And the Winner is Oscar’s – what a strange name for a restaurant! Situated on the edge of the main lawn area at the Hunter Valley Gardens Shopping Village, the cafe/restaurant pulls in the crowds. More of a self-serve cafe than a sit and be served restaurant, the main feature of the place is the extensive outdoor seating area that’s more than double the inside area. One of several cafes serving scones, that are all within ear shot of each other, Oscar’s pumps out the creamy and fluffy variety. However, it seems you can’t excel at everything and the spray shot of can cream and average jam proves this. Go for the lively atmosphere.
Tea: A standard selection of T2 tea bags served in a lovely teapot.
Overall: Good location and buzzy vibe.
Wollombi still retains its chilled village vibe although only a stone’s throw from the bigger and busier villages in the Hunter Valley where the hordes descend to sample the areas finest food and wine. Cafe Wollombi sits in the village but slightly tucked away, so sitting on the elevated wrap around verandah of the old timber house remains a relaxed affair. There’s inside seating as well if you prefer to peruse the artwork as you dine. The scones are crispy yet soft, not long out of the oven as we visit in the morning. The homemade strawberry jam is packed with fruit and the whipped cream is a nice accompaniment. There’s nothing better than sipping tea from a delicate teacup, a final and necessary touch to a wonderful experience.
Tea: A choice of loose-leaf teas.
Overall: Make the detour; it’s well worth it.
Location: 2287 Wollombi Rd, Wollombi NSW 2325 Ph: 02 4998 3220
Reviewed in April, 2009
‘Little Pantry Co.’
Nestled in the middle of the Hunter Valley Gardens Shopping Village, it would be easy for Little Pantry Co. to go undetected. With no view to speak of, the corner cafe gets a lot of passing trade purely because of it’s position on the busiest pedestrian stretch of the shopping/restaurant precinct. Plus it’s adjacent to the Hunter Valley Chocolate Company shop, which is an unbelievable people magnet. The cafe has a corner dedicated to loose-leaf teas and pretty teaware if you are interested in a little shopping while you wait. Plain and date scones are usually available, but we are a tad late so settle for what’s left – date scones. With just the right injection of heat, the date scones present well and taste even better, although savoury lovers may balk at the over-sweetness. The raspberry jam is good enough, but is neither memorable nor spoiling. Unfortunately the let down here, is the cream. It’s super light and sweet and it wouldn’t surprise me if it came from a can, as it tastes synthetic. Impressed with the Planet Organic teas available.
Tea: A good range of Planet Organic loose-leaf teas.
Overall: A convenient location in the middle of the shopping village.
‘Mojos The Deli’
Tea: A few Madura tea varieties and Chai tea served in a small pot.
Overall: A sensational mellow alternative that feels off-the-beaten wine trail.
‘Nanna Kerr’s Kitchen’
Hidden amongst the vines, Nanna Kerr’s Kitchen takes up residence in what used to be The Purple Grape. Robyn Drayton has sold up and moved out, and the Kerr’s, or should I say, Miranda Kerr’s brother and his partner, have moved in. Originally working out of a space in Lovedale, Nanna Kerr’s Kitchen is now that little bit closer to the Hunter Valley action in Pokolbin. The cosy interior as well as the welcoming timber deck is an ideal location in all seasons. It’s good to see that Nanna Kerr insists the Devonshire Tea be on the menu rather than on the specials board, where it can be dismissed if the chef isn’t in the mood for baking. The scones are slightly crisp, and light and fluffy inside, and considering it is late in the day, this is a positive. The consistency of the homemade strawberry jam is too thin and runny, and there is barely enough for one scone. The whipped cream is quite aerated but is good enough. I love the presentation, the fruit selection brightens up the plate, and the passionfruit is a nice touch. Open from Thursday to Monday.
Tea: An eclectic range of mostly organic tea (tea bags) served in a pot.
Overall: A gorgeous location overlooking the vines.
The Convent, once home to the Brigidine order of nuns in Coonamble, looks imposing sitting at the end of the long driveway. The building’s resurrection some 600km from its construction offers the ideal destination for a romantic and indulgent weekend getaway. In winter the trees lining the driveway lose their leaves, so visitors to Roscrea Estate and Peppertree Wines cellar door cannot but notice the distinct property that sits to the left of the tasting rooms. To the right is Circa 1876, a Hatted Restaurant housed in an historic cottage that begs to be explored. Restaurant Eighty Eight in The Convent, serves Devonshire and High Teas in plush interiors around the fire in the lounge or in more private rooms for groups. The Wisteria Courtyard out the back looks towards the resort pool, and I can only imagine would be gorgeous in spring and summer. The arrival of our Devonshire Teas takes longer than usual. When I bite into my slightly crispy but oh so light scone, I know why, they are fresh out of the oven. The strawberry jam, although housemade, is a let down. It’s tart but tasteless and too liquid, dripping off my scone rather than settling to cradle the cream. There’s more than enough of the lightly whipped cream to go around, and the excess, if desired, can be used with the handful of fresh mixed berries. The bone china tea ware is a nice touch, and should be the norm, rather than the exception.
Tea: A standard selection of T2 loose-leaf teas served in a large teapot.
Overall: Decadent venue that matches the decadent spread.
‘Taste of the Country’
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the heart of the Hunter Valley wine region is, although if I had to guess, I would say it is The Hunter Valley Gardens Village in Pokolbin. The restaurants, cafes and shops, as well as The Mercure Resort are a hive of activity. When I visit the Winter Festival is in full swing, plus the Hunter Valley Gardens are open for a stroll. One of several cafes offering a Devonshire Tea is Taste of the Country, a sort of country themed eatery. There are a couple of life-size cow replicas outside that attract the attention of kids who are keen to pose for photos. Looking over the grassy meeting point in the centre of the village, the cafe offers indoor and outdoor seating in a relaxed setting. The scones are light and creamy but have a slight after taste that remind me of scones made from a pre-mix. The chilled whipped cream is the stand out and overrides the average strawberry jam.
Tea: A variety of black, green and herbal Twining teas (tea bags) served in a plunger pot.
Overall: A fun themed cafe where kids will be wowed by the life-size cows.
Reviewed in July, 2016
‘The Deck Cafe’
Lovedale in the Hunter Valley wine region is like a breath of fresh air after the tourist mecca of Pokolbin, feeling far removed from the wine tasting tour buses and the usual crowds. The inviting Gartelmann Winery cellar door shares fine views with The Deck Cafe that’s perched on the edge of a picturesque billabong. The setting is enough to draw the crowds, and that it does. We arrive at mid morning on a Sunday without a reservation, and boy don’t we know it. Although there are some free tables, we’re told that there’s nothing available so we opt, even after the waitress tells us she will not be drying them for us, for the wet lounge chairs in the open. To be honest, in general the service is appalling, and one particular waitress needs an attitude adjustment. When we eventually receive our scones, the nicer waitress seems surprised that we are sitting on the wet furniture and ushers us back on to the deck to an empty table, saying that they’ve had a cancellation. We notice many cancellations, and I don’t understand why diners, if they agree to be quick (like us), can’t take a reserved table until the customers arrive. Surely this is a win-win situation for both customer and cafe owner? If you manage to avoid the surly waitress it’s a lovely spot. Peruse the oil, jam and chutney for sale from Matt’s Produce collection, and sample the rich summer berry and vanilla scented jam that’s served with the scones. The scones are perhaps another drawcard as they are well-sized, fresh, fluffy and hard to fault. The chilled and firm Chantilly cream is exquisite with more than a hint of vanilla, and is a real stand out. The servings of the jam and cream are far too small for the size of the scones, so we flag down a friendly waitress and request some more with no issues or surcharge.
Tea: An interesting selection of loose-leaf and tea bag tea served in a Japanese iron teapot.
Overall: A sensational location by the billabong, but shame about the surly service.
The Drayton’s have been producing wine for over 150 years, and are one of a few wineries that are still family-owned. The cellar door is a popular stop on tasting itineraries so always expect to hustle for a place at the tasting bar. On the other hand, if wine tasting is not on the agenda, The Log Press Cafe, right next door (you’ll walk through it on the way to the bar), is a pleasant functional cafe to grab a bite to eat or hang around for a longer lunch. Scones are listed on the menu and can be ordered by numbers rather than as a set. They are homemade and fairly fresh even mid-afternoon. On first sight, the scone looks anaemic and it doesn’t help that it’s dissected (not a great presentation). The jam is sickly sweet and nothing remarkable, but the fresh cream is thickly whipped and makes up for the mediocre jam. It’s light and bright and a pleasant place to be when in chilly weather. There are a few tables outside if you want to soak up some vitamin D.
Tea: A standard range of tea bags served in a small teapot.
Overall: A handy location in the same building as the cellar door.
Two Fat Blokes certainly get around. The previous day I see their van pull in to the Peppertree cellar door and laugh at the apt name for a food and wine tour. It’s after I visit De Luliis wines cellar door that I realise that Two Fat Blokes are not just a quirky name but also a serious food business. The restaurant space they inhibit is rather large and spills out onto a covered cobblestone courtyard and further onto lush lawns where umbrella shaded picnic benches sit side by side. Attached to the restaurant is a shop selling produce such as meat and cheese, which is far beyond the usual condiments of oil, chutney and jam, although these too are available. We arrive fairly late, and close to closing time. By days end, the scones aren’t in great shape and my scone turns up a tad dehydrated. The jam is the average bulk purchase type many cafes serve, and the cream is super light. The location is truly a relaxing spot, far from the madding Hunter Valley crowds, and it’s only a hop, skip, and jump to the cellar door.
Tea: A good selection of Tea Tonic loose-leaf teas served in a plunger pot.
Overall: A gorgeous bushland setting looking over vast lawns.
Originally the CBC Bed & Breakfast and Cafe was the Paterson Branch of the Commercial Banking Co. of Sydney. The elegant building commands a massive corner block and dominates tiny Paterson. Inside the old bank vault acts as a mini shop with jams and souvenirs for sale and the interior dining area is renovated to retain its history but has enough kitsch to keep Laura Ashley fans happy. On a sunny day, the wrap around verandah is the place to sit; it’s a winter sun catcher if you don’t mind the rumble of the semi trailers hurtling through the town and around the corner every three to five minutes (I’m there on a Friday). It may be the country way, but why do the scones taste so good out here? Simple yet creamy and baked just like Nanna’s (I’d like to point out that my grandmother was Polish so there were no scones for me), I’m sure the baker belongs to the Country Women’s Association (CWA). The jam was better than your average and the cream, although lightly whipped is chilled so there’s some depth to the cream. The cafe is open from Friday to Sunday.
Tea: A small variety of loose-leaf teas served in a fabric infuser in a small pot.
Overall: Love the sunny verandah on a warm winters day.
Location: 19 King St, Paterson NSW 2421 Ph: 02 4938 5767
Reviewed June, 2014
If you find yourself at a loose end in Maitland, drop in to Lavenders Riverside and soak up some sun in the outdoor courtyard that overlooks the Hunter River. If the weather is lousy, there’s always the indoor area but the feature here is being outside; under a shady umbrella, or not. It’s well off the pedestrian shopping mall, so any way you arrive, it’s a stroll to get there. The cheap quality jam might be okay for some, but it does nothing for the light and fluffy scone, that thankfully is delightful. I wish I ordered a couple, as they are quite small but perfectly sized for a snack. The double thick cream is a bonus too, so it’s easy to dismiss the jam quality when both the scone and the cream are so good. Only open until 1.30pm on weekends, so don’t dawdle if taking a stroll along the Riverwalk that follows the meandering Hunter River.
Tea: A basic range of loose-leaf teas served in a teapot.
Overall: A lovely location by the Hunter River walk.
Location: 1/418 High St, Maitland NSW 2320 Ph: 02 4933 8855 lavenders.com.au
Reviewed June 2019
Who can resist the promise of the ‘best scones’ in town? I know, I shouldn’t believe propaganda, but why not see how good they really are? Lillies & Limes Gourmet Catering is tucked away up a dull concrete alley right next door to the Morpeth Post Office. I guess if you are one of the dwindling clientele that uses a Post Office then you might notice the business, but honestly it that’s damn sign, so full of promises, that gets my attention. I manage to slink in just before an early closing time of 3pm and nab one of the few scones left. I must admit they do look good, big and wholesome. I wouldn’t call the place a cafe as such, more a big open plan kitchen with one large table and a bunch of small tables scattered around in the bland concrete courtyard. It looks like some serious cooking and baking gets done rather than lots of lingering. My spread (above) comes in at only $6! A bargain considering the big pot of loose-leaf tea, a massive dollop of chilled thickly whipped cream and a big soft and fluffy creamy tasting scone. Just wonderful! I overlook the average jam as everything else is superb.
Tea: A small selection of loose-leaf teas served in a generous teapot.
Overall: A top quality spread for a bargain price.
Location: 3/165 Swan St, Morpeth NSW 2321 Ph: 02 4933 7721 lilliesandlimes.com.au
Reviewed June, 2014
‘Riverview Deck Cafe’
Who would have thought that with only a handful of businesses in town that at least two of them serve Devonshire Teas. This one is kind of cool. The Riverdeck Cafe is only a small part of the bigger business picture. The cafe runs alongside a gift shop, a working petrol station and a car mechanic. Handy if you need to get your car serviced as you can spend several hours on the back deck that looks over the Paterson River and the impressive rail bridge. It’s quiet and far from the rambling trucks that pass by out front and when the countryside is green, the lush landscape is a sight for sore eyes. There are lots of home-baked cakes on the front counter in the cashiers’ area (in the middle of the business) and a stack of scones. Order as many or as little as you like as items are priced separately. The scones have once again proved that folk in the country know how to make a good scone. Light with a creamy aftertaste, they are a pleasure. The jam and cream punch well above average and there is plenty of both. Overall this is a great choice.
Tea: A huge variety of Twinnings and Lipton’s teabags served in a good-sized pot.
Overall: The river view is magic.
Location: 26 King St, Paterson NSW 2421 Ph: 02 4938 5133
Reviewed June, 2014
Regional galleries are always interesting; you never know what you’re going to come across. The small gallery has enough space for a exhibition (Hill End artist Rosemary Valedon was exhibiting at the time), and the attached Gallery Shop has a wide range of well-made, innovative and creative wares highlighting local artists. Named after the 18th century French artist, Seraphine Cafe is the ideal meeting place for a meal or a coffee, regardless whether art is your thing. It’s buzzing, and tables are hard to come by at peak times. There are tables in the cobbled courtyard outside, but considering it is 40 degrees out there, the air conditioned indoors is definitely more popular. I take the half serve of scones (one fresh homemade scone), which incidentally is soft and heavenly. The raspberry jam is rich and tart and the double thick cream a perfect accompaniment.
Tea: A selection of Tea Craft loose-leaf teas served in a teapot.
Price: $$ to $$$
Overall: Quality art exhibits, interesting gallery shop, spacious cafe and overall great Devonshire Tea.
Location: Maitland Regional Art Gallery, 230 High St, Maitland NSW 2320
Ph: 02 4934 7264 mrag.org.au
Reviewed February 2019
‘The Heritage Gardens Cafe’
The Heritage Gardens Nursery looks like any other garden centre from the carpark. The gift shop is part garden and homeware shop, and is the point of entry and exit. The grounds are quite lovely, with lush lawns and the nursery itself in its own section. You have to look hard for the Heritage Gardens Cafe as it’s nicely hidden in the garden centre. Walk past rows of shrubs, herbs, flowers and trees, and through those lush lawns before entering the cafe. The cafe is shaded by foliage, which is ideal on summer days. There’s indoor and outdoor dining in the main building, plus umbrella shaded tables in the courtyard. The two large lemon scented scones are fresh and have a creamy texture. They are served cool rather than warm, but that’s okay as it’s hot when I visit. The mixed berry jam is housemade and pairs well with the rich double thick cream. The cafe closes at 3.30pm, so don’t linger too long over the azaleas.
Tea: A handful of T2 loose-leaf teas served in a teapot.
Overall: It doesn’t feel like you are in a cafe in a garden centre.
Location: Heritage Gardens Nursery, 9 Four Mile Creek Rd, Ashtonfield NSW 2323
Ph: 02 4966 5233 heritagegardens.com.au
Reviewed February 2019
‘The Servants Quarters Tea Room’
The Campbell’s Store was built in 1835 and in its heyday was THE place to shop in the Hunter Valley – the owner even minted his own money! Nowadays after a revamp (the place fell in to disrepair), it’s a destination in itself with a bunch of different shops selling arts and crafts, toys, skin products, novelty tea pots, pretty much something for everyone as they say. There’s an old train carriage out the back and if you’re a fan of ginger beer there’s the Morpeth Ginger Beer Factory. Even my partner, who doesn’t do tourist kitsch, bought a tool for his man cave. The only cafe in this complex is The Servants Quarters Tea Room, which has a large outdoor area (thankfully filled with heaters) and a cosy indoor tea room. According to Trip Advisor, the place is famous for their scones, and they get a great rap. The scones look like mini dampers and are a good size – I like them, but my partner thinks they are a bit dry today. There is a sufficient amount of both jam and cream, and although the jam is average the cream is exceptional – thick and rich without being the double thick or dollop variety. Open from Thursday to Sunday between 10am and 5pm.
Tea: Some loose-leaf and tea bag teas served in a small pot.
Overall: Surround yourself in history.
Location: 175 Swan St, Morpeth NSW 2321 Ph: 02 4934 1857
Reviewed June, 2014
Denman in the Upper Hunter is horse country. The place has more horse studs than you can shake a stick at as well as enough wineries so you still know you’re in the Hunter Valley region. It’s a beautiful sunny day and every table in the front courtyard of Graze @ Denman is taken so my next option for a seat is in one of the rooms inside. The renovated timber house has beautiful stained glass windows and soaring pressed metal ceilings, and the walls are adorned with local artwork that provides a diversion while waiting for food to arrive. Although it’s not yet 12pm, I’m lucky to nab the last scone – I apologise to those hoping for an afternoon Devonshire Tea delight. Luckily the scone is on the large side and is wholesome and creamy, just how I like them. There’s also plenty of thickly whipped fresh cream, which masks the average jam. I do like it when I have more jam and cream than I need, especially when the scones are dense.
Tea: A small selection of loose-leaf teas served in a good-sized pot.
Overall: A buzzing eatery in a tastefully renovated house.
Location: 25 Ogilvie St, Denman NSW 2328 Ph: 02 6547 1115
Reviewed August, 2015
Merriwa is a good place to take a break when travelling on the Golden Highway. There are a few cafes and a bakery to feed and water passing motorists with Sansko Cafe offering scones. The cafe has a ‘bare to the bones’ feel about it, and to me, feels like it was a former takeaway fish ‘n’ chip/hamburger joint. That’s just the feeling I get. There are a couple tables out on the footpath, a comfy lounge section in front of the window plus a few standard dining tables. The homemade scones are slightly crispy on the outside, and probably the highlight of this spread. The strawberry jam is below average in quality, and although the whipped cream is fresh, it’s too light for my liking. If it’s open, check out the small museum a few doors away.
Tea: A basic range of Twinnings teabags served in either a small or large teapot.
Overall: Not a bad choice if this is your only stop.
Location: 112 Bettington St, Merriwa NSW 2329 Ph: 02 6516 7710
Reviewed April 2019
Cafe on the Bay has a prime spot at Nelson Bay Marina for watching the world go by. There are lots happening here; boat trips, dining, shopping, and it’s the place for just general loitering about. So park yourself at an outdoor table and enjoy the view, which includes Port Stephens beyond the marina and over to Winda Woppa and Tea Gardens. It’s not really the best choice on a hot summers day, but I try the scones, jam and cream. The scones are huge and unimpressive at this hour of the day (it’s the afternoon), dwarfing the minute serving of jam and cream. The cream has melted before it hits my table and the jam is your usual supermarket variety. Nothing too impressive, but maybe better in cooler weather and when the scones are fresh.
Tea: The standard tea variety.
Overall: The action hub of The Bay.
‘Inner Light Tea Rooms’
Not only a suitable place for the once active Nelson Head Inner Lighthouse, Halifax Point now doubles up as a museum and busy cafe with killer views over Shoal Bay beach and as far as Broughton Island. If you’re had enough beach time, pop in to the Maritime Museum for some local history and more information about lighthouse days. The cafe is pretty simple with plastic tables and chairs and orders are taken and paid for at the counter. The place does a roaring trade with tourists wandering up for a look at the view, and once you see it, you’ll understand why. The scones are tasty and fairly fresh at morning tea, but little can be said for the jam and too light cream.
Tea: A variety of your standard black, green and herbal teas in either pots of one or two.
Overall: Go for the view.
Location: 5A Lighthouse Rd, Nelson Head, Nelson Bay NSW 2315 Ph: 02 4984 2505
Reviewed in April, 2009
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.
Tea: An assortment of tea bags served in a small pot.
Overall: A good place to stretch the legs without having to divert from the Pacific Highway.
‘Nicole’s Art Gallery & Cafe’
If you arrive in Tea Gardens by ferry from Nelson’s Bay, you won’t miss Nicole’s Art Gallery & Cafe as you alight the ferry almost opposite. The old timber house converted into a cafe, gallery and gift shop, has a leafy garden that’s shady and cool when it heats up in summer. The garden is the perfect place for a morning or afternoon tea so you can catch the sea breeze. Scones are baked almost daily, so best to check if they have them if you plan to visit. The scones are served with a good quantity of jam and cream, but the quality could be better. Love the vast selection of the loose-leaf teas, which are sometimes hard to find in seaside resorts.
Tea: An interesting variety of loose-leaf teas. The lime and coconut sencha green tea is superb.
Overall: Lovely relaxed setting in a shady garden.
Location: 81 Marine Dr, Tea Gardens NSW 2324 Ph: 02 4997 2922
Reviewed in February, 2009