It is one of the best oysters I have had in a long time. Fat and flinty, it sits on the half shell brimming with salty brine. ‘I grew up with oysters,’ says Jones Winery Restaurant chef Briony Bradford. Raised in Albury, but spending years living on the oyster-rich Sapphire Coast of New South Wales, the globetrotting chef recently achieved a long-term desire to cook in a beautiful winery restaurant. She worked under Claude Bosi at Hibiscus in London, Brent Savage at Bentley Bar Sydney and with Paul Cooper at Bishop Sessa nearby. She also worked in a chalet in La Châtel, France. ‘Ever since I worked in France and was exposed to the food in the wineries, it has been something I have been working towards,’ she says.
In February this year Briony joined the team at Jones. Since then she has immersed herself in the local food community, visiting farmers markets and going direct to farms to organise a good supply of local produce. Deliveries of carrots, cabbage, radish, silver beet and chard from Willowbank Farm are already making their way into the kitchen, along with sweet and unctuous free-range pork from Rutherglen Berkshire. The oysters? They don’t grow them in Rutherglen in North East Victoria. Instead, Briony brings them fresh and unshucked from the Sapphire Coast at Tathra, and opens them fresh to order. In a glass next to the oysters is a glass of pale straw-coloured wine, ugni blanc. The Italians call the grape variety trebbiano and in France it can be a thin, tart wine. Winemaker Mandy Jones, however, has made her ugni blanc, in 500 litre aged oak barrels using natural yeasts and kept the wine on lees for seven months. The result is a delicate, nuanced, slightly savoury wine that is a perfect companion for half a dozen Sydney rock oysters.
Light and wonderfully fresh is another seafood entrée, a plate of fresh Queensland prawn meat served with discs of colourful radish, avocado purée and the tangy notes of watercress and horseradish. Dotted with young violet flowers it is a classic spring-summer starter.
Served on a stave from an old oak barrel is a juicy puck of smoked pork hock terrine and a jar of velvet-smooth chicken liver parfait, along with tissue-thin sheets of prosciutto and salami. The real star of the charcuterie plate are the pickles that Briony made with her own vegetables earlier in the season. A glass of 2016 Marsanne Roussanne blend is poured, lifting the flavours of the rich meat with its wonderfully textured mid palate and spicy fruit characters. Briony is a keen gardener and forager, so expect the addition of the occasional wild herb and fruit from old homestead orchards. With her eye not only on the farms, her garden and the calendar, she works her ever changing menu around the season’s best.
It is Briony’s thoughtful consideration of Jones’ collection of wines that has allowed her to slip so seamlessly into this thriving Rutherglen establishment. She puts finessed food on the plate with the emphasis on the real flavour of the produce and not artefacts of technique. It could be a plate of perfectly crisp skinned barramundi with earthy cauliflower and roast leek finished with a sharp wood sorrel sauce or the amazingly simple but perfectly prepared duck breast roasted in paperbark, served with a duck neck boudin with a touch of beetroot and hazelnut.
At Jones you’re tasting the food, not the chef’s ego. A perfect match for a rustic dining room where antique balloon-backed chairs sit at old mismatched tables set with gleaming cutlery and fine stemware. Here you really get a sense of the history of the Jones family – and a chef who not only appreciates it but respects it.
Portrait photo: Mandy Jones’ food photography Jamie Durrant.
JONES WINERY AND VINEYARD
Cellar door open: Mon, Thurs, Fri 10am-4pm, Sat-Sun 10am-5pm,
Restaurant: Thu-Sun 12pm-2.30pm
61 Jones Road, Rutherglen, Victoria
Tel 02 6032 8496,