Exploring our people, places and produce: Poachers Pantry

Unique location: The Smokehouse Cafe is set in a gorgeous rural Australian garden.
Unique location: The Smokehouse Cafe is set in a gorgeous rural Australian garden. 

One of the great pleasures in visiting Poachers Pantry, right on the edge of the Australian Capital Territory, is simply getting there. It's a drive through a sun-bleached Streeton landscape of fading yellows, greens and browns. The final approach - along a dusty dirt road followed by a short walk along a crunchy gravel path past lavender and rose bushes - leads to the Smokehouse Café set in a gorgeous rural Australian garden and surrounded by gum trees.

Owners Susan and Robert Bruce established the smokehouse more than 20 years ago on the family's grazing property and it has grown to include the original smokehouse as well as the café and Wily Trout Winery.

While the smokehouse has enjoyed huge success nationally with its selection of smoked treats, it's the Smokehouse Café which buzzes every weekend with hungry Canberrans and road warriors from further afield anxious to try head chef Melissa Hanns's eclectic menu.

"The location is quite unique. People don't know what to expect when they come out here. It's a lovely atmosphere with a little cottage and a restaurant in a garden setting," she says.

With 12 years behind the stove at the café, Hanns has shaped an innovative menu highlighting the smoked products as well as the best of local ingredients.

"It's about using our smoked products in a way that continues to interest our customers," she says.

The menu highlights local ingredients.
The menu highlights local ingredients. 

For Hanns, using diverse, seasonal flavours is the key as is keeping things as local as possible.

This emphasis on fresh local, organic produce reaches its apotheosis with the five-course 100 Mile Meals featuring produce sourced within a 100-mile radius and matched with Wily Trout Wines.

And it's all there from the first course - a potato and leek soup with applewood smoked cheddar and truffles. It features local potatoes from Brayton, leeks from Rossmore, garlic from Goulburn, cream and milk from Picton as well as applewood chips from Loriendale. The cheddar is from the South Coast and the truffles from nearby Mount Majura.

Moreover, Hanns loves to get her hands dirty in the pursuit of produce in and around the café itself.

"There are so many bits and pieces out in the fields. I go foraging for beetroot, kale, herbs and things. I'll use some stinging nettle from the paddock or grab fruit from the fig trees.

"I even raided my grandma's garden for lemongrass the other day."

A lovely atmosphere with a little cottage and restaurant set in a garden setting.

''Mixing things up and celebrating the flavours of the region never gets boring," Hanns concludes.

Five-course 100-mile meal

  • Potato and leek soup with applewood smoked cheddar and truffles
  • Housemade truffled egg yolk ravioli with smoked garlic and sage beurre noisette
Head chef Melissa Hann.
Head chef Melissa Hann. 
  • Truffled quail with pumpkin, kale crisps, marjoram butter and jus gras
  • Smoked lamb cutlets en croute with swiss brown mushroom, creamed cabbage, hazelnuts and truffled jus.
  • Rhubarb curd with sous vide rhubarb, raspberry gel and a buttermilk mousse

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