For some in Canberra, north is north, and south is south, and only sometimes do they meet! With a forecast of a mild early winter weekend, I decided it was time to head due north, crossing Lake Burley Griffin at Scrivener Dam and heading over to the Barton Highway. Not far past the ‘historic village’ of Hall, there is a well-marked right-hand turnoff into Nanima Road, Springrange. It looks as though you are heading into the real countryside: the 4 kilometres to the front drive has a country lane feel, passing country holdings, and small farms. Following the long driveway to the Wily Trout Winery and Poachers Pantry Smokehouse Café is picturesque. It is lined with mature trees, offering glimpses of an impressive and no doubt necessarily large dam, a whole lot of sheep, and beyond the seemingly endless Australian landscape.
Poachers Pantry Smokehouse Cafe/Restaurant used to be a simple 1920s weatherboard farm cottage. Lots of us know the whole enterprise simply as “Poachers”, but this small family-run business has grown from a producer of gourmet smoked meats to include a relaxed and well-managed eating establishment, the Wily Trout cellar door featuring their excellent range of cool climate wines, an impressively stocked farm shop, and a desirable wedding location. Last year it had an attractive makeover, and everyone seems to love the clean contemporary lines of the extension overlooking the deck, and beyond to the open fields. The original feel of the interior is retained in the Wily Trout tasting room and wooden floors throughout. The original fireplace I remember has also gone but has been replaced in another part of the restaurant with a big handsome, well-designed wood-burning fireplace with a perfectly designed protective grill that doesn’t detract from the beauty of the flames.
Despite the temperature barely making 10 degrees, the tables on the deck were sheltered from a slight breeze, were in full sun and soon started filling up. We decided to sit inside and I enjoyed the sun on my back during lunch. Prior to ordering, we were warmly invited to taste the new vintage of wines available in the adjacent Wily Trout tasting room, but as it was early in the day, we took a punt and settled for this year’s Sauvignon Blanc. It was good: not too dry, with mineral overtones and fresh aftertaste.
Wily Trout Winery is well-known for its Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc varieties planted on the impressive granite hills surrounding the restaurant, rising to 800 metres. Here are grown cool climate grapes that make delicate and complex white wines. I am not a great red drinker but observing how many were enjoying red with their lunch, I think the new vintage of reds needs investigating, via a tasting very soon.
We didn’t want a huge lunch, so our choice of entrees of grilled scallops with a non-sweetened white chocolate veloute, prosciutto, and creamy red pepper puree; and a smoked rainbow tasting plate were both attractively presented, light and the perfect choice to go with the new vintage 2017 Sauvignon Blanc.
For our mains, we shared a charcuterie platter. It was simple, unpretentious and tasty, perfectly accompanied by ‘bark’ (a sort of lavosh that I could snack on all day), and some freshly baked multi-grain bread. The Sicilian chicken had a delicious stuffing, the ham was moist and not too salty, served alongside freshly marinated mushrooms, peppers, and grilled eggplant The trio of dips was fresh-tasting and tangy and rounded off the platter very well.
I eyed off my neighbour’s quite succulent looking smoked duck breast and made a note for next time. I also regretted not being able to share a dessert, although we compromised with miniature macarons and good coffee.
It was getting busier by the minute as we finished our early lunch and I was especially impressed with the way the staff looked after the dining room. With a large room full of families and young children enjoying lunch, it was buzzing and there were lots of demands for attention: all were dealt with promptly and happily. We had a stroll in the garden admiring the raised veggie gardens and I was pleased to see lots of broad beans had been planted, no doubt destined for the spring menu. Scattered around the gardens beyond are interesting pieces of old farm equipment and lovely views over the surrounding countryside.
There is a good children’s menu and plenty of high chairs. I was amused watching a young mum and dad tuck into a plate of their child’s fish and chips and a glass of red while they checked out the menu: their excited toddler was far too distracted being in a busy dining room surrounded by other littlies to pay attention to her fast diminishing lunch. The menu also offers excellent vegetarian and gluten-free options, and the always popular selection of platters included a vegetarian platter.
Barely half an hour’s drive from Civic (despite roadworks!) and only ten minutes from most of Gungahlin, this family-owned business is a great part of Canberra’s booming regional tourism industry. Whether it is families meeting up, or locals showing around interstate or international visitors, this venue presents the very best of local produce and cool climate wines. I am sure many have been impressed with how inviting the Australian countryside can be, even on a winter’s day.
If you have ever been stuck with an out-of-town visitor and want to do something unique, Poacher’s Pantry offers versatile, customer friendly opening hours and regularly hosts special events such as the Truffle Dinner (this year on Friday 24 June) as part of the wider regional Truffle Festival.
All photos provided by Maryann Mussared.