Watervale Hotel’s elite food aspirations

A country hotel can embrace city restaurant ethics without destroying the simple ambience and personality of rural hospitality.

This is the belief of Nicola Palmer and Warrick Duthy, who bought the Watervale Hotel in Clare a year ago, and are implementing positive change through re-defining the pub’s cooking and dining philosophy.

Calling themselves “ethical epicureans”, Warwick and Nicola (her family owns Skillogalee Winery at Clare) aim to prepare elite-quality meals while simultaneously practicing eco-sustainability, recycling and provide unique training for hospitality staff.

To achieve this, the couple has also bought two nearby properties where they intend to grow much of their own food.

The newly revamped Watervale Hotel is a country pub that will give any city restaurant a run for its money. Photo by Daniel Blackman.

A plot opposite the pub is providing herbs and brassica for the hotel kitchen, but the majority of produce will come from Penobscot Farm, a 1.2ha permaculture site being tended by gardener Jared Murray, with about 70 mature fruit and nut trees, and space for more vegetable plots, and animals.

It’s part of a big makeover, as Nicola and Warrick intend to spend $1 million over two years to revitalise the hotel.

An exterior and interior facelift is already in motion, together with refreshed signage and a new website to promote the philosophical change.

Next they will re-open No. 6 Quelltaler Road, the town’s former butcher shop, as Farmgate Cellars – a diverse regional wine shop and providore, selling produce from Penobscot Farm.

Watervale Hotel owner Warrick Duthy. Photo by Daniel Blackman.

The owners want Watervale to win renown as a gastronomic food destination, citing the Royal Mail Hotel (in Dunkeld, western Victoria) and Blue Hill at Stone Barns (American chef Dan Barber’s farm restaurant in New York State) as inspirational models of success.

They’ve started to implement their food ideas through a tasting plate menu at the Watervale Hotel, “inspired by the amazing street food of the world, influenced by the local flavours of The Clare Valley”.

“At the moment, it’s baby steps,” explains Warrick. “It’s a big plan that will keep growing as we get all the resources together and continue to build a team that shares the same ethical approach.”

The challenge now is enticing aspiring young chefs to the region so the philosophy can be implemented to its fullest.

“This is a special opportunity that any chef who wants to learn and perform at the highest level just won’t find in the city. They’ll have a chance to create their own food, from the soil up,” explains Warrick.

“Young hospitality workers are telling me they don’t want to come to a place like Clare because of lifestyle reasons, that it’s too far removed from city attractions, but it’s only here that they can become part of a thriving food community. It’s not an impossible dream.

“Places such as Brae in rural Victoria have been awarded Australia’s best restaurant. We want to make it happen in Clare, too.”

Photo by Daniel Blackman.

More notable change is happening in the Limestone Coast, with the Royal Oak Hotel in Penola having recently been sold after a long time under the control of the Hayward family.

The pub has been bought by John Rymill (former managing director of Rymill Winery in Coonawarra), with local chef Kirby Shearing taking residence in the kitchen to drive the hotel’s dining output and serve as a base for his Soul Projects catering company.

Again, the first step this country pub is taking towards revitalisation is via its menu. While not wishing to radically transform the food style, Kirby is adopting a clean food philosophy.

“We’ll be keeping food miles down on the produce we use; sourcing locally, making everything on-site, placing regional freshness as a priority,” he says.

“We won’t try to change what people like to eat, but we will be placing an emphasis on high service standards and quality. I think these are great aspects that new ownership can bring to a country pub.”

We see the Stanley Bridge Tavern’s new beer garden becoming a hotspot this summer.

Introducing change to a beloved country pub is a delicate manoeuvre, as Frank Hannon-Tan (who also runs Amalfi Pizzeria Ristorante in Frome Street, Adelaide) and Pablo Theodoros (ex-East End Cellars) have learned as managers of the Stanley Bridge Tavern at Verdun in the Adelaide Hills.

While the pub is owned by Julie and Ed Peters (who also own the Crafers and Uraidla Hotels in the Adelaide Hills, featured previously here on Brand SA News, Hannon-Tan and Theodoros have been charged with refreshing the pub’s image through modern wines list, simplified bistro-style menu, and modern styling applied to a large rear beer garden, but without damaging the character of a beloved local watering hole.

“It has to be a locals’ pub, first and foremost,” says Theodoros, “so we have to make sure we give loyal locals the best of everything.”

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Adelaide Hills watering holes reborn into bustling, stylish pubs

Adelaide Hills couple Julie and Ed Peter are behind the successful revamps of the Crafers and Uraidla hotels, both of which have helped transform the faces of the respective towns.

Both establishments now do a roaring trade on weekends and have helped introduce scores of food and wine lovers to the quiet and leafy area which once thrived on large-scale vegetable market gardening.

Last week, the couple’s renovation efforts paid off, with the Crafers Hotel crowned the Best Overall Hotel in South Australia at the 2018 Australian Hotel Association (AHA) SA Hotel Industry Awards for Excellence.

The dining hotspot also took awards for Best Superior Hotel Accommodation, Best Redeveloped Hotel, Best Apprentice Development and Training, and was a joint winner for Best Bistro (Metropolitan).

Photo by Julie Peter.

The Uraidla Hotel was also a joint winner for Best Bar Presentation and Experience (Metropolitan).

Julie and Ed, who also run wine various businesses including Kaesler in the Barossa Valley, purchased the Crafers Hotel in 2014 with shareholders Brett and Sarah Matthews and Jodi and Scott Brumby.

Over three years they transformed the historic yet rundown establishment into a French-inspired and stylish gastropub, offering local produce and a wine list featuring drops from as close as Balhannah and Kuitpo and as far as Burgundy, France.

The menu boasts a strong focus on local produce, from Smoky Bay oysters, SA mussels and locally caught squid.

“Nowadays, hotels are more food-based with higher quality offerings,” says Julie.

“I think now people are more discerning about what they’re eating and drinking.

“On our busiest day we put on close to 200 meals at Crafers.

“Sundays are our busiest, people love to have Sunday lunches.”

Photo by Julie Peter.

In 2016, 5km away in Uraidla, the Peters purchased the Uraidla Hotel, a pub seeping in history but left in a ghostly and abandoned state for many years.

The 151-year-old establishment was brought back to life, with the insides stripped bare and Julie collecting antique pieces to spruce up the interior, including vintage lamps that hang upside down from the high ceiling and beer kegs quirkily used as urinals.

The end result is a 1930s art deco style space, featuring a large front bar, upstairs function area and plush sofas by open fires.

With experience renovating houses in the Hills, France and Singapore, Julie says she is drawn to the character and history of old buildings.

“With the Uraidla Hotel, it had loads of character,” she says.

“The more derelict it was, the more I loved it.”

Photo by Julie Peter.

While both the Crafers and Uraidla hotels focus on delivering a high quality wining and dining experience, Julie says patrons can still feel at home.

“People use our hotels as an extension of their own living rooms,” she says.

“The concept at Crafers is that if you want to spend $10,000 on a bottle of wine you can.

“But you can also sit by the fire with a bag of chips. We just want people to feel comfortable.”

Next door to the hotel is the Uraidla Brewery and the Uraidla Republic café and bakery, also owned by the Peters.

The Uraidla Hotel, photo by Julie Peter.

Uraidla’s main street can also attribute its revival to the efforts of community group Imagine Uraidla, as well as the addition of the eclectic restaurant Lost in a Forest.

Uraidla’s general store has also undergone a recent upgrade.

Julie says the food and wine boost has been welcomed by local residents.

“I know that it (the success of the hotel) has stopped some people from moving away from Uraidla,” she says.

“It’s also benefited local employment because between Uraidla and Crafers we employ 100 people and many of them are from the area.”

The Crafers Hotel will go on to compete at the National AHA Awards on the Gold Coast in September.

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