Karay is meat. Makurr is fish. Kukirr is house. These are words of the Wonnarua – the people of the hills and plains – who have lived in the Hunter Valley for millennia.
Coquun – roughly translated to ‘fresh water’ – is the first name given to the river that most locals now know as the Hunter River. It’s a beautiful word for a beautiful river. It is also the name of this brilliant new dining room on the banks of the very same watercourse, in Maitland.
In the Riverlink Building at The Levee, spaced throughout two levels; a small bar downstairs and restaurant upstairs, Coquun is as stylish in execution as it is respectful in intent. The food menu incorporates indigenous themes, terms and ingredients with modern flavours and techniques, while the drinks list is vivid and thoughtful. Indeed, I daresay it’s the best list I’ve seen for a restaurant like this – anywhere in the Hunter – for a long, long time.
Coquun staff are dressed casually in the elegant space and speak in friendly terms. They explain the unfamiliar Wonnarua names for various ingredients on the succinct, yet diverse, menu; karay for meat, makurr for fish, kukirr for house – as in house made tortellini, bread and gelato.
Four entree, four mains, three sides and three desserts. Head chef Bryce Reynolds has composed a menu that’s locally focused, enlightening and, above all, delicious. For instance, smoked wallaby (karay) tartare with angel hair chilli, finger lime, beetroot and the yolk of a cured egg celebrates the gently gamey flavours and soft textures of wallaby, complemented, as they are, by the sweetness of a beetroot and finger lime relish and a tiny trio of smartly seasoned, crispy potato discs.
The fresh pirapa, however, with garlic and white wine reduction, steals this three-course curtain-raiser. One whole scampi is charred grilled and split in two and served in a deep dish filled with a delicate, buttery and creamy sauce that’s wonderfully understated, yet utterly flavoursome.
As noted earlier, the drinks list doesn’t disappoint, thanks to owner Daniel O’Leary’s small bar experience in Sydney. Cocktails made with Green Ant Gin, independent craft beers from the likes of Young Henry’s, Lovedale, and Aberglasslyn’s Dusty Miner are prominent, while the wine list is the best bit. A number of quality local drops from Tyrrell’s, Hart & Hunter and more feature alongside some orange funk from the Barossa (Sigurd White Blend), some red SA Eden Valley fruit that’s made into wine in a Sydney shed (Sparrow & Vine), and a Canberran riesling that probably thinks it can go head to head with a Hunter semillon during our summer. Bless.
Mains showcase 250gram sirloin, wallaby pesto pasta, trout with risotto, or wild field mushrooms for the protein teetotallers. The portion sizes are huge, but it’s all good. Pesto pasta made from warrigal greens accompanied with onion, bush tomato and truffled parmesan are mixed among shredded pieces of wallaby meat for a flavoursome main.
Yet again, however, it’s the waterborne repast that steals the show. First a crispy layer of skin, then a perfectly cooked chunk of salmon-pink trout resting upon a creamy couch of risotto, bedded next to a deep purple quenelle of yum, plum jam. Beautiful.
Finish, as required, with dessert of creme brulee, rocky road and house made (kukirr) gelato, or custard and caramelised white chocolate. Again, it’s all good.
Coquun is marrung (good, excellent, valuable). Maitland needs a restaurant like Coquun, and Coquun deserves the support of the good people of Maitland and beyond.
- What: Coquun
- Where: 396 High St, Maitland, NSW, 2320
- Contact: (02) 4030 8767 / coquun.com.au
- Owners: Daniel O’Leary and Anthony Ford
- Drinks: Excellent selection of wine, beer, spirits, coffee.
- Hours: Wed-Sat 8am-Late, Sun 12pm-Late, Mon 8am-Late (Closed Tuesday)
- Vegetarian: Yes
- Bottom Line: $200 for two (incl. drinks)
- Do Try: Pirapa; scampi with kukirr bread