TAMWORTH, NSW, Jan 4 AAP - To be honest, gourmet food and fine dining aren't the first things that spring to mind when I think of Tamworth.
Ten years ago, that might have been fair.
But now, nestled away in the rural city that's home to around 50,000 people, are quality restaurants, cafes and local attractions where you can taste the freshest New England produce.
The city even has its own three Michelin-star chef - English-born Ben Davies - whose charm impresses almost as much as his food.
His restaurant, Monty's at the Quality Hotel Powerhouse, is equally as charming with a menu including dishes such as peppered pineapple tart tatin with avocado ice-cream and sweet chilli dressing.
As I perused the menu, deciding between the venison with Morton Bay bugs and the monkfish, I wondered about his highly successful career in Europe and how he ended up in Tamworth.
"Family brought me here," he told me later, explaining he had married a Tamworth girl.
"But I absolutely adore Tamworth - it's a great place to live."
And he's been to enough places to know.
Davies' career has sent him cooking in the south of France, in Wales, the United States and several parts of England.
It's allowed him to cook for the likes of Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Prince Charles and world famous rockers U2.
It's also earned him three Michelin stars.
But despite his decorations, which he admits are quite nice, his main focus throughout his career has been using local produce.
"It actually takes a bit of heart and a bit of soul and mind to use local produce," he said.
Davies works with local producers around Tamworth and tries to centre his seasonal menu on fresh New England produce.
Two of those local producers are Russell and Meg Sydenham who, alongside their son Roger, breed rainbow trout at Arc-En-Ciel Trout Farm.
The farm sits on the top of the Great Dividing Range about 1200 metres above sea level, an hour from Tamworth.
Davies has worked with the Sydenhams to create unique recipes for their rainbow trout, including smoked trout and yabby bisque.
A visit to this trout farm is not only fascinating and delicious, but also entertaining.
Visitors can have a go at catching their own trout in one of the farm's dams, before slapping them on the supplied barbecues for lunch.
"The dam out there with picnic tables is stocked with trout," Russell tells me as we walk along his property.
"We clean and gut the fish for people who catch them and I have a nice little recipe that we put together to season the fish.
"Then we pop them in foil for them and they can put them on the barbie."
As I threw in a line I knew I'd probably have little luck catching a prized rainbow trout, but thankfully Russell was there with his experience and knowledge to show me how.
For those who aren't so keen on catching their own meals, Russell and his team put on a breakfast of smoked trout and eggs, as well as lunches and host farm tours.
Also known for their lunches is French-inspired Le Pruneau, a cute little restaurant set in an old cottage.
Le Pruneau serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and boasts hearty dishes such as ham, zucchini and tomato tart with salad, and roast duck on warm grilled summer vegetable salad with blackberry and Cointreau vinaigrette.
Every Saturday the restaurant holds an organic produce market just outside its doors, where locals can stock up on fresh organic ingredients.
Gone are the days of steak, chips and country music, Davies tells me.
"Tamworth is developing a cafe culture," he says.
"There have always been the steakhouses and things like that but now there's a far more diverse range."
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Qantaslink flies five times a day between Sydney and Tamworth, while Brindabella Airlines operates two flights each day between Brisbane and Tamworth. For those up for a road trip, Tamworth is 387km (about five hours) from Sydney and 574km (about seven hours) from Brisbane.
STAYING THERE: There are several accommodation options to choose from, including campsites and caravan parks, motels, hotels, and bed and breakfasts.
PLAYING THERE: Four-and-a-half-star restaurant Monty's at Quality Hotel Powerhouse with meals cooked by three-star Michelin Chef Ben Davies is perfect for those needing a hearty but sophisticated fine dining experience.
Those after a lighter meal should head to French style cafe Le Pruneau or to Arc-en-cial Trout Farm to catch and BBQ your own rainbow trout.
The Tamworth Country Music Festival is from January 18-27, 2013 tamworthcountrymusic.com.au.
* The writer travelled as a guest of Destination Tamworth