"We're not open again until Wednesday so you can have any wine by the glass for $5," says the perky manager at Lester's, as we linger over post-dinner Sunday drinks. Recently rebranded to honour its historic pharmacy namesake (it was Sajo's previously), Lester's is Mudgee's sole cocktail bar. But, as with many spots in town, it multi-tasks, offering yummy tapas and a kids' menu, even homemade baby food. The welcoming attitude is seen all over this laidback historical town, once better known for sheep, cattle, and gold-mining, but now punching well above its weight in the food and drink stakes.
Here are some of our favourites.
It takes three-and-a-half hours to get to Mudgee, and you should arrive hungry because the town's two standout restaurants shouldn't be missed. Do you choose the consistency and polish of chef Andy Crestani's Pipeclay Pumphouse – a five star feast you'll still be thinking about weeks later – in the stylish surrounds of highly-rated Robert Stein Winery? Or opt for The Zin House, for a meandering seasonal long lunch you will tell all your friends about, in a cosy converted home where well-known regional chef Kim Currie reigns supreme? If you pick both (you should), there are a range of dining opportunities: Pipeclay also does breakfast (with a killer bacon and egg gnocchi) and The Zin House has more casual offerings on weekend nights.
For something more casual, pop into High Valley Wine & Cheese Co, or take a scenic drive for super yum cha at 29 Nine 99 (in Rylstone, about 45 minutes by car). Both are great options for families.
French-leaning Market Street Cafe and The Butcher Shop Cafe are the hotspots for breakfast and coffee; check out which is least busy, or head to The Butcher Shop's recently launched just-out-of-town sibling, High Cube Cafe, made (you guessed it) out of shipping containers. Also try Eltons, another revamped multi-tasker – great for breakfast, coffee, lunch and dinner, and it's a pumping wine bar after dark too. Local faves Alby & Esther's and Roth's Wine Bar also do apres dinner well, Roths with live music.
Lester's, 22 Church Street, (02) 6372 2722
Pipeclay Pumphouse and Robert Stein Winery, Pipeclay Lane, (02) 6373 3998, pipeclaypumphouse.com.au
The Zin House, Tinja Lane, Eurunderee, (02) 6372 1660, zinhouse.com.au
High Valley Wine & Cheese Co, 137 Ulan Road, (02) 6372 1011, highvalley.com.au
29 Nine 99, 28 Louee St, Rylstone, (02) 6379 1984
Market Street Cafe, 79 Market Street, (02) 6372 0052
The Butcher Shop Cafe, 49 Church Street, (02) 6372 7373
High Cube Cafe, 83 Lions Drive, (02) 6372 7373
Eltons, 81 Market Street, (02) 6372 1079, eltons.com.au
Alby & Esther's, 61 Market Street, (02) 6372 1555, albyandesthers.com.au
Roth's Wine Bar, 30 Market Street, (02) 6372 1222, rothswinebar.com.au
There are dozens of wineries and cellar doors in Mudgee, from plush giant operations owned by millionaires, to intimate one-person affairs. They are not as spread out as in many other wine regions, meaning you can knock off half a dozen in a day – if you're disciplined. Grab a map and explore, making sure to try the big reds the town is famous for.
We can never go past Lowe Wines for very special zinfandel, organic and biodynamic wines – and a fascinating conversation if winemaker David Lowe is home. Paspaley family winery Bunamagoo is a fancy wining experience and good for bubbles (and they have an annual polo event) and, on the other side, Logan's stunning architecture, views, and award-winning wines are worth checking out. There's also a microbrewery, Mudgee Brewing Company.
Lowe Wines, Tinja Lane, (02) 6372 0800, lowewine.com.au
Bunamagoo, 603 Henry Lawson Drive, (02) 6373 3046, bunnamagoowines.com.au
Logan Wines, 1320 Castlereagh Highway, Apple Tree Flat, (02) 6373 133, loganwines.com.au
Mudgee Brewing Company, 4 Church Street, (02) 6372 6726, mudgeebrewing.com.au
The Mudgee Farmers Markets are held on the third Saturday morning of each month, on the corner of Church and Market Streets. You've probably heard of Mudgee honey and olive oil – but here you'll also find local chocolates and pistachios (the salt and pepper flavour is a must), coffee, craft beers, ports and spirits, local cheeses, meats, more condiments than you will ever be able to consume, and cooked stuff. It's also the place for an egg and bacon roll on the run.
The name Mudgee comes from the Wiradjuri term Moothi meaning "Nest in the Hills" – you'll see why when you get there – and there are also plenty of really great spots to nest your head after hours. We love the slickness and style of Trelawney Farm, the roaming delights of Mudgee's Getaway Cottages, the nature of Rosby Guesthouse and the peace-with-mod-cons of Mudgee Homestead Guesthouse. There are also plenty of motels and hotels, including newbie Perry Street Hotel. Book everything early – especially on long weekends or in September, when the Mudgee Food and Wine Festival takes place.
Trelawney Farm, 428 Henry Lawson Drive, (02) 8218 2124, trelawneyfarm.com
Mudgee's Getaway Cottages, 38 Mortimer Street, (02) 6372 7272 mudgeesgetaway.com.au
Rosby Guesthouse, 135 Strikes Lane, 0414 942 917, rosbyguesthouse.com.au
Mudgee Homestead Guesthouse, 31 Coorumbene Road, (02) 6373 3786, mudgeehomestead.com.au
Perry Street Hotel, 40 Perry Street, (02) 6372 7650, perrystreethotel.com.au
The writer's family has a cellar door in Mudgee.