Drinking @ ... Valley Inn Tavern
Dappled sunlight dances across our table, bouncing off our cutlery and strobing in our frosted glasses of beer as a welcome breeze bothers the leaves of the ancient pepper trees above. It’s one of those own-the-moment carefree lazy Sunday afternoons where impromptu catch-ups with friends over a few beers in the sun forge on into the early – and then late – evening.
The sun-drenched courtyard of Heathcote institution Valley Inn Tavern is humming with the casual, laidback vibe that, try as many might, cannot be contrived; you’re equally as likely to find yourself rubbing shoulders with the silver-haired Harley riding set, long since moved-away former locals returning to the watering hole of their youth, or occasionally, the Crusaders.
Dating back to 1877 and re-calibrated/reborn under husband and wife team Dean and Genaea Calvert following the earthquakes, the Tavern maintains roots with its strong history by way of its time-tunnel type restaurant entrance (including some menacing shots of Dean in a former life as a professional boxer) and its now famous, vertigo-inducing glass-topped bar leaner atop its historic well – the sole surviving structure of the original establishment. (If heights make you dizzy, take Google's virtual tour, first.)
If the Tavern’s history is rich, then its menu is legendary. With former Volcano Café head chef Rob Dickey rattling the pans in the kitchen, there’s some serious, mega-portioned gastro fare on offer. Among the usual suspects, including an all-day breakfast menu that runs to 9pm, you’ll find a trifecta of killer homemade pies (the beef, mushroom and thyme on our visit was totally boss), bodacious scallops in bacon, the aptly-named Flintstone rib eye steak, a mouthwatering warm lamb salad, and, for those in the know, go-to favourite warm niçoise and salmon salad. We tap the seafood platter – perfect for sharing, it’s an epic ocean fest where succulent prawns and tender calamari join ocean-fresh battered fish, mussels and some next-level cold-smoked salmon. It’s primo washed down with sips of frosty Tiger beer off the tap.
Rocking a traditional English pub interior through its front and main bars and restaurant, potted historical photos decorate the walls and make for interesting reading, while an extravagant living art display courtesy of the neighbouring florists Aromaunga Baxters Flowers adds an explosion of colour. But on days like today, it’s all about the courtyard.
A destination pub to be sure, but then all the best places require just that little bit of effort.
The Valley Inn Tavern
2 Flavell Street, Heathcote Valley
03 384 1124