A visit to EXP. Restaurant can be described with many words: experimental expert, exposure, exploration, expression, explosion… but most of all, it’s about the Experience.
It’s fair to expect big things from the Pokolbin restaurant, a hidden gem located in the heart of the Hunter Valley. It’s the brainchild of Frank and Emma Fawkner, a husband-and-wife team who have more than their fair share of experience.
As the talented Head Chef, Frank has had quite the illustrious career. He started at Crowne Plaza Hunter Valley, where he completed his apprenticeship, before moving to London to become sous chef at the distinguished Tom’s Kitchen. When he returned to the Hunter, he joined the team at Muse and eventually made his way to the position of head chef. Two years later, Frank and Emma went out on their own, establishing EXP. Restaurant.
Their restaurant is an energetic, modern and elegant space. The dining room is chic and intimate with hand-crafted local furniture, such as Mark Aylward’s sawn-log tables and Helen Stronach and Clay Canoe’s beautiful ceramics.
As the room fills with hungry patrons and the food starts to fly out of the kitchen, the space becomes energetic. Reservations are recommended – with such a fantastic experience on offer, the restaurant floor is often at near capacity. The best seats in the house are located at the chef’s bar, where guests can peer directly into the kitchen and watch all the action.
In an innovative move, the chefs also serve the food themselves so they can interact with the guests. After slaving away for hours to create perfection, it’s understandable that they might enjoy showing-off just a little.
EXP. organises your dinner in a five- or eight-course tasting menu, which celebrates a humble list of ingredients. However, don’t let this simplicity deceive you. The flavours are deliciously complex and enhanced through clever and innovative combinations that remain appealing to the eye.
These culinary twists begin with the basic staple of bread and butter. Sourdough flatbreads are served with a mortar and pestle filled with liquid nitrogen, which freezes the fresh garden herbs that you choose to throw in. The herbs can then be ground into a powder and mixed with creamy butter before being lathered onto the bread. It’s modern and supremely delicious.
While each dish sounds pretty simple, it’s in the details that EXP. shines. Frank’s signature dish showcases this perfectly. Warm brioche is hollowed to resemble a delicate flowerpot, and the centre is filled with melted blue cheese custard. The saltiness is perfectly balanced with a drizzle of local honey, and the dish is decorated with marigold flowers from the on-site garden.
After such a fantastic meal, there’s nothing better than a stroll through stunning vineyards. Luckily for visitors to EXP., the restaurant is part of the beautiful Oakvale winery, meaning a post-lunch wander is almost a necessity. The restaurant has also recently launched a sister company, Fawk Foods, which will be selling EXP.’s specialty goods.
EXP. is a truly unique experience. From the food and the open kitchen, to the exquisite crockery and art, Frank and Emma have made the extraordinary out of the ordinary, starting with the basics of bread and butter.