A short drive from the edge of town will lead you to the more than picturesque destination that is Poachers Pantry, a sweet family-run business with delicious food, a winery of its own and a handing of the baton from parents to children happening as we speak.
We spoke to Katie Crook, daughter of owner Susan and Robert Bruce, about the future of this amazing location.
How did Poachers begin?
Poachers began in 1991 when we started manufacturing smoked meats made by chefs for chefs so they were going on menus across Australia, and then we started to focus quite heavily on retail so the smoked meats were being made for retail purposes and chefs. Then in 1998, we planted a vineyard which is now Wily Trout wines. The grapes are grown here on the property and we harvest them and take them down to Eden Road wines and they process them for us.
Once we had the wine and the meats running alongside each other we thought, why don’t we showcase this in a restaurant?
We opened the restaurant and we planned for 40 people a weekend. It quickly blew out but it was a really great experience because people could see for themselves how to match the meats with wines in a gorgeous a la carte menu style. So that started growing and the café/restaurant opened in 2002 and then in 2004 we had our first idea to ask about hosting weddings. What was really special about that was we weren’t trying to get in to the wedding market, it came to us. Since then, we’ve just built and built on weddings and it’s a massive thing for us here. In winter we might have three or four weddings throughout which are generally smaller and super romantic weddings, restaurant style with the fireplace going. Through the warmer months, we can do 100 people in the restaurant and up to 200 people in the marquee. We find that even when people are around the 70-80 mark, they’ll usually go with the outside marquee option because it’s a blank canvas and you can put your own look to it and own ideas into the space.
We also hold a wedding open night four times a year and that’s when we invite all of our suppliers out here that we know and trust to do a great job. We set up the spaces for an amazing wedding for guests to see and that’s a great evening.
My brother Will and I are the next generation. Our parents Sue and Robert Bruce have run this and now we’re taking over. Will runs the Wily Trout Vineyard and he does all the harvests, the farms, the grounds, the landscaping, making sure everything is gorgeous. And then I’m very wholesale, restaurant, factory-focused, very Poachers Pantry-based and running that side of it.
Mum has been really great at handing us the reins but is still there for advice and to bounce ideas off. Dad has been amazing at passing over his knowledge with managing the sheep and vineyard.
It’s really great to focus on both of our strengths and take the family business forward.
What else can people look forward to when coming here?
From the minute people drive down our driveway to come into the car park and walk down the garden path, it’s an absolute experience. It’s not just coming to a cafe or a restaurant; it’s a drive through the countryside. You come down and see the sheep, the alpacas and our resident dog, Meeka. She’s very old but very cute. And maybe you have a table booked, maybe you’re just lobbing in. One of the things that we always strive to do is have a really interactive tasting with our smoked meats and our wines matched together so you get a really good story of how we started and what meats match with which wines, and you can also decide on what wines to have with your lunch here. Then you sit down have your gorgeous lunch, and because we have such a large space, people can walk around, through the veggie patch, through the gardens; it’s just a really great experience.
So can you buy the meats and wines to take with you?
Yeah, absolutely. We’ve got quite a big retail space here but for our products, they’re in the cool room at the restaurant, full of cheeses, smoked meats and wines. People can purchase those, pop them in one of the esky bags we give you and take them home, and they’ve already learnt what goes together and can host parties at home!
Where else can you purchase Poachers Pantry products?
We distribute to delis and supermarkets throughout Canberra and quite heavily in Sydney, as well as some places in Melbourne and Brisbane too, but mainly in Canberra at Supabarn, IGA, SPAR, little gourmet delis and restaurants. Note: the full list of stockists is on their website!
Can you explain the Poachers Way collective and who’s involved in that?
Poachers Way is a collective of businesses in the area. It originally started about ten years ago when we thought we should pull all of the amazing local businesses together and have more of a song and dance about this entire region. At the moment, there are about nine active members. It was designed that there would be a pamphlet, website and other publications so people can click through and see what there is to do in Canberra, or just outside of Canberra. We’ve also got a map journey with marked wineries, galleries, accommodation and cafes that people can visit.
What’s the best thing about the Murrumbateman area?
I think Murrumbateman has so much to offer. There are so many businesses really close to each other. It’s a gorgeous drive. If you’re a city slicker and you’re stuck in traffic throughout the week it’s really nice to come out and take a half-hour drive through these bumpy roads and see kangaroos and the like, and then stopping in at one of the businesses and meet the owner of the winery you’re visiting, or meet the smoker of the smoked meats or the family that owns the business. It’s just seeing that glow and that passion from the people themselves who run the show, and they’re all out to make this experience awesome.
What’s the best thing about Poachers in autumn and winter?
I’ll talk about winter first. One of our products, our award-winning duck breast, is an amazing winter product and matching our duck dishes with our pinot noir is just unbelievable for winter. So duck and pinot [noir] nights, coming down and sitting in front of a roaring open fireplace and having a glass of mulled wine or snuggling in with family and friends – day or night.
One of the things we’d like to work on is showcasing how beautiful winter is out here. In general, we’ve just got such defined seasons, and in winter it’s bare and beautiful with gorgeous striking trees with no leaves which we can wrap fairy lights around and have braziers on the terrace. We can make it really warm and cosy and wonderful.
Autumn is just stunning out here. With all the different trees changing colours and the lovely stable weather, sitting at 20oC, it’s just a gorgeous spot to come out and have a glass of rose in the sun.
What does the future hold for Poachers Pantry?
We’re closing down for six weeks over winter for a massive renovation after the Queen’s birthday long weekend in June. We will unfortunately be closed but will open again after the six weeks and a really exciting renovation!
Something I really want to work towards is setting up Poachers Pantry as an event space, almost once a month, holding an event where you’ve got friends coming from out of town and I want Poachers to be at the top of your mind and wondering what we’re doing this month.
We’ll be doing different things like chilled beats in the garden with an outdoor bar, giant Jenga, lawn bowls, a chef hosting an intimate cooking demonstration out in the veggie patch and other really cool, hands-
Poachers Pantry is located at 431 Nanima Road.