When I ask our server where Colly Creek Angus beef comes from, directions to the farm roll from her lips: “Drive up Werris Creek Road, then turn right onto Colly Creek Road.” It’s the best indication of local provenance I’ve ever had in a restaurant; and demonstrates the strong connection between this regional restaurant and the meat they choose to serve. It obviously helps that Graze Restaurant (along with the boutique pub and accommodation venue that it’s located within, Willow Tree Inn), is owned by the same people – Charles and Cheryl Hanna – as the 6,000-acre Black Angus cattle property that supplies them.
For a tiny town, with a population of just 308 people, Graze Restaurant punches way above its weight. The dining room is formal without being intimidating.
Rusted metal chandeliers give both the curtained private dining room, and a long communal table by the kitchen a rather stately yet rural appearance.
A long brown leather padded banquette separates the dining room from the entrance walkway, where you’ll see historic photography of the area and property, and a viewing window into their hectically stocked dry ageing room.
NSW wine is well-represented on the wine list, which – at least, to a city slicker – seems very reasonably priced. Entry level wines can be yours for fewer than fifty bucks a bottle, with the bulk of the list sitting below the sixty-dollar mark. Even the cellar selection stays mostly under a hundred bucks. We’re quite pleased with our 2017 John Duval Plexus Marsanne Roussanne Viognier ($55/bottle) from the Barossa Valley. It’s textural and smoky, with enough oomph to carry it through a meal where we (if we didn’t have a seventy-kilometre drive back to our Tamworth hotel) should probably have been drinking red.
After being surprised with a capsicum, tomato and eggplant soup amuse bouche and bread, we get stuck into the house-made Charcuterie ($32.90). It showcases cold ways to enjoy Colly Creek beef - roasted, corned and air-dried – all made in-house, but beaten by the thick slices of super-smoky, finely grained beef sausage. Actually, we were sold on this platter via our server’s enthusiasm for its promised chicken terrine, only to find it was switched out with wonderfully tangy house-made labne. We were given such a sweet, heartfelt apology for recommending an item that proved unavailable, it was impossible to feel disappointed.
For the main event, we opt to share the Rib Eye on the Bone ($66.90/800 grams). Head Chef Sonia Marshman does a lovely job with our rib-eye. My first bite takes me through the crunchy well-seasoned charry exterior before sinking into the meltingly soft red interior.
It’s well rested because the medium-rare interior doesn’t bleed into my ridiculously good Creamy Mushroom Sauce ($2.50) or turn my baked spud pink. We each get our own spud, a nice touch for two people who have opted to share one main.
Marshman’s Café de Paris Butter ($2.50) is balanced and complex, though served in such a generous amount, it’d be plenty big enough for a table of four.
Ditto the enamel tin of Creamed Spinach ($9.90) that's simple and rustic with farmhouse appeal.
I’m less enamoured with the Iceberg Wedge Salad ($12.90) because it’s dominated by the intensity of Graze’s house-made bacon batons, and by this point in our meat-heavy meal, I was craving some juicy wet radish, crisp lettuce and tangy blue cheese relief. Thankfully the lightly blanched cherry tomatoes throw some acid at my stomach full of meat.
Full to bursting, it's very easy to see why our waitress tells me people come from everywhere - Sydney, Armidale and Gunnedah - just to eat here. She goes on to explain that Sydney's Merivale restaurants also use Colly Creek beef. As a parting gift she tells me I can pick up my own beef at The Plains Pantry directly across the road, which is on the road back to Sydney. Next time I will stay here overnight...
Willow Tree Inn, New England Highway, Willow Tree
Ph: (02) 6747 7711