3.5 out of 5
The food and wine at Chez Pok.
That thin and frayed blanket in the room.
Peppers Guesthouse, Hunter Valley
Slap bang in the middle of Pokolbin, the beating heart of the lower Hunter Valley, Peppers couldn't be better placed to take advantage of the area. Tucked away off the main Broke Road, it's secluded without being isolated.
Peppers is a sprawling boutique guesthouse that looks and feels like it's been there forever, thanks to the sandstone walls and traditional Australian roofline. The main house contains the reception, small bar, lounge and restaurant areas while covered walkways and paths radiate out to connect the rest of the two-storey property. "Vintage" and "vintage deluxe" rooms give out on to bushland and gardens where kangaroos roam.
Our Heritage suite is on the ground floor, with slatted windows that look out onto the covered walkways that link the main areas to the swimming pool and more far-flung rooms. It consists of two medium-sized rooms – bedroom and lounge - and a small en suite of toilet, sink and shower. It's adequate but the furniture and some of the furnishings need either replacing or some serious TLC. There is no excuse for the tattered, threadbare blanket with the raggedy edges that we find in the cupboard. And thanks to the outside walkways, we have to keep the window slats permanently closed or risk becoming a tourist attraction ourselves. The rooms facing away from the main building would be better, or go for something on the upper level.
Breakfast is served in the main dining room and is your basic bacon-and-egg/cereal buffet layout. It's in the evening, though, that this area shines as it transforms into Chez Pok restaurant where the food from chef Adam Turnbull is outstanding. From beautifully presented scallops with carrot, blood orange and watercress to mains of hickory-glazed pork and crisp-skinned salmon, the food is good quality, fresh, full of zing and humour. The wine list is a cracking selection of the best that the Hunter has to offer.
If you're around for more than one night you could do worse than nip out to Harrigan's Irish pub nearby. It's decent enough pub food but you might want to get there early as the old-fashioned ordering system means the queue sometimes stretches ludicrously far.
It's the Hunter Valley so you're surrounded by more cellar doors and vineyards than you can poke a stick at. Highlighting one would be playing favourites. Geographically, the nearest vineyards include Tintilla Estate and Moorebank Private while the Hunter Valley Gardens and the Pukara Estate olive oil tasting room are close by and worth a visit. One of our favourite destinations turned out to be the wonderfully named Smelly Cheese Shop in the Pokolbin Village shopping centre.
It's in a great location and the staff are fantastic but some serious attention – and a serious injection of cash – is needed if Peppers wants to avoid looking tired and tatty.
Doubles start from $189 a night in a vintage room and from $269 in a heritage suite. Peppers Guesthouse is at Ekerts Road, Pokolbin, New South Wales. Phone (02) 4993 8999, see peppers.com.au/guest-house.