Tower Estate Lodge, Pokolbin review: Just add water, waiter

Read our writer's views on this property below

If it weren't for the pool, this much food and wine could be bad for your health, writes Bellinda Kontominas.

The first thing that grabs you about Room Five at Tower Lodge is the life-size statue of a stag mounted above the king bed. It's not quite the romance I was after but it works perfectly in the room, which is decorated so masterfully with antiques and collectables that the "sport and game" theme is not apparent immediately.

Each piece is a delightful find, from the black-leather hunting boots and framed fishing flies to old advertisements for tennis goods and pictures of vintage golf clubs and balls. There's a series of signed and framed cricket biographies, pictures of America's Cup-winning yachts from the 1850s and 1870s and even a framed vintage snakes and ladders board. The overall look and feel of the room is of understated, masculine elegance.

Tower Lodge is part of Tower Estate, which, along with a winery, comprises restaurant Nine (built in the lodge's cellar) and Robert's Restaurant, which was built in 1876 and is surrounded by muscat vines and permaculture gardens.

We sprawl on deck chairs by the lodge pool, which is in a small, separate complex that also houses a gym, sauna and massage facilities. At dusk, we savour pre-dinner wines in the estate's Tuscan-inspired courtyard.

And then we ate We head down the cellar steps to Nine for a delicious and filling eight-course degustation by the estate's executive chef, George Francisco. The meal is matched with local wines, including some from Tower Estate. Dish after expertly prepared dish emerges: the delicious slow-cooked Macleay Valley suckling pig with black fig tart and Vincotto jelly is a standout, as is an impressive papillote of house-cured salt cod stuffed with zucchini blossom, prawn tail and scallop.

The following day, unsure if we will ever need to eat again, we find the fortitude to fit in lunch at Robert's Restaurant. Housed in Pepper Tree Cottage, a national heritage-listed building, Robert's is a lovely step back in time. The original portion of the cottage, with its rustic interiors and low ceilings, has been converted into intimate dining rooms so charming that marriage proposals take place there regularly. We eat in the modern dining room at the rear, which has a huge stone fireplace and raked ceilings, and opens to a wraparound verandah where guests can dine while gazing at the gardens.

We opt for tempura ricotta-filled zucchini flowers and spanner crab pasta for entrees and, for mains, crisp ocean trout served with fresh peas, snow pea shoots and flowers, baby red radish and golden chanterelle mushroom vinaigrette, and a confit of Berkshire pork belly with amaretti crumble, braised turnips, witlof and plums. It's a delicious meal, particularly when finished with the vanilla panna cotta, fresh molasses pomegranate and lavender honey.

Francisco's ambitions include making the estate a self-sustaining source of produce. About 70 per cent of the menu already comes from ingredients grown on-site, including zucchini, baby red radish, an assortment of herbs and edible flowers, corn, olives and cumquats.

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The deal maker Although you're within minutes of many of the Hunter Valley's renowned wineries, Tower Estate Winery's cellar door and wine tasting is just 500 metres away.

Stepping out Time your visit to catch a concert at nearby Hope Estate; take an early-morning balloon ride over the vineyards; or visit the popular Smelly Cheese Shop and pick up supplies for a picnic at the Hunter Valley Gardens.

Bellinda Kontominas was a guest of Tower Estate and Destination NSW. See visitnsw.com.

VISITOR'S BOOK

Tower Estate Lodge

Address 6 Halls Road, Pokolbin.

The verdict Perfect for lovers of quality food and wine who want it all in one place.

Price From $450 a night midweek; $1050 a night at weekends.

Bookings Tower Estate Lodge, 4998 4900.

Getting there From Sydney, head north on the F3 Freeway and take the Freemans Drive exit towards Cessnock. Continue to follow State Route 82 until you get to Broke Road, then turn left onto Halls Road.

Wheelchair access Yes.

While you're there Take a walk around the estate's impressive permaculture gardens where you can pick ingredients that are served in the restaurants.