TRAVELS WITH NINA

is the online portfolio and journal of Australian travel writer Nina Karnikowski.

ORANGE FOODIE WEEKEND: SMH TRAVELLER
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A word from the wise: if you’re planning on visiting the Orange region any time soon, you might want to do a few sit-ups before you arrive. Or perhaps a few laps around the block. Or maybe even run a marathon. Orange’s gourmet culture has been flourishing for the past decade and the town is home to several of the best regional restaurants in the state as well as 40 wineries, so you’ll want to be as hollow and hungry as possible when you arrive.

I begin my gastronomic whirl around Orange at perhaps their most well-renowned eatery, Lolli Redini – but not until I’ve downed a quick glass of Orange blanc de blancs at the buzzing Union Bank wine bar down the road, a popular hangout for winemakers and foodies that has a distinctly local flavour to its impressive wine list. At “Lolli’s”, as locals-in-the-know refer to it, chef Simonn Hawke’s sophisticated, Italian-influenced dishes match the elegant setting in an old Federation brick cottage with bright, modern interiors. The menu features local produce including Hereford Red Beef, Clyde River Moonlight Flat oysters and Millthorpe truffles, as well as their famous twice-baked cheese souffle that’s melt-in-the-mouth delicious.

The following morning I wake up still full from the previous night’s feasting. A brisk, preprandial walk in the crisp Orange morning air is in order, and after meandering under weeping willows and past perfectly manicured rose bushes in the divine Cook Park I’m ready to make my way to the funky new Byng Street Local Store for brekkie. After pawing through lovely hats and belts imported from South America I take an al fresco seat and munch on freshly baked sourdough smothered in bitey goat’s cheese, sweet local tomatoes and basil as I chat to friendly locals and watch the morning light sift through red-leafed liquidambars.

Mid-morning there’s just time for a quick change out of my walking gear and into jeans, boots and a jumper, before I head off on the 45-minute drive to the Millamolong Polo Carnival, on the polo fields in Mandurama where Banjo Paterson himself played polo. In the sun-soaked valley we lounge about on hay bales in a tin shed that’s been miraculously transformed into a seriously well-styled bar, sipping local winemaker Philip Shaw’s sparkling, watching some of Australia and New Zealand’s best polo players battle it out for the Volvo Cup and the De Russie Cup and, at one point, like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, “stomping the divots” at half-time.

The highlight of the sunshiney afternoon, however, is the food – delicate little baskets of quinoa and puy lentils with baby vegetables and quail eggs; cassolette of white beans, chicken chorizo, pork belly and salsa verde; and braised venison with truffled kipflers and gremolata, all created by Orange’s renowned Racine Restaurant.

Thankfully, the small bites are just a taste of things to come. For as the sun dips lazily behind the undulating hills and the polo revellers gear up for a night of bonfires, boogying and bubbles, I’m whisked off to Racine restaurant proper, set in the midst of La Colline Vineyard.

Here, star chef Shaun Arantz serves up local produce with a French accent. Think dishes like blue swimmer crab with corn consomme and salmon roe and a saddle of lamb with bagna cauda and spring vegetables, accompanied by local wines: the Brangayne Isolde 2010 Chardonnay and Cumulus Shiraz are standouts.

On Sunday morning I skip breakfast in exchange for the gastronomic delights that thus far have simply been a warm-up. Today I head to charming, historic Millthorpe, just a 20-minute drive away, for an indulgent long lunch celebrating the Orange region’s cool-climate wines at Tonic restaurant. In Australia, there’s no higher place to grow grapes than Orange – even its lowest vines sit above 600 metres and its highest reach over 1100 metres. We sit in the stylishly renovated late-1800s former department store with its high, pressed metal ceilings and large windows overlooking the heritage streetscape and gasp with delight over each of the five delectable courses placed in front of us.

It’s easy to see how Tonic nabbed itself a Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide hat for dishes such as the seared scallops with sweet corn veloute, the roasted beef fillet with mushroom duxelle and spinach cream, and a dessert of rhubarb tart with goat’s cheese ice-cream (admittedly not for everyone) and a side of stewed apples gathered by chef Tony Worland’s young son. We gobble away while sipping no fewer than eight wines from local vineyards including Angullong (whose charming bluestone 1800s cellar door sits just across the road) and Ross Hill.

By the time Monday morning rolls around I decide I’ve had elegant sufficiency in terms of food, but that I still have plenty of room left for wine. I head out to the enormous 508-hectare Cumulus Wines Estate, the region’s most important producer, at Molong near Orange. It’s one of the biggest wineries in the state and is surrounded by the rolling volcanic hills and lush farmland that gives the fruit in Orange its elegance.

Winemaker Debbie Lauritz takes me for a walk around the property and tells me firstly that wine production in the Orange region is relatively new, given that the industry is only now celebrating its 30th year of production, and secondly about what exactly makes high elevation wines so special.

“Compared to warm regions, we get half the volume of grapes from each vine, but twice the intensity of flavour,” she says, plucking a grape off one of the vines for me to taste.

The proof, however, becomes much more evident as I slurp my way through a flight of the vineyard’s Cumulus, Rolling and Climbing wines half an hour later on a hilltop overlooking the entire vineyard and the surrounding picturesque hill country. The wines are vibrant and elegant, and the region’s cool, crisp air is reflected in their minerality and cool acidity. It’s a shame that Cumulus, being 30 minutes out of town, has no cellar door, but Lauritz assures me I can find their wines almost anywhere.

My final stop is Printhie, a vineyard run by the Swift family and their experienced winemaker Drew Tuckwell since 2003. Overlooking their tranquil, flower-filled gardens, I sip crisp, aromatic, citrusy rieslings, a light, easy-drinking pinot noir, and what Tuckwell describes as the vineyard’s “top dog”, a Swift Family Heritage from 2006, made from their best vines each year. It’s silky smooth and the perfect end to my Orange weekend.

As I fly home over the undulating landscape of the high-altitude region with my belly still full, plenty of great tasting experiences in my memory and my bag crammed with the region’s latest cool-climate releases, I vow to return soon. But maybe not until after I’ve run that marathon.

The writer travelled to Orange courtesy of Taste Orange.

GETTING THERE

Brindabella Airlines flies from Sydney to Orange and back three times daily, Monday to Friday, with one flight on Sunday. brindabellaairlines.com.au.

STAYING THERE

For spacious, modern, boutique accommodation that’s generally recognised as the best in town and just one block’s walk from Union Bank and Lolli Redini, check out De Russie Suites, (02) 6360 0973, derussiehotels.com.au. Millthorpe B&B is a comfortable, contemporary home away from home that entices you to slow down and relax in charming, historic Millthorpe, (02) 6366 3967, millthorpebedandbreakfast.com.au.

EAT THERE

Orange FOOD Week will be held from October 17-27, orangefoodweek.com.au.

Union Bank, 84 Byng Street, (02) 6361 4441, unionbank.com.au. Lolli Redini, 48 Sale Street, (02) 6361 7748, lolliredini.com.au. Booking recommended.

Byng Street Local Store, 47 Byng Street, (02) 6369 0768, byngstreet.com.au.

For details on the Millamolong Polo season, call (02) 6361 4461 or visit millamolong.com.au.

Racine Restaurant, 42 Lake Canobolas Road, (02) 6365 3275, racinerestaurant.com.au.

Tonic, 30 Victoria Street, Millthorpe, (02) 6366 3811, tonicmillthorpe.com.au.

Printhie Wines, 489 Yuranigh Road, Molong, (02) 6366 8422, printhiewines.com.au.

NEED TO KNOW

The Orange Visitor Information Centre: 1800 069 466, visitorange.com.au; tasteorange.com.au.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO

1 BOTANIC GARDENS

The most impressive of Orange’s varied verdant spaces must be the Botanic Gardens, which comprise 17 hectares crammed full of native and exotic trees, a billabong, apple orchard, heritage rose garden and a highly entertaining “human involvement sundial”.

2 LAKE CANOBOLAS

At the base of the region’s famous Mount Canobolas (an ancient volcano that stands 1395 metres above sea level) and just a 10-minute drive out of town is this serene and peaceful tree-lined, trout-filled lake and reserve.

3 ORANGE REGIONAL ART GALLERY

With a fabulous permanent collection of Australian contemporary painting and sculpture from masters including Sidney Nolan and Ian Fairweather, this 27-year-old gallery also holds around 30 varied exhibitions a year.

4 BORENORE CAVES

Seventeen kilometres west of Orange on the way to Forbes lie more than 40 caves, including the Tunnel and Arch caves. Have a picnic lunch in the reserve first, bring sturdy shoes and a torch, and remember the caves are closed from May to October each year.

5 FEDERAL FALLS WALK, MOUNT CANOBOLAS

This ramble passes through snow gum forest, colonies of butterflies and rock faces on its way down to Federal Falls. A treat after rain.

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