We first met Heather Moore in her managerial role at Bacchus Restaurant in early 2012. Heather is one of those hospitality folk who just ‘get it’. She’s a welcoming host who ensures her guests are well looked after. When I heard Heather was opening her own restaurant with Chef Jamie Ryan I couldn’t wait to check it out.
Our good friends, Novocastrians Steve & Sally had dined at County Dining not long after it opened and confirmed what I had suspected, I needed to pay County Dining a visit. Unfortunately when Dylan headed to Newcastle to attend a beer festival the three of them decided to lunch at County Dining. I missed out again. I finally rectified the situation after a weekend in the Hunter Valley with the New Yorkers. Dylan and I popped on over to Morpeth (a 40 minute drive from Pokolbin / 2 hour drive from Sydney) for a long overdue catch up with Steve & Sally.
County Dining is located in the historic Arnotts Bakehouse building. Morpeth Sourdough occupies the ground floor along with County’s kitchen, while the dining room is located upstairs and half a dozen tables are situated on the balcony overlooking the main street of Morpeth. It’s a fantastic spot for a long lunch.
roasted olives ($6.00).
When you’re all set for a long lunch and the first section of the menu reads ‘grazing’ there was no guessing what we’d order – one of everything. Juicy, fat and flavourful these little olive nuggets kicked things off with an oomph.
bone marrow on toast ($12.00 for 3).
The starter I was the least excited about was the bone marrow. I’ve had mixed experiences – at times I’ve adored it but at times I’ve also been greatly disappointed. Of course the starter I was the least excited about was the one that stole the show. Holy moly this is exactly how bone marrow should be served if you ask me. Less jelly-like in texture than most bone marrow I’ve tasted; here it was chopped up and served closer to a spread consistency. Suddenly I realised that one piece of toast smothered with heavenly bone marrow wasn’t enough. Next time I might just order this all to myself.
pumpkin thyme arancini ($14.00 for 4).
The third grazing dish was a finger food classic, arancini balls. Four gorgeous, golden arancini nestled in an egg carton offcut. I loved the presentation and fortunately the flavours followed suit. Suitably crisp the arancini didn’t disappoint with a flavoursome pumpkin and thyme filling.
lamb neck croquettes ($15.00 for 4).
Another deep fried piece of goodness was the lamb neck croquette, also served in a mini egg carton. Just like the arancini before them the croquette had a crisp, golden crumb and a flavourful filling. I was rather pleased with the texture of the lamb which wasn’t minced as you might expect. A delicious savoury croquette that rounded out the starters nicely. Absolutely stunning.
mushroom bolognaise, white polenta, parmesan, balsamic ($22.00).
Now because we’d eaten a three course lunch at Muse Kitchen the day before, followed by a four course cook-up for dinner, and even then still polished off a huge fry-up for breakfast (can you sense the theme to this weekend away?), I wisely selected a ‘small plate’ for my main.
I’m not usually one to choose vegetarian mains but the mushroom bolognaise grabbed my attention. A medley of mushrooms with flavour in spades the ‘bolognaise’ kicked goals. A bed of delicately flavoured white polenta brought a nice texture to the dish and was just the right platform for the hearty mushroom. A little parmesan and balsamic to finish was all that was needed.
pickled pork belly, croquette, root vegetables, cider buerre blanc ($34.00).
The boys were keen for pork belly but the word ‘pickled’ meant I was steering clear. Unfortunately Dylan was not in luck with his pork belly as the majority of the slab was fat. I was disappointed for him that there was so little meat. The pork itself was only mildly pickled but the root vegetables were full on – some of the most intense pickles Dylan’s had. He only wishes there was more meat to offset the pickles.
polenta chips, tomato relish, parmesan (Complimentary).
Both white and yellow polenta made an appearance in my meal. Gigantic polenta chips were kindly sent out from the kitchen to accompany our mains. What I love about polenta chips is their crisp and crunchy outer and tender innards. Finished with a good grating of parmesan cheese and accompanied by a rather lovely house made tomato relish. Delightful.
pommes puree, truffle oil, pangrattato (Complimentary).
Everyone loves mashed potato and the addition of truffle oil and pangrattato can only make things better. The mash felt a little overworked for our liking and the truffle oil a little on the light side leaving the potato outshone by the polenta chips.
leaves from our garden, salad cream (Complimentary).
Another complimentary side was a lovely little side salad made with leaves from County Dining’s garden. Purple kale made this salad stand out. Not your run-of-the-mill side salad leaf the kale brought great bite and of course a brilliant splash of colour.
apple tarte tatin, butterscotch sauce, crème fraîche sorbet ($15.00).
Shortly into my main I was thinking there was no possible way I would be eating dessert. Ha! I don’t even know myself. After a short interval and calling up of my dessert stomach I was ready to go. I instantly decided I wanted the tarte tatin but spent a few moments weighing up my options… if I’d had the room I would have liked to have ordered one of everything.
As the desserts reached the table I was struck with the incredible aromas of baked apples, caramel and cinnamon. I was on to a good thing. Apple tarte tatin is a classic that warms my heart. This rendition was spot on with the balance between the buttery base and caramelised apples perfect. A scoop of zingy crème fraîche sorbet was a nice lighter alternative to a creamy vanilla ice cream. I’d definitely order this again.
coconut panna cotta, pineapple shards, citrus curd ($15.00).
The panna cotta sounded like it would be right up Dylan’s alley – coconut, panna cotta, pineapple and citrus. It was however a little different to what we had both expected. Visually quite stunning the panna cotta in the centre of the plate was actually composed of two layers – a creamy coconut layer at the base and a lighter layer on top. The wafer thin pineapple shards, citrus curd and diced pineapple added a nice level of sweet tartness. It was the chocolate soil that seemed out of place to me. What I envisioned being quite a tropical dessert had this extra layer that quite simply could have been stripped away.
Sitting on the balcony, watching the world go by is a fantastic way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon. County Dining is a great spot for lunch. Every single grazing plate blew me away, my mushroom dish was stellar and my apple tarte tatin was simply the icing on the cake. Dylan didn’t fare as well with his main or dessert but his previous experience with Steve & Sally was as great as my first experience and we will definitely be returning.
148 Swan Street
Morpeth NSW 2321
(02) 4934 4343
County Dining Website