Casual seafood eats with an Asian twist at this Hunter Valley institution
What’s the difference between a good and great dining experience? For me, it’s when you go somewhere where the atmosphere is chilled and the service and food are always amazing, no matter when you go or what you choose from the menu.
Leaves & Fishes in Lovedale is one such place for me and let’s face it, pretty much anyone who’s ever dined there. Following a six-month closure, this little favourite of ours has just re-opened for lunch Thursday through to Monday and we couldn’t be happier.
To get the latest, I caught up with Madeleine Burke, daughter of Sharon and Damian Burke who own and have built this Hunter Valley gem from scratch.
Set on a sprawling 25 acre property in Lovedale, Leaves & Fishes is quite an institution. In fact, the Burke family have owned the estate since 1979, a blank canvas when they purchased the land Sharon and Damian went about landscaping and building everything that you now see on the property. Establishing the restaurant in 2004 followed by the Boathouses accommodation in 2008, and the Store in 2018, it's easy to see a lot of love has been poured into every inch of Leaves & Fishes.
Madeleine tells me the idea behind Leaves & Fishes ‘Quick Bites’ was always to provide the Hunter Valley with a fresh, smart casual dining option.
“That’s how we started. The barbeque prawns and chips and dishes like that really went well when we first opened. We’re really just going back to that kind of tasty, simple but good food.”
I can assure you the mostly seafood menu at Leaves & Fishes looks and tastes as great as it always has. Madeleine continues.
“There’s a few new dishes but largely all of our old signature favourites are still on offer because that’s what people want.”
As with the menu of old, everything has a bit of an Asian twist on it. The new buttermilk fried chicken tenders served with roti bread, lime and gochujang mayo is sure to be a winner. So too, the baked half shell Tasmanian scallops complete with a caramelised soy, chilli, garlic and shallot sauce.
The menu and beautiful, serene atmosphere at Leaves & Fishes may not have changed significantly but the dining experience does look a little different.
For starters, the restaurant will now serve all dishes in eco-friendly, single use packaging. What’s more, they won’t be taking reservations or providing table service, opting for a more casual walk-in and order dining experience.
Talking to Madeleine, you get the feeling that this change wasn’t one they made lightly. In fact, they took the whole Winter off to assess what was important and consider their next move.
“We felt that going down the casual dining avenue was more aligned with how we first opened. It also matches where Mum and Dad and our team are at in their lives. They don’t want to be doing so many services per week. And, it’s nice for people to be able to experience the place without having to pay top dollar and book three weeks in advance.”
I’ll admit I was sceptical at first but it really does make sense. Offering counter service and single-use packaging allows the restaurant to be more contactless and to streamline their lunch offering, which by the way, can be taken away and enjoyed at home.
“We want to be that spur-of-the-moment kind of venue too because that’s what we like"
There’s plenty of space on the estate too. The restaurant has quite a bit of seating outside and are more than happy for you to bring along your fav picnic rug to set up your own little picnic on the lovely grounds.
If you do want to wait for a table inside, that’s no problems either. You can always have a wander around the property or head across the way to Leaves & Fishes boutique homewares store, for a browse.
Or, if you’re dreaming of a getaway to your very own private villa, you can’t go past The Boathouses. The luxury accommodation which overlooks the pond on the Leaves & Fishes estate has also re-opened and is available for short (one-night) and longer-term stays. To book, click here