With a ‘paddock to plate’ ethos and a mouth-watering steak menu, hungry visitors travel from far and wide to dine at Graze.
You mightn’t even notice the little town of Willow Tree as you trundle along the New England Highway across the Liverpool Plains. With a population of just 169 people, it’s a sleepy, unassuming hamlet like so many others in the area.
But Willow Tree has one important distinguishing factor: the Willow Tree Inn and, more specifically, the fabulous food it serves up through its Graze Restaurant and Bistro.
People travel from far and wide – sometimes hundreds of kilometres – to delight their taste buds at Graze. But it wasn’t always that way. The Willow Tree Inn was rundown and in need of some love a few years ago, until Sydney-siders Cheryl and Charles Hanna made their tree change and resettled on a nearby cattle property.
As they learnt the lay of the land and built up their herd of black Angus, they set about transforming the 1913-built pub to what it is today: a stylish and wonderfully warm country pub with an undeniable sophistication.
The architectural restoration focused on remaining true to the heritage of the building, with pressed metal ceilings repaired or replaced with similar product, the external weatherboards replaced in the same dimensions as the originals, red bricks from the original hotel used as exposed interior feature walls and a beautiful ‘new’ 100-year old recycled ironbark floor laid.
With an alfresco dining area established to overlook the lush green lawn and gardens where children can free range, the Inn became the perfect destination venue for lunch, dinner and functions.
Which takes us to the most important factor: the food. The first thing to be said about Graze is that it’s all about the steak. While the Hannas supply much of their beef to supermarkets, they wanted an outlet to showcase the product alongside local seasonal produce.
As such, the steak menu is extensive and diners can even view beef being dry aged onsite via a viewing window in the custom build cool room. All beef served at Graze is grown on the fertile Liverpool Plains less than 2km from the restaurant at the Hanna’s property, Colly Creek, including the meat used in pies, burgers and sausages. Talk about paddock to plate.
Try your chosen cut of pasture fed, grain finished Colly Creek beef smeared in brandy and pepper sauce or share a chateaubriand with your loved one over a bottle of red from the wonderfully curated and extensive wine list.
Or if steak doesn’t grab you, choose from the lamb menu featuring Colly Creek’s own tasty Suffolk lamb or opt for twice cooked pork belly with crackling, braised red cabbage and apple salad and sweet potato mash or the wonderful Japanese flavours of the crispy skin barramundi with charred pickled cucumber, enoki mushrooms, shirodashi dressing and crispy shallots. Just a couple of examples from a seriously mouth-watering seasonal menu.
In addition to its staunch local produce ethos, Graze is dedicated to employing and training local people. The restaurant proudly claims 100% of its staff are from the Liverpool Plains shire, and that it provides city-quality training and opportunities that allow young people to continue living in the country.
Whether you happen upon the Willow Tree Inn by accident in your travels or you cross vast distances with its award-winning steak in your sights, Graze Restaurant and Bistro is a true culinary delight with a generous side of warm country hospitality.