Regarded as the Godfather of Hunter Valley dining, Robert Molines has been tossing pans for some 50 years.
I started my apprenticeship in late 1965 in Menton, south of France. I arrived in Australia in 1968 and my wife Sally and I came to the Hunter Valley in 1973 to escape the city life, live in the country and eventually have a family with space on a farm. We then started our very first restaurant, Happy Valley and in 2008 we moved to Tallavera Grove Vineyard and started Bistro Molines.
I’ve had many special moments in my career but particularly a dinner with my friend and mentor, the late Len Evans. He always hosted special elite dinners called ‘The Single Bottle Wine Club’ with the likes of James Halliday. One year, we had various wines from different brackets of Chateau Latour, Montrachet, Yquem. There was a double magnum of an 1865 Chateau Lafitte. The dinner was a success and the wines were out of this world. The Lafitte cost $75,000.
The biggest change that I’ve witnessed in the hospitality sector would have to be in relation to the food. It’s become overly decorative with too many flowers and sometimes no substance. I know that cuisines are fashionable, but people eventually go back to look for basics and flavours.
The hardest thing about running a restaurant is maintaining your standards while working to get better, and at the same time negotiating finances, recruitment and equipment failures. And then trying to make sure the guests turn up for their booking.
One of my favourite dining experiences was at The Ledbury in London – and not because we know Brett Graham. The degustation Sally and I had there was certainly the most inspiring, innovative, and tasty menu with minimum fuss. Each dish was so memorable.
The most valuable lesson I have learnt as a restaurateur is to not lose your cool and to find the appropriate time to rectify a less than ideal situation, by providing constructive feedback to everyone involved and making sure they learn from the experience.
At the end of the day I like to quickly catch up with emails so I can have a Chardonnay, relax, let Sally manage dinner, watch the news, eat together and then enjoy a glass of Pinot.