pedestal ta­ble and one chair in the cor­ner, and sit down. Sud­denly you can hear a pin drop, then a cho­rus of dis­ap­proval. That’s Buck’s cor­ner, mate.’’ Shak­ing heads. Geez.’’ Wot the . . .’’ Fair go.’’

I’m in the cen­tral tablelands check­ing out one of the 20 least-known things about the fa­mous wine re­gion of Mudgee: its tempt­ing trail of beers, bars and coun­try pubs. The Mudgee re­gion’s coun­try pub cir­cuit is a de­li­cious bite into the ro­bust ris­sole of Aussie class, gen­der and mono-cul­tur­al­ism time warp. It’s a sanc­tu­ary from po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, week­end de­ten­tion for the pre­ten­tious and should be a pre­scribed qual­i­fi­ca­tion for cit­i­zen­ship. It’s a place where you can be­come in­volved in a lively de­bate on the cor­rect spark plug gap for the en­tire range of McCul­loch chain­saws, where the toi­let is la­belled Used Beer Depart­ment and where the lucky punter who lines up four golden scarabs on the King of the Nile poker ma­chine an­nounces he’s got four dung bee­tles. In short, it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence to be trea­sured.

The thirsty work of gold­min­ing has made this place a par­adise for pub crawl­ing. Hill End, which has a pop­u­la­tion of about 80, had 27 ho­tels at the height of the min­ing boom in the 1870s. To­day, just one ho­tel re­mains, and one gold­mine for that mat­ter. The Royal was built in 1872, but not ev­ery­thing about it is new. Owner Matt Rat­tray is 21 and bought into the Royal a few days be­fore he turned 19. Per­ma­nent fix­ture Max­ine An­der­son was be­hind the bar at the Royal 10 years be­fore Matt was born, and still is. She has out­lasted about 10 pub­li­cans.

The walls of the Royal are as colour­ful as the regulars, a bizarre pas­tiche of Beau­foy Mer­lin pho­to­graphs from the fa­mous Holter­mann Col­lec­tion, signs of the Work is for peo­ple who don’t know how to fish’’ phi­los­o­phy, and ban­knotes from across the world. You might think we’re pretty close to the end of the earth up here,’’ says li­censee Ed­die Long, but when the euro ban­knotes were first re­leased it took only five days for one to turn up on our wall.’’ There’s a pop­u­lar open fire, a pool room, five beers on tap and a house spe­cial cock­tail called Bub­blegum, which is re­puted to in­volve a col­li­sion of blue cu­ra­cao and vodka.

Hill End still has a fron­tier feel about it and much of the land­scape is just as it was in the early pho­to­graphs. This is the ul­ti­mate change of pace for ur­ban dwellers, and the Royal of­fers sim­ple but fresh rooms with front or court­yard bal­conies that will trans­port you right into the con­sid­er­able char­ac­ter of the place. There is a great pe­riod din­ing room and a court­yard bistro where the mixed grill reigns supreme.

The Globe Ho­tel at Ryl­stone is unique among coun­try pubs in that it spells cap­puc­cino cor­rectly. It also takes its food and en­ter­tain­ment se­ri­ously. The Globe has pretty much al­ways been a work in progress, be­ing built in three stages be­tween 1855 and the start of the 20th cen­tury. About five years ago, a bistro was added and this serves Ryl­stone well for ev­ery­thing from a ca­sual lunch to a spe­cial oc­ca­sion. We’re talk­ing roasted veal back­strap with madeira sauce and sea­sonal veg­eta­bles here, not just your pie, gravy and chips. Live en­ter­tain­ment ranges through blues, jazz and pub rock to the rib­ald repar­tee be­tween the regulars, bar man­ager Re­nee Gar­diner and celebrity cel­lar­man Marty Blunt. The 14 gue­strooms at the Globe pro­vide un­pre­ten­tious coun­try pub ac­com­mo­da­tion with the no­table bonus of great mat­tresses.

In Mudgee, loy­alty is pretty much di­vided be­tween the pub Des Kennedy is at (the Ori­en­tal) and the one he used to be at (the Law­son Park). The Law­son Park is the high­est pro­file of Mudgee’s ho­tels. Dat­ing back to 1860, it was orig­i­nally named Tat­ter­salls Ho­tel and still re­tains much of its her­itage charm. The pub en­joys a com­mand­ing po­si­tion over­look­ing, yep, Law­son Park, and be­came a Mudgee land­mark dur­ing the 12 years that Kennedy ran it.

Hops to it: There’s lo­cal beer on tap and ex­cel­lent food at Mudgee Brew­ing Com­pany’s bou­tique brew­ery and brasserie in Church Street

Much of its pop­u­lar­ity is as­so­ci­ated with the high pro­file of its Red Heifer Grill & Carvery. Its rep­u­ta­tion has been built on cer­ti­fied An­gus steaks, which pa­trons cook on open grills, and a re­cent fave rave is deep-dish pies, ei­ther beef and Guin­ness or lamb, tomato and rose­mary. And there’s al­ways a Sun­day roast.

The main bar is dec­o­rated with so many sport­ing pho­tos, prints and posters you can al­most smell the lin­i­ment, and a wide range of on-tap op­tions ex­tends to Red Heifer Lager, Mudgee Pale Ale from the brew­ery across the road, and Bul­mer’s Cider.

Around at the Ori­en­tal, Kennedy has cre­ated the highly civilised at­mos­phere of an English coun­try pub in his 1876 tav­ern, the only Mudgee ho­tel to have traded con­tin­u­ously un­der its orig­i­nal name. It’s cosy and clubby and Kennedy is the con­sum­mate host, dis­pens­ing warm greet­ings, cold beers and luke­warm turf tips. The main draw­card is Dave Daniels’ food; he serves more than 2000 meals a week in the cel­e­brated Ori bistro din­ing room and ter­race that hum with the in­fec­tious con­tent­ment of first-rate pub grub.

Up­stairs are seven freshly ren­o­vated gue­strooms with ve­randa ac­cess and the Ori­en­tal also op­er­ates a neat self-con­tained cot­tage next door.

Those who be­lieve fer­men­ta­tion was a greater dis­cov­ery than fire will find a bonus at­trac­tion in Gary Leonard’s Mudgee Brew­ing Com­pany bou­tique brew­ery and brasserie in Church Street. The five Mudgee beers — pale ale, wheat beer, spring beer, porter and Bel­gium bock — are free of preser­va­tives and ad­di­tives and con­tain only malted grain, wa­ter, hops and yeast. The beers may be tasted and pur­chased at the brew­ery and are also served — along with a savvy se­lec­tion of lo­cal wines — in the ex­cel­lent restau­rant op­er­ated by Stephen Price. Price in­cludes a great Mudgee porter beef pie on his menus as well as dishes cho­sen to show­case the di­verse beer styles.

Dur­ing the 1870s gold rush, Gul­gong, just 20 min­utes The Royal Ho­tel, Tam­ba­roora Road, Hill End. (02) 6337 8261. www.the­globe­ho­­son­parkho­ www.ori­en­talho­ www.mudgee­brew­ www.prince­ofwales­gul­ www.vis­it­mudgeere­

Work in progress: The his­toric Globe Ho­tel at Ryl­stone

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