Architect Michael Mandl of Group GSA worked with one of the Hunter Valley’s most-loved vineyards, Poole’s Rock Wines, to devise a high-end restaurant in a rural setting.
“We wanted to present this building as part of a rural vernacular that typified the wine industry as well as its charm.
The restaurant had to link in with the other buildings on the site, a tank farm and wine presses. We used steel, concrete and timber—all presented quite naturally without too much fuss. Our clients, David Clarke and his nephew, Andrew Clarke, who is also the chef, wanted a fine-dining restaurant to build on the epicurean tradition of the Hunter region.
The venue had to double as a night-time restaurant and a daytime cafe. We defined the two functions by utilising the ambience of the large space, the lighting and the entry direction. At night, patrons arrive in a formal porte-cochère [coach door] from the cellar door, walking through the historic vineyards. And during the day, the cafe uses a more casual entry.
The bar is separated from the dining room by a courtyard, which tells the whole story of the winery. Patrons cross a waterfall, which symbolises the Hunter Valley, then continue through a wooded entry which symbolises the forested plain. There’s also a concrete element, which symbolises man’s
intervention, and views of the vineyard—the final agricultural purpose of the land.
The restaurant utilises dark flooring and light tables, so the food is well-presented. The rear interior wall has a distressed paint finish, emulating rusty plough shears. David originally wanted a fresh building without any of those old agricultural influences, but he can now appreciate the look.
During the day, the doors open to the outside and guests sit on the contour overlooking the vineyard and the backdrop of the Brokenback range.
In summer, the verandah roof cuts the sun off at the edge of the building to keep the restaurant cool. In winter, it allows deep solar penetration into the space, so the concrete slab can absorb sunlight. There’s also an open fire in the bar, and a pizza oven down the other end of the building, so there’s plenty of warmth.
A waiter’s station is centrally located and plate pickups are done from this opening, with the scullery off to the side. Hot meals can be plated and picked immediately, while cold food can be picked up from the waiter’s station adjacent to the dining room. I think the internal movement inside the kitchen is very good. When we were there on the opening night, it was operating at peak capacity and there was no queuing.
Poole’s Rock Wines is a very dynamic brand. The naming of some of its wines—such as Cockfighter’s Ghost and Firestick—and the graphics on the label excited and inspired us. It’s a very progressive company, so it was good fun working with them.