Kookaburra Cafe

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There’s no escaping the traffic noise from the Pacific Highway. I can still hear it while I wander the paths that meander amongst ferns and through the forests that is the Hunter Region Botanic Gardens. The 70s blonde brick building that houses the underwhelming Visitor’s Centre, shop and Kookaburra Cafe, is surrounded by lush gardens and manicured lawns, and the outdoor area of the cafe is protected from the elements and insects by floor to ceiling fly screens. It’s inclement weather so I have the place to myself, both gardens and cafe. I can’t see any scones on display. Maybe they are frozen, as my scone is chewy from what I guess is from the microwave, and it tastes bland. The flavour of the average jam is overridden by the thick and rich cream, which is plentiful considering I only order one scone. The gardens are free to enter; however there is an obligitory $4 parking fee. There’s no exit without a token.

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: An assortment of tea bags served in a small pot.

Price: $$

Overall: A good place to stretch the legs without having to divert from the Pacific Highway.

Location: Hunter Region Botanic Gardens, 2100 Pacific Hwy, Heatherbrae NSW 2324
Ph: 02 4987 1655 huntergardens.org.au
Reviewed in September, 2016
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Java@Yack

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Once you get your tongue around the pronunciation of ‘Yakandandah’, the rest is easy. The gorgeous town is heaving with cute historic homes and although the main street has been reclaimed and refurbished for the 21st century, it still retains an essence of yesteryear when Yakandandah was at its goldrush peak in the 1870s. I step into Java@Yack and come face-to-face with a dressed mannequin sitting at a table – odd. The cafe feels like an unpretentious locals hangout, there are even a couple of shelves crammed with DVD rentals in the corner. I notice the business is for sale, and I can only surmise that the older couple is ready to hang up their aprons and enjoy retirement! The two bit-size scones are served a tad cooler than room temperature, no blast in the microwave for these babies, which is the exception rather than the norm in Australia. The scones arrive already dressed with jam and cream, but I don’t mind. Maybe it’s because the slightly sweet cream is chilled and firm – nice one. Even though there’s quite a lot of cream, it still doesn’t disguise the lousy quality of the jam.

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: An array of different branded tea bags (from Planet Organic to Lipton) served in a small pot, with an extra pot of water and a pair of tongs to remove the tea bag – love it!

Price: $$

Overall: Old school simplicity.

Location: 10 High St, Yackandandah VIC 3749 Ph: 03 6027 0877
Reviewed in August, 2016

Punkah Pantry

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If you’re on two wheels riding the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail then you will pass through the small village of Porepunkah. There’s not much to the place, a few shops, a pub, and a caravan park – but it’s the kind of place you want to stay in for a tranquil break. The Great Alpine Produce & Trading offers a bunch of services all rolled into one, including the cafe, Punkah Pantry. While I sample the scones, a couple of locals arrive for an after work beer and tell me they are boycotting the local pub – something about the new renovations and no public bar. There are bikes to hire, and a vast range of mostly locally produced/made food and giftware. Actually all the wines, beers and ciders are produced within a 50 kilometre radius of the store, and the produce such as honey, tea, berries, trout and salmon etc., are all sourced in Victoria’s north-east. Not bad! Pull up at a barrel outside or sit at the window to watch tranquility pass by, or better still, browse the through the shop. I didn’t know that they grew green tea in north-eastern Victoria? My scones arrive slightly soggy from being heated up in the microwave, which is a shame, but are still better than average. There’s a small amount of mediocre strawberry jam and about four times the amount of thickly whipped cream. I don’t mind having loads of cream, but seriously, balance it out a tad!

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: A small selection of Tea Drop pyramid tea bags served in a teapot.

Price: $$

Overall: Handy location on the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.

Location: 3 Nicholson St, Porepunkah VIC 3740 Ph: 0411 705 992 gapt.com.au
Reviewed in August, 2016

Moments & Memories Tea Room

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Moment and Memories Tea Room is the kind of place where Devonshire Tea memories are made. It’s all pink and white decor, linen table cloths, proper napkins, and china tea sets.  Ideal for groups, the large round tables, and the smaller more intimate tables, take up most of the floorspace, while the walls are lined with teapot and tea ware collections as well as tea, tea cosies, teapots, tea sets, and cake stands that are for sale. From the extensive tea menu, at least a quarter of what’s available are already packaged up and ready to go if you want to take some home, and the same goes for the homemade jams. The standard Devonshire Tea comes with a plain and sultana scone, but there are others such as date, and apricot and almond to choose from, but those with a savoury palate may prefer the pumpkin. My plain scone rates a perfect score; crisp, creamy and fluffy, all rolled into one. The sultana is up there but is a bit tough on the bottom and doesn’t taste as fresh. There’s a fabulous choice of housemade jams, with raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, and apricot on offer, and also others made from seasonal fruit. I have the blackberry, but it tastes as those it has crystallised, which is a shame as it looks rich and fruity, especially in the jam jars that are for sale, instead its akin to eating sugar cubes. The cream is of course double thick, and plenty of it. The Tea Room is open Wednesday to Sunday, but probably give them a call in case there is a function on.

Scones:  to 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: 61 varieties of loose-leaf teas from Melbourne outfit, Tea Leaves. Served in a transparent pot so you can watch the brewing the process.

Price: $$

Overall: Quaint – the quintessential tea room.

Location: 34 Camp St, Beechworth VIC 3747 Ph: 03 5728 2273
Reviewed in August, 2016

River Deck Cafe

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Could the high scoring on this review reflect the fact that I had just ridden 40km of the Murray to Mountains Rail trail? Built in the ’90s, the Rail Trail connects Wangaratta and Bright with 87km of bitumen for bicycles. I’ve done a round trip from Bright, taking a small diversion from town before starting on the trail. A gorgeous alpine town, Bright blossoms in the summer months when hikers and bikers come to town. I sit on the sunny deck of the aptly named River Deck Cafe, which adjoins the Visitors Centre. Overlooking Centenary Park and the fast flowing Ovens River, which is still at least 100m away, River Deck Cafe is the ideal rest and refuel stop. I don’t get here until after 3pm, and my scone is amazingly fresh – I can’t believe it! It’s creamy and smooth and I assure myself that it’s not the bike ride that’s clouding my judgment. The housemade mixed berry jam is a mix between a compote and rich jam that errs on the tart side. The chilled double thick cream is firm and spreads thickly. This winning combination is so good that I could eat my way through several scones.

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: A small range of T2 loose-leaf teas served in a pot.

Price: $$

Overall: Handy location with a sensational outlook to the park and river.

Location: 119 Gavan St, Bright VIC 3741 Ph: 03 5755 2199 theriverdeck.com.au
Reviewed in August, 2016

Cirque Cafe and Restaurant

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After living in Sydney for so long, you learn not to take your car in to the CBD. So when I visit Newcastle, it feels weird to be able to nab a parking spot easily. Newcastle’s small population and hence chilled lifestyle, is a bit of a shock for those of us who live in the Big Smoke. With the closure of Newcastle train station, the East Newcastle feels quiet, even the vagrants have taken over the now defunct grand old Post Office across the road from Cirque Cafe and Restaurant. Nonetheless the cafe does a roaring trade. The cafe may have been a bank in its former life as notice a walk in vault that’s now used as a pantry. The ceilings are sky-high which makes the place feel enormous, but if you prefer fresh air there are a few tables out on the footpath. The two small buttermilk scones are crisp on the outside and warm and light on the inside. The tart raspberry jam is a treat, but talk about portion distortion in the opposite direction – there is barely enough for one scone. When I ask for another small petri dish of jam, the waitress is happy to oblige. The cream is a kind of Chantilly cream, I can see the vanilla bean, but it’s very light and aerated.

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: A small choice of loose-leaf teas served in a good-sized pot.

Price: $$

Overall: Handy location, close to East Newcastle, and Newcastle and Nobbys Beach.

Location: 8 Bolton St, Newcastle NSW 2300 Ph: 02 4929 6370
Reviewed in September, 2016

Garden Gallery Cafe

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Albury and Wodonga, two border towns jostling for recognition on either side of the Murray River, act like sentinels on the NSW/Victorian border. As far as border towns go, to me, Wodonga is the quieter of the two, keeping a low profile. But why? Wodonga is the gateway to Victoria’s wonderful northeast and Alpine region, as well as the High Country Rail Trail and the interesting Bonegilla Migrant Experience. En route to these attractions stop at the Wondonga Plant Farm for a cuppa at the Garden Gallery Cafe. The spacious cafe with its indoor/outdoor dining looks over pallets of plants and has a kid’s playground out the back. If the sun is shining, sit out under the umbrellas and inhale the scent of blooming flowers and the general plant nursery vibe. On this particular day, the scone looks on the anaemic side but is super fresh and has a creamy texture. The bottom is slightly mushy from heating, but I let it pass, as it’s so delicious. The jam is average and the dollop of double thick cream needs some refrigeration, but overall, it’s a nice spread. Maybe take home a plant or something for the garden.

Scones: 

Jam: 

Cream: 

Tea: A selection of T2 loose-leaf teas served in a good-sized pot.

Price: $$

Overall: A chilled vibe overlooking out over the nursery.

Location: Wodonga Plant Farm, 5 Huon Creek Rd, Wodonga VIC 3690
Ph: 03 6056 5005 wodongaplantfarm.com.au
Reviewed in August, 2016