A DAY trip from Sydney, this heritage town in the Hunter Region was once the state’s largest river port but now draws attention for its quaint shops and foodie treats.
THE BRONTE BOUTIQUE HOTEL
While most 16-year-olds were working for pocket money Clint Marquet, owner of The Bronte Boutique Hotel, had more adventurous plans.
Captivated by the movie The Last Emperor, he began saving up for a trip to China. That was the start of a lasting romance with Asian cultures, which is subtly reflected in both the beautifully-renovated boutique accommodation as well as The Bronte’s Friday and Sunday afternoon high tea.
Oriental high tea at The Bronte Boutique Hotel. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
A mix of cultures and cuisines is evident with the variety of options available including the Traditional Tiffin Tea — a classic version similar to those at the height of the British Empire with bite-sized bits including turkey cranberry sandwiches, coronation eggs, smoked salmon blinis and buttermilk scones with raspberry jam and Chantilly cream.
The menu also gives the nod to Shanghai glamour with the Oriental Tea — tiers of housemade organic chicken and chive dumplings; organic pork dumplings, duck pancakes and more.
The Bronte Boutique Hotel owner Clint Marquet enjoying tea and scones. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
To round off the afternoon, Clint has paired each version with specific teas from T Totaler or for something a bit different, consider including a gin cocktail.
If you’re having a tough time choosing, Clint and his staff can customize a version that suits your palette, though he notes that adding some divine creations from local chocolatier Donarch Fine Chocolates makes for a grand finale.
— 145-147 Swan St
DUCKS IN THE FIELD
Should the Mad Hatter and Mary Poppins set a date for high tea, this country setting would suit the scene.
Amid a flower-filled garden scattered with artistic installations including two-meter tall red poppies, Ellen Martin has used her experience as a cafe owner and baker, sprinkled it with a healthy dose of playfulness and created a destination where patrons can enjoy what she refers to as “big flavor in little food”.
A sweet and savory high tea at Ducks in the Field. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
Some of the treats on offer at the high tea. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
Sweet and savory bites such as raspberry and white chocolate macarons; date scones; and bacon, leek, and blue cheese slices are served on tiers of bright polka-dot plates alongside contrasting place settings. Be sure to order plenty of tea, if only to pour milk from the seriously cute porcelain cow jugs.
— 550 Duckenfield Rd, Duckenfield
THE HUNTER COLLECTION
Their intention was to retire, move to the country and enjoy the quiet life but as Jill and Steve Schiffman, a wonderfully gregarious couple, went about exploring their new neighborhood, visiting the area’s markets they began to engage with local craftsmen and culinarians, realizing that many of them would benefit from a shopfront — thus The Hunter Connection was born.
The Hunter Collection’s test tubes of tea from Mud+Gee, a tea cozy by Helen Ashton, and spoons by Wolfgang Schulz. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
Inside this bright and cheery store along Morpeth’s main road, you’ll find practical items and gifts such as test-tubes of hand-blended teas from Mudgee’s Mud+Gee alongside Helen Ashton’s colorful knitted tea cozies and olives and olive oil from nearby Bunna Bunoo Olive Grove.
While it all may have started as a labor of love to celebrate “the rich variety of talent in the Hunter Valley”, it was the chocolates, jams, relishes, and sauces that came from nearby Destiny Haven that truly touched Jill.
The Diamond Collection’s jams and relishes from Destiny Haven. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
Upon learning it was a “place of healing for women” and all the ingredients are grown and made on site, with proceeds going to support the initiative, Jill and Steve made sure their products were displayed front and center. Very neighborly.
— 157 Swan St
You probably see it every day, be it in the shops or over morning tea — it’s the iconic Arnott’s logo with its colorful parrot.
What you may not know though is that it all started in Morpeth in the 1850s and not necessarily with just biscuits but also bread.
Yet while the Arnott’s name has become synonymous with Australia’s favorite bickies, William Arnott’s great, great, great grandson Stephen and his wife Allison are more interested in the original product — authentic sourdough bread made with only flour, salt, water, and absolutely no baker’s yeast.
A selection of sourdough loaves, rolls, and baguettes at Morpeth Sourdough. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
Initially, neither Stephen or Allison had any interest in owning a bakery. However, a sense of nostalgia on his part paired with Allison’s master’s degree in microbiology and fermentation processes (vital to the production of sourdough) motivated them to renovate the original bakehouse and give it a go as Morpeth Sourdough.
There are a variety of sized loaves and rolls on wire racks behind the counter as well as kalamata olive ciabatta and a spicy fruit walnut loaf. Have a nibble of one of the cut up loaves and note the thick crisp exterior; the light yet chewy texture and of course, the unique sour taste that comes from fermenting.
Allison Arnott and her husband Stephen run Morpeth Sourdough. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
“Always ask for ‘long fermenting bread’,” advises Allison.
“If it’s been any less than 18 hours, that’s not really true fermented bread,” which she points out “won’t have the same nutritional benefits either”.
Allison notes that the flavors of sourdough can change based on environmental factors which is why Morpeth Sourdough, can taste different from the renowned San Francisco version although they use the same method.
— 148 Swan St
MISS LILY’S LOLLIES
There’s a world of pure imagination off Morpeth’s high street and fortunately for lolly lovers, no golden ticket is required. Step inside the unassuming white cottage and you’ll be gobsmacked by the floor-to-ceiling walls of colorful boxes, bags, jars, and tins.
Since opening in 1996, Brett Deards, co-owner of Miss Lily’s Lollies, has been satiating the sweet tooth of visitors from both near and far, traveling the world to source treats of all types.
Some of the sweets on offer at Miss Lilly’s Lollies. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
With more than 650 candies, 120 sauces and such, as well as 20 imported soft drinks, you’re bound to find something that tickles your taste buds.
Curious about those Reece’s Pieces that ET craved? Brett’s got them. What about those American movie theatre snacks, Milk Duds, and Junior Mints? Or British Wine Gums? He’s got those as well and even has some flashback items such as TAB cola plus gelato and housemade fudge.
A selection of sweets and treats from around the world. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
Yet, with all that on offer, Brett notes that at the end of the day, red licorice and sour rainbow straps remain the most popular, followed by raspberry twisters, mini-musks, and the ever so divisive black jelly beans.
— 2 Green St
MUST TRY – FRESH SCONES
The garden setting surrounded by flowering vines and quirky wind chimes made from vintage teapots is an ideal spot to stop for that afternoon reprieve.
Scones with jam and cream. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
Once the servants quarters, it is now home to who many refer to as the Queen of scones and with just one bite of these traditional treats with their golden edges, light and fluffy insides topped with fresh whipped cream and jam, you’ll understand how Niki Curry earned that crown.
— The Servants Quarters Tea Rooms; 175 Swan St
With a great cuppa from Central Coast coffee roasters Glee, a lovely view of the Hunter River and a varied menu that includes many vegetarian and gluten-free options, it’s easy to see how this sun-filled cafe has become a local favorite.
Quinoa porridge at Common Grounds in Morpeth. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
You can go for a full on big brekkie but for something a bit healthier, try the quinoa porridge with spice-infused coconut milk, stewed rhubarb, fresh apples and strawberries
— Common Grounds; 4/142 Swan St
CHEESE GLORIOUS CHEESE
Wine and cheese are practically a given in the Hunter Valley region and the best place to stock up are at The Smelly Cheese Shop.
Here you’ll find an excellent selection of local, Australian and imported varieties, perfectly suited to the area’s vines.
The Smelly Cheese Shop offers local and regional Australian cheeses, housemade relishes and chutneys. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
But while cheese may be their namesake, they also carry a large range of deli items, including cured meats and other bits perfectly suited to your own antipasto platter.
Don’t forget some bread and crackers as well as some of their housemade chutneys and relishes. And for those new to the picnic game, they can sort you out with one of their hampers.
— The Smelly Cheese Shop; Shop 2/129 Swan St
MA BEATTIE’S GINGER BEER CORDIAL
Once the commercial center of town, this old general store houses a variety of adjoined shops as well as a ginger beer factory.
A selection of Ma Beattie’s Ginger Beer Cordial. Picture: Jenifer Jagielski. Source: News Corp Australia
Here you can watch as 100-200 liter batches of cordials are made two to three times a week, stirred by hand and bottled with old-fashioned equipment.
Try one of the 14 different flavors including raspberry and bitter lemon, or opt for everyone’s favorite, Ginger Beer.
— Campbell’s Store; 175 Swan St
Once you’ve perused the lovely array of gift items upstairs to this rustic cafe, head back down and order lunch.
Eggs Benedict with bacon at Savannah on Swan. Picture: Facebook. Source: News Corp Australia
Try the eggs Benedict — two poached eggs on an English muffin — and maybe even splurge a bit and add bacon. While you wait for it to arrive, peruse the pieces of art for sale up on the walls.
— Savannah on Swan; 128-130 Swan St