At the tail end of an inventive degustation dinner at Mr Lim, a slick Chinese-Korean BBQ restaurant in Orange that’s turning predictable country Chinese on its head, we’re intrigued to see a television set being wheeled out.
Karaoke, it seems, is also on the menu. And once the dinner service is done and the military-line of barbeque cookers is turned off, even the most retiring of diners is clambering for a chance to belt out a tune or two.
In central-west New South Wales, a 3.5-hour car trip from Sydney, Orange is our idea of the perfect romantic getaway — a foodie destination and cold-climate wine district with over 50 cellar doors and vineyards. It’s a place where delicious stonefruit, berries, apples, nuts and cheese are bountiful, and world-class chefs and winemakers abound.
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It is, as Mr Lim shows us (the decor funky with 1950s Asian touches and a brick feature wall slung with big bamboo steamers and taiko drums), also getting a city-shine to its food and wine scene.
We get our first inkling of this at the Village Bakehouse, a third-generation baker with artisan bread, pies and pastries, good coffee and an industrial brick and fern-filled interior with glass-walled kitchen where you can watch the bakers at work.
Ferment, the Orange Wine Centre and Wine Store, is another; a Euro-chic space with wooden casks for light shades and a splashy orange artwork of jostling cows above the fireplace.
Open late, it’s the cellar door for a number of Orange’s smaller boutique wine makers and, for indolent couples like us intent on eating and cramming a weekend’s wine tasting into one sitting, a curated one at that — the perfect pre-dinner romantic stop.
At the Union Bank Wine and Dining, a wine bar and casual restaurant with a gorgeous sun-dappled courtyard and true paddock-to-table vibe (look for the UB insignia of their farm on the menu), we graze on fresh burrata and spicy goat-topped wombok leaves over a glass of wine.
Around the corner at Byng Street Local Store, a neighbourhood favourite newly open for dinner, the atmosphere is buzzy, and the food, a small menu of modern Australian flavours, good. So too are the cocktails.
In between feasts, we walk the bones of Orange, its wide tree-lined streets that in autumn are flush with glorious russet tones, and stroll the Botanic Gardens, green with plush lawns and shady trees. It’s infinitely relaxing and restorative.
The Agrestic Grocer, a five-minute drive away, is the furthest we venture from town all weekend. In part, because the cafe doubles as the cellar door for Badlands Craft Brewery and the Second Mouse Cheese Company. A paddle of beer accompanies our meal — a rustic ploughman’s lunch and roasted veggie salad bowl — and with impressive staying power, we finish with a tasting plate of cheese.
The karaoke over at Mr Lim, we stop by local speakeasy, Washington & Co Whiskey Saloon, a hip fairy-lit bar with rustic mid-west American touches (taxidermy deer heads, a feature wall of US licence plates and lots of rough-hewn wood palings) and an urban-cool vibe.
The drinks menu is impressive — a many-paged offering of classic cocktails and bourbon and whiskeys from around the world. Feeling celebratory, we order a bottle of Veuve and settle in to watch the bar staff busy mixing, shaking and pouring, while we listen to some swinging tunes.
The Orange F.O.O.D Week — an annual ten-day celebration of local produce and wine with rustic farm gate tours, cooking demonstrations and one-off dinners in vineyards, orchards and cellar doors — kicks off this year on March 30 with the popular Night Markets.
During Orange F.O.O.D Week, the F.O.O.D train is a fun foodie journey — a dedicated carriage with producer talks — that departs Sydney’s Central Station. Included is accommodation, fine dining and tickets to FORAGE, a 3.6-kilometre meander through Orange’s vineyards with nine degustation stops along the way, as well as the Sunday producers’ market and brunch.
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FLIGHTS: REX Airlines has flights daily from Sydney.
ROAD TRIP: Orange is a 3.5-hour drive from Sydney and Canberra and an eight-hour drive from Melbourne.
The writer travelled to Orange as a guest of Brand Orange.