Flying away to Mudgee: dumplings, wines and a hangar house.
Mr T and I were looking for a flying destination for a few days, not too far from home, preferably in the countryside as we’ve travelled along the coast a fair bit already. We drew a circle around Sydney encompassing towns no further than 300km radius and threw a dart ( actually it was a push pin but you get the idea ) and Mudgee was the closest choice.
Now, when you mention Mudgee to people, you can expect two reactions. “ What’s there? “ by the people who have not been. “ That’s a great place you’ll have a wonderful time “ by the ones who have been. A little research revealed that the region hosts an annual Wine and Food festival in September, and with long standing family wineries, fertile farmland growing local produce available at cafes and restaurants, I couldn’t resist the lure of “swirling and sipping” our way across cellar doors, long lunches and pottering around heritage towns.
Located 268km northwest of Sydney, Mudgee is a 3.5 hours drive or a 45 minutes flight from Bankstown. The plan was to land before noon as I wanted to make most of the day having lunch and driving around the country side. So we dropped Anne off to school, picked up the plane, flew over the Blue Mountains and just like clockwork, arrived at Mudgee regional airport where our rental car awaited.
Our accomodation chosen by Mr T is called the Hangar House and is conveniently located at the end of the airport tarmac, so it is just a matter of taxiing to the hangar and park the plane. Except that this is no ordinary hangar. While from the outside it looks like our plane would not fit, the opened roller doors reveal this pristine and massive space with special cutouts designed to accomodate the high tail and wingspan. There is nothing utilitarian about this hangar, which forms part of the house and when not occupied by planes or cars, is used to host various gatherings and parties, furnished with soft lounges, table tennis, bar stools, book laden shelves and equiped with a film projector, designer chandeliers and ( wait for this! ) its own disco ball !!! And this is only the hangar, the rest of the house will have to wait as we have a lunch reservation at 1pm in Rylstone, a village 60 km away.
A yum cha and tea house is not what you would usually expect to find in a heritage town, but 29 Nine 99 is exactly that, housed in the heritage listed Bridge View Inn. Owned by artist Na Lan who grew up in China, this quaint eatery has become a local institution famous for serving homemade yum cha dumplings in the most unusual country setting. As we walk thru the front door we are greeted by a colourful display of stylish knick knacks which Na Lan brings back from China each year. These are available for sale but I barely have time to stop and look because Mr T is gently nudging me forward past the tiny kitchen, the outdoor patio and to our outside table next to the community garden. It is a lovely spot, overlooking the sandstone building under the shade of red Chinese umbrellas, and conveniently located far away from the shop area…
Service is swift and friendly, the menu features a comprehensive list of dumplings and soups, but we are told that on weekdays they offer a 8, 10 or 12 dumplings menu options which include a surprise selection of the steamed and mixed dumplings of the day and a limitless pot of chinese tea. We opt for the 10 dumplings ( each ) menu, our waitress enquires about any food allergies and tea preference, then returns a few minutes later with a pot of Jasmine Downy Pearls tea for me and a beer for Mr T. While we wait for our food, I watch a few people come and go and a couple of families join us outside. The place isn’t overly busy, but we are told that’s the way they like it because weekends are crazy busy with customers coming from far and wide.
I overhear one lady commenting how lovely the drive from Sydney was but worrying about the drive home after lunch, whereas the other table sounds full of locals who are raving about how good the dumplings are here and really you should order 12 ( maybe we will ask for extra? ).
It is not long before our first plate of 8 comes ( 4 dumplings each ): there are pork and prawn, chicken, beef and water chestnut and prawn and spinach. 4 sauces are offered for accompaniment: a sweet pickled vegetable, sweet chili, a soy and ginger, and a hot chili with crushed peanuts sauce. The latter has a nice kick to it, and I actually like to mix it with the soy sauce for extra flavour.
The second plate comes with more steamed goodies including mushroom and crab, scallops, garlic chives and prawns, as well as beef meatballs. It is all delicious and we ask the waitress to hold off the last 2 choices as we are getting a bit full ( or maybe we ate too quick, since our last meal was breakfast at 7am !)
In the meantime we hear the family at the next table ask for extra dumplings to have with their next bottle of wine, somehow I don’t think they will drive very far after this lunch! Our last plate comes with steamed vegetables dumplings and bbq duck in rice flour dumpling, probably my favourite.
But wait, there is more! We had forgotten that besides dumplings the menu comes with a choice of bun for dessert, Mr T asked for the custard bun and I chose the black sticky rice with coconut. While he found his a little dry and doughy, I loved the crunchy texture of mine especially after so many steamed dumplings. Not that I will ever complain about too many dumplings, I don’t believe there is such a thing.
I am the designated driver for the rest of the afternoon, which is shaping up to be very quiet. Touring Rylstone’s main street doesn’t take very long and as we show up at the local winery and the local aerodrome, we start to wonder where the 650 residents are. Neither places are open this Tuesday, indeed one’s sign shows the cellar door closes Tuesday and Wednesday, the other opens by appointment only.
So we slowly make our way back to Mudgee, the road is winding thru surprisingly green hills and pastures, where hundreds of lamb and cows seem to thrive.
We take our chances along the way at Moothi Estate, who happens to be one of the few cellar doors open everyday.
Locally owned and run, this family winery is famous for its location high up on the hills and its gorgeous view over the entire Mudgee valley. With only 30 minutes to spare before closing time we are too late to enjoy the famed platters they offer on their sun drenched deck but we still manage to taste some of their estate grown wines and chat with Jason, the cellar door and sales manager, who is inviting us to come back on the forthcoming long weekend, for a night of “sunset sippings” on this very deck with wine, canapes and live entertainement. I wish we could! We stock up on a few bottles of Riesling and Shiraz, a tub of safran spiced nuts ( which it turns out comes from Rylstone ) and reluctantly leave, but not before being told by Jason where to find the local cheese maker and hurry up before he closes.
As luck will have it ( or not ), we are too late for the cheese maker ( 4pm seems to be the go home time today) and when I ask Mr T to choose between an early dinner at one of the local pubs ( the only options available this Tuesday night ) or sunset drinks and nibbles at the Hangar House, the response comes fast. Hangar House. So we stop by the local supermarket for provisions. My search for local produce proves unsuccessful, however we find plenty of good cheeses, pates and bread to make up a platter. I have better luck at the adjoining bottle shop, which stocks a good selection of local wines and pick up a bottle of Bunnamagoo Sparkling wine, as recommended to us by our host, Alexey.
Back to the house, Alexey shows us around the property which was originally built for himself and his partner as their own. Both aviation lovers and with a flying background, they intended to turn it into a flying school, with onsite accomodation. Life however had other plans for them, the flying school never happened, the building instead turned into a luxury guest house with 6 bedrooms and suites, each self contained and overlooking the tarmac and the surrounding vineyards.
Common areas on the ground floor include the large designer kitchen, a dining table sitting up to 12 people and 3 separate lounge areas where you can enjoy either a cosy conversation by the fireplace, an informal gathering watching the big screen TV or a quiet time in a sunlit corner.
The whole house is exquisitely furnished with bespoke pieces no doubt collected thru many years of travels as well as aviation related memorabilia. In fact, each room is named after a type of aircraft, and the walls are adorned with plane photographs mostly taken by Alexey himself. The attention to detail is impressive and it feels like you are a guest in someone’s very luxurious house which indeed you are as our hosts, Alexey and Heath, reside on the premises.
Though we have the house to ourselves we don’t really use the shared space, preferring to enjoy the quiet and comfort of our suite. It is named Constellation, otherwise nicknamed the Honeymoon Suite by Alexey, as it includes a king size bed, a large double spa and a small kitchenette.
We do step downstairs to check that the plane is safely kept in a space just as grand as ours, enjoy sunset drinks over the tarmac and the hills, then finally retreat for our indoor picnic.
As we finally tuck into bed and turn the lights off, a gorgeous moonrise casts a soft blue light thru our window. I can’t go to sleep, staring at the passing clouds shrouding the moon in a spooky yet beautiful veil. It is quite a romantic moment I think and when I mention it to a dozing Mr T, he suggests that is the effect of the Mudgee wine. That’s romance for you!!