Maitland is having a moment, most notably for the number of new and cool cafes, restaurants, bars and pubs that have enlivened the historic NSW city, located on the banks of the serpentine Hunter River.
Much of the food and wine in Maitland – known as Mindaribba by the local Aboriginal people – is informed by the area’s verdant surrounds and that’s certainly for the best. With rolling hills, easy access to pretty vineyards and old villages, there’s never been a better time to visit the historic region, located just two hours from Sydney and 40 minutes from Newcastle.
First time visitors should start by circling Friday 7 to Sunday 9 May in the diary for Maitland Taste Deconstructed. This year, the annual food festival has been reinterpreted in a COVID Safe way in order to celebrate the great food and wine that is produced in and around Maitland and the Hunter Region. Plot your course around the pop up eateries that proliferate around The Levee for the 2021 festival, which has an overarching theme of sustainability.
The festival is both a reflection of the city’s transformation and an integral player in the makeover of Maitland. Both have grown, hand in hand, and while you can have a fine time just browsing the various stalls over the three day festival, you can also borrow ideas for your next short break. Here are some of the exciting eateries – from new kids on the block to a not so hidden gem — that are must dos in Maitland.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
When Muse Kitchen lobbed in the leafy suburb of Lorn, food focused travellers sat up and took note. Run by award winning restaurateur Megan Rhoades-Brown, the sister restaurant to Muse Kitchen in Pokolbin has greige walls, elegant artworks, French doors and a casual bistro feel. The kitchen at the cosy restaurant, which is only open for dinners on Saturday nights, is run by talented head chef Josh Gregory who has worked everywhere from Muse Dining and Exp. in the Hunter Valley to The Ledbury in the UK. Gregory is passionate about French cuisine so expect the menu to have a Gallic feel. Keep it simple with a croque monsieur for breakfast and saffron-braised mussels for lunch.
You will also feel in awe of Maitland’s offerings when you’re taken to your table at Boydell’s Cellar Door and Restaurant in Green Street Morpeth, in the landmark 1820s’ slab hut that was once a pub, and later home to a blacksmith, pie man and clairvoyant. Off to the side of the restored building is where you will find the cellar door where a mix of locals and visitors gather around a long bar to buy Boydell’s wines. The menu, curated by head chef Paula Rengger, prioritises food that matches well with the wines produced at Daniel and Jane Maroulis’ East Gresford vineyard, first established by Charles Boydell in 1826. Enjoy the Chinese five spice duck with caramelised witlof and a glass of 2018 Reserve Shiraz Pinot.
Duke’s Restaurant and Bar is another relative newcomer, opening its doors in historic Roseneath House in East Maitland in December 2020. The cosy neighbourhood restaurant led by local chef Timothy Duke has a seasonal menu with dishes such as roast bone marrow with radish and eschalot salad and housemade ravioli with Warrigal greens. The restaurant, which is located in the historic Queen Victoria Inn, established in 1837, is also a showcase for hot right now Hunter Valley wines. Kick it in the rustic courtyard for lunch before finding a spot amid the collection of private dining spaces in the restaurant.
The mood and food at The Rigby mirrors the 19th century heritage of the building it is housed in and is emblematic of the makeover Maitland has undergone. Marrying old Maitland charm with modern luxury, The Rigby – housed in a former high end retail space – is all raw brick, comfy leather couches, seductive lighting and a signature shade of hot pink that carries it from groovy cafe by day to cocktail lounge by night. Ask the waiter to suggest a few small plates to share – such as fried chicken tacos, pork dumplings and crispy squid.
Maitland also has an exciting alternative arts and music scene to discover. As such, the city, which was founded in 1818 as a settlement for convicts, has a few atmospheric pubs to choose from where live music adds to the laidback country ambience. Get on the beers at The Pourhouse, which is a top spot for beats and eats and pub grub that runs the gamut from old school (schnitties) to new school (jalapeno poppers). First established as The Exchange Hotel in 1866, the pub is accented with eclectic knick knacks.
Coquun flung open its doors on the Hunter River in 2018 as part of the Riverlink project designed to transform Maitland’s town centre. And while it’s not exactly a hidden gem — word is out — the bar, bistro, deli and café still has elements of surprise that will thrill even repeat visitors to the locale. Coquun is named after the local Wonnarua people’s Aboriginal name for the Hunter River and it’s not the only nod to the traditional owners of the land: the elegant restaurant, with its soaring ceilings, timber and tiled walls, celebrates that culture, course by course. Co owner Daniel O’Leary (ex The Dock, in Redfern) is from Bundjalung Country and Australia’s vast Indigenous pantry informs the menu, which is peppered with native ingredients such as lemon myrtle and Warrigal greens. Regardless of whether or not you make it to the Maitland Taste Deconstructed festival, Coquun is one of many examples that shows Maitland is now ready for visitors and packing some serious culinary clout.
Make your money go even further in Maitland by spending your two Service NSW $25 vouchers* to dine out at restaurants, cafes, bars, pubs and clubs that are registered as Covid Safe.