I've been eating food cooked by Emerson Rodriquez for several years now - right back to the time he took over the kitchen at Peppers Guest House.
But I've never seen so much consistency of flavour or quality as when I ate recently at the chef's latest home: Emerson's Cafe and Restaurant at Adina Vineyard at Lovedale in the Hunter Valley.
The chef patron has almost 20 years of experience and he and his wife Samantha focus on seasonal menus promoting locally sourced produce at sensible prices.
He enjoyed success at Emerson's at Pokolbin, but is shining even more brightly in the casual ambiance of his new venue overlooking the Adina vines and olive groves. The terrace is a lovely choice in summer.
At a recent lunch paired with Adina wines, there was a dazzling array of dishes. To be frank, I was not particularly hungry after several days of eating my way around the Hunter, but my appetite was revived by dishes like miso-cured Tasmanian salmon with pickled cucumber, soy jelly, seaweed dusted puffed rice and fresh horseradish cream, a wonderfully vibrant start.
Then came a duo of Berkshire pork with an ash-coated pork fillet alongside a slow-roasted pork belly wrapped in braised savoy cabbage, caramelised Gala apple, date puree and crisp cavolo nero - the two pork dishes serving as a counterpoint to each other in terms of texture.
That was followd by a sous vide-cooked duck supreme with duck hash, carrot puree, split peas and crisp barley with an orange glaze; rich but not too rich.
Then came another duo; roasted lamb rump and slow-cooked lamb shoulder with brussels sprouts, parsnip cream and pickling (pickled) onions.
And to finish; banana fritter, house-made Nulkaba Farm honey ice cream and dulce de leche.
Lovely food in a lovely setting - and there is the option of an eight-course dinner degustation matched with local wines, while al a carte dishes can be served individually or to share. Every plate is beautifully presented.
I'd like to see more attention paid to the menu writing (pumkin for instance) but the service here is bright, friendly and knowledgeable.
Next time I want to try char-grilled spatchcock with zucchini, glazed baby carrots and roasted pinenuts, or maybe ras el hanout-spiced king prawns, with crusty ciabata.
There will certainly be a next time - and Emerson's is certainly worth a visit during Hunter Valley Wine and Food Month in June.
Emerson's is at 492 Lovedale Road, Lovedale, NSW. 02 4930 7029. www.emersonsrestaurant.com.au. Breakfast Saturday and Sunday: 8am-11am, Lunch Wednesday-Sunday: 11am-3pm. Dinner Thursday-Sunday 6pm-10pm.