GT: Expressway a fast track for foodies

ENTREPRENEUR: Matt Dillow has invested in equipment to meet increased demand at his restaurants. Picture: Peter StoopNEWCASTLE has long boasted of having the world-class food and wine region of the Hunter Valley on its doorstep. But the wining and dining among the vineyards has come that much closer with last month’s opening of the Hunter Expressway.
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The 40-kilometre, six-interchange expressway is expected to reduce travel times between Newcastle and the Upper Hunter, with the journey from the steel city central business district to the vineyards cut by as much as 30minutes.

Hunter Valley wineries and restaurateurs are already feeling the buzz thanks to the opening of the expressway.

In Lovedale, Matt Dillow’s The Deck at Gartelmann Wines (701 Lovedale Road, Lovedale) is feeling the positive impact, with the new thoroughfare already delivering an increased number of punters to the area renowned for its annual Long Lunch.

The Deck opened mid last year and is Dillow and wife Monika’s third venture in the Hunter wine region, joining The Verandah Restaurant at Calais Estate (151 Palmers Lane, Pokolbin) and Twine Restaurant at Wynwood Estate (310 Oakey Creek Road, Pokolbin).

Dillow told GT the expressway had already ‘‘dramatically benefited’’ The Deck and The Verandah through a boost in punters. He expected the impact on Twine to be smaller, perhaps aimed at more of the overnight stay crowd than the day trippers.

The chef said The Deck been busy from day one, serving breakfast and lunch to as many as 800 satisfied punters each week, including as many as 150 diners for breakfast on Sunday alone.

But in just the few weeks since opening, the expressway had already boosted the number of hungry punters pulling up to the Lovedale cafe and cellar door.

‘‘It is the talk of guests coming in from Newcastle and Sydney … we’re already getting such good reviews, not from just guests but staff driving to and from, they’re just rapt,’’ Dillow said.

‘‘For a day trip with a meal and a couple of glasses of wine, keeping under the 0.05 and driving back to Newcastle, it’s literally a stone’s throw away now.

‘‘Instead of being a nearly 55-minute drive from Newcastle, you’ve saved about 20minutes, I think. You’ll drive that from one end of Newcastle to the other.’’

The boost in business from the expressway and continued success of The Deck has been significant enough for Dillow to plan an expansion of the cafe come winter, after the busy periods of May’s Lovedale Long Lunch and June’s Hunter Valley Wine & Food Month.

‘‘We are going to be extending The Deck this year because of how successful it has been from day one,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s just gone from strength to strength and now with this expressway, I’m investing in better, faster and more efficient equipment to be able to pump the food out because it’s going to make this place even busier again.’’

From a staffing perspective, Dillow also hopes the new road will expand the pool of potential workers. Previously, staff from Newcastle had struggled with the taxing commute, but the expressway will surely change that.

Further up the expressway into the Hunter Valley, The Olive Tree Restaurant at Wyndham Estate (700 Dalwood Road, Dalwood via Branxton) is also looking forward to a boost in business from the streamlined journey offered by the expressway.

The restaurant is owned and run by husband and wife team Janet and Andy Wright, a chef famous for his suckling pigs and delightful food both at The Olive Tree and sister establishment, Pokolbin’s The Cellar Restaurant (Hunter Valley Gardens Village, Broke Road).

‘‘With the enthusiasm that everyone has, how excited they are and how thrilled they are [that the expressway has opened], all I can say is that I really hope that turns into more sales for the local businesses,’’ Janet Wright told GT.

It is hoped the new thoroughfare encourages both day trips from Newcastle and Sydney, as well as longer stays from tourists all round. So hop in the car and head to Wyndham Estate, wander through the Dalwood Heritage Trail – a self-guided tour to discover the colonial vineyard and 1830s Dalwood House – before settling in for a meal at The Olive Tree Restaurant. Those looking for a more immersed experience can opt for an Ultimate Winery Experience, a package including master classes, food and wine matching and more (ultimatewineryexperiences南京夜网.au).

‘‘I really hope more people make the trip, because now it is a half day trip from Newcastle, you can just pop up for lunch,’’ she said.

‘‘We want people to stay longer and make more trips, even if they come up for a day trip [from Sydney].

‘‘It’s not out of range now, people used to think it was at least two hours and it’s too hard but it’s about an hour and 40minutes now to the city.’’