Outback MagazineOutback Magazine


The art of dining

By Trish Harty
Photos R Ian Llyod

The art of diningMost chefs would consider themselves artists, but Paula Rengger at Shakey Tables in the Hunter Valley of NSW takes the concept one step further. The restaurant she has established with husband Simon doubles as a gallery to exhibit her paintings, just as her culinary art is displayed on each plate. Born in Scotland, Paula trained as a jeweller and silversmith at Edinburgh College of Art as well as undertaking a chef's apprenticeship, although she describes Scottish food at the time as "third world".

Paula arrived in Australia in the late 1980s and worked in and around Sydney as a chef before deciding to set up her own restaurant with Simon, who is from Switzerland and has a background in wine. Four years ago they bought the Hunter Country Lodge at Rothbury and set about realising their dream of an art-food-wine destination. "It was pretty run down when we arrived," admits Paula. "But we could see the potential and we still have plans to improve it even further."

‘Shakey' is a Scottish slang word for something adventurous and groovy. It is certainly apt for this unusual space, which is vibrant and energetic while remaining cosy and welcoming. Paula's distinctive art is everywhere, adding colour and a light-hearted atmosphere that reflects her effervescent personality. "Being an artist, the visual concept is as important to me as the flavour," says Paula. "Each dish is constructed with colours and textures in mind, as well as the combination of flavours on the palate." It's a recipe that has gained the Renggers much recognition, culminating in the NSW Regional Restaurant of the Year award from Restaurant & Catering Australia in 2002.

A little off the beaten track, Shakey Tables is a destination in itself, so it is wise to take advantage of accommodation on the premises, particularly if you are planning to indulge in a selection from Simon's carefully prepared wine list. He is an experienced sommelier and has put together a wide-ranging array of the best the Hunter has to offer. A much smaller list offers wines from elsewhere in Australia, but it does seem a shame not to enjoy wines from the area. Simon has also started making wine from grapes grown on the property; currently on offer are 2001, 2002 and 2003 vintages of Shakey Semillon, a wine variety the Hunter dues particularly well. A 2003 Shakey Chardonnay is also available and reds are on the way as the couple expand the winemaking operation to complement the restaurant and gallery. "We want to share out passion for food, art and wine with others and hope they gain as much enjoyment as we do," says Paula.

Shakey Tables and the Hunter Country Lodge are near Branxton on the Cessnock-Branxton Road at Rothbury in the Hunter Valley. Advance bookings are advised. Phone (02) 4938 1744 www.shakeytables.com.au Story end

Full story: Issue 28, June/July 03

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