WHAT'S IN A NAME? CHEZ POK MAKES A RETURN TO THE HUNTER VALLEY DINING SCENE AT PEPPERS GUEST HOUSE
The much loved and renowned Chez Pok restaurant at Peppers Guest House has made a return to the Hunter Valley with a renewed focus on community, a new Executive Chef and a new French inspired menu.
The popular restaurant, located within Peppers Guest House, was the first hotel restaurant to open in the Valley some 30 years ago. Lovingly groomed into a Hunter Valley institution, Chez Pok became both a popular meeting spot for winemakers to gather and locals to dine, and soon attracted other discerning palates from Sydney and interstate.
“We celebrated 25 years for Peppers Guest House in 2009 and since then the property has continued to refurbish and upgrade rooms and public areas, so it is with great pleasure that we can now revive the Chez Pok name and showcase the food and wine offerings that is so important to the Peppers experience,” said Bob East, CEO of Mantra Group, managing company of Peppers Guest House.
The Chez Pok name was chosen by the property’s first General Manager, Ken Hunt in conjunction with the restaurant’s first Chef, Frenchman Jean Marc Pollet, and roughly translated means ‘amongst the Pokolbin people’. True to its name, the restaurant fast became a popular choice with Pokolbin locals particularly during vintage season, when casual dining and wine tasting took place on the verandah after a long day amongst the vines.
Newly appointed GM for Peppers Guest House, Brian Rooney, notes: “There is still great affection for the Chez Pok name in the Valley – people haven’t forgotten the standard the restaurant set that so many have since embraced.”
“Chez Pok really helped put the region on the dining map for Sydney-siders as well, and my new Chef and I agreed it was time to revive the name that held so many great memories for guests of Peppers Guest House.”
“In keeping with the vision for the restaurant set by the original owners Mike and Suzi O’Connor, we want to create the sense of community achieved in the early days and bring French fusion style cuisine back to the menu.”
And so, after a brief interlude as ‘Restaurant Sanctuary’ under previous management, Chez Pok returns with a renewed focus under new Executive Chef, John Edwards and new Food & Beverage Manager Melinda Waters with new General Manager Brian Rooney at the helm of Peppers Guest House.
To celebrate its return, Chez Pok is offering all diners a complimentary glass of wine from its list of award winning Hunter Valley wines to enjoy with every two course meal. Restaurant bookings can be made on 02 4993 8999.
For those looking for a complete getaway, the Gourmet Food Trail package from $399 per night in a Vintage Room offers breakfast daily for two people, three course dinner for two at Chez Pok plus a local food hamper to enjoy on a picnic at your own leisure. Valid until 31 March 2013, Sunday to Friday, subject to availability. Visit www.peppers.com.au/guest-house for bookings and further details.
The name might be an established and distinguished one, but everything else about Chez Pok is new again:
About the Menu
The original concept for Chez Pok was to create a menu that encouraged guests to linger longer, so at a time when degustation menus were a rarity, Chez Pok forged the way with an array of French flavours. Grazing is still very much part of the new Chez Pok philosophy, but Chef Edwards has simplified the menu with both main dishes and a share plate concept that can be enjoyed as both a light meal or a decadent dining experience.
“The new menu has a focus on using as much local produce as possible whilst reintroducing French flavours,” says Executive Chef John Edwards
“It is a more streamlined menu in terms of its complexity than previous offerings but one with lots of variety, which is why we are offering both main dishes and the share plate option so that guests can avoid getting ‘food envy’ when they order!”
Entrees such as Carpaccio of air dried venison, goats cheese soufflé, beetroot jelly with sweet and sour cashew nuts, complement main dishes such as Braised Angus beef cheeks, truffled potato puree, heirloom carrots in morel mushroom sauce or shared plates such as Crisp roast pork belly with red cabbage, apple and fennel slaw in grain mustard sauce.
The menu was inspired by Chef Edwards’ experience in French and Spanish restaurants, combining his French culinary skills with his exposure to Spanish tapas concepts.
“I was able to draw on these influences to design what I feel is heart warming food that can be enjoyed anytime of the day.”
Chef Edwards commenced his career in the New Zealand capital, Wellington, where he had his first exposure to French cuisine working under Chef William Neil (an exponent of Michelin star chef Nico ladenis) in a 70 seat French restaurant named Paris. He then moved to Minnow where his experience with share plates and cocktail style food was honed before moving on to Wellington’s number one fine dining restaurant, Logan Brown, under Chef Alistair Brown – it was here Chef Edwards says he learned to ‘turn my trade into a craft’.
He left Logan Brown to pursue a career in Australia where his experience in hotel restaurants began, including Tamarind at Sofitel Cairns and at the Radisson in Adelaide. He then spent five years working in Adelaide’s Urban restaurant before taking up an opportunity in Malaysia at Casa del Rio Melaka Spanish restaurant where his experience with tapas menus was gained.
He returned to Australia in the Hunter Valley in 2012 where he took up the position of Executive Chef at Peppers Guest House charged with reinvigorating Chez Pok and the properties overall food and wine experience.
“My food concept is that no detail or element is more important than another, with an emphasis on fresh local produce wherever possible.
Newly appointed Food & Beverage Manager, Melinda Waters said that signature touches had also been introduced to the menu to highlight the French influence.
“There are three dishes designed for sharing that will be presented on handmade hardwood boards, complete with Lagiole French steak knives for the diners. These dishes will be almost like a ritual to serve and should promote a loyal following,” said Ms Waters.
About the wine list
Peppers Guest House’s newly appointed Food & Beverage Manager Melinda Waters has developed a new wine list to complement the new menu.
The extensive wine list will be constantly updated with an emphasis on boutique Hunter Valley producers with some iconic Australian wines and an International selection with an emphasis on French wines to match the dishes on the menu.
“We aim to have the best Semillon list in the Hunter with many back vintages from key producers such as Tyrrell’s, Mt Pleasant and Brokenwood.”
“We will also have a very impressive Shiraz list to compliment the various meat dishes available on the menu, with a number of rare back vintage iconic Hunter Classics like Brokenwood Graveyard, Meerea Park Alexander Munro and Tyrrell’s Vat 9.”
Wines by the glass will feature both Hunter and French wines with 4 sparkling, 6 white, 6 red and 3 dessert wines offered.
Melinda Waters honed her skills while working at the renowned Pier Restaurant in Sydney under restaurateur Greg Doyle. In her three years of training as a Sommelier the restaurant went from two to three hat status as well as Gourmet Traveller Restaurant of the year.
Ms Waters moved to the six star Qualia Resort on Hamilton Island as Sommelier before relocating to the Hunter Valley in 2009 as Tower Estate’s Maitre’d of Restaurant Nine ultra fine dining venue, before taking on Robert’s Restaurant and the Food and Beverage department for the Tower Estate group. She commenced with Peppers Guest House late 2012 as Food and Beverage Manager keen to revive the Chez Pok restaurant to its former glory.
About the new look
Chez Pok will make the most of the lush green surrounds and extensive al fresco dining facilities by creating an indoor/outdoor theme that, according to GM Brian Rooney, will ‘give the illusion of bringing the gardens indoors’. With that, touches of green and white throughout plus hanging plants and greenery will be complemented by natural warm colours to provide a fresh and modern look.
Future developments planned for the restaurant’s look will include a French provincial theme with rustic distressed paint effects to furnishings.
“We are bringing back Chez Pok’s warm and inviting atmosphere and using all our natural sunlight and picturesque gardens to showcase our ideal and unique location,” says Mr Rooney.
Vision for the future
Chef John Edwards has great ambitions for Chez Pok and he and his team are focused on set goals for the revamped restaurant.
“We will focus on bringing back classic French cooking fundamentals into the restaurant and creating an ‘honesty’ and ‘elegance’ to the cuisine we serve.”
“Our suppliers in this region are outstanding and we really want to forge good relationships with all the producers and winemakers as they will very much be part of the journey in this new direction for Chez Pok.”
“Awards aren’t everything but they help you to focus – so I’d like to see our first Chef’s Hat in two years time.”
A bold statement perhaps, but no more bold than a vision to open a French restaurant in the Hunter Valley nearly 30 years ago.
Welcome back Chez Pok!