THE GLOBAL GOURMET
Rob Ingram follows the tempting trail of country pubs around Mudgee
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.theglobehotel.com.au www.lawsonparkhotel.com www.orientalhotel.com.au www.mudgeebrewing.com.au www.princeofwalesgulgong.com.au www.visitmudgeeregion.com.au
Work in progress: The historic Globe Hotel at Rylstone