A lavish lunch at Bombini prompted this pair to make a weekend of it. Sure a rental apartment or hotel room in nearby Avoca or Terrigal would have done the trick for a city getaway, but heading further north to Newcastle made the cut.
We touched on the port city very briefly when we did lunch at Saluna earlier this year, vowing to return to see what else went down in this gritty town.
I probably shouldn’t make comparisons to Sydney, but Darby Street reminds me of parts of Surry Hills. Its village atmosphere, its collection of boho stores, buzzing eateries and galleries. Something for everyone, as they say.
Taking its name from one of New York’s earliest street gangs, The Bowery Boys on Darcy Street is a beacon for all things pickled, smoked and cured. Plus a little more, mind you.
Co-owner and chef Steven Zielke has done stints at Table for 20 and Buffalo Dining Club in Sydney, amongst others, teaming with Ethan Ortlipp and Ryan Hawthorne; a couple of fella’s that made names for themselves at the Ivy and Sticky Bar, also in Sydney.
Good food and decent booze is what The Bowery Boys is all about, and for us, a start on some mighty fine smoked tidbits. Zielke tries his hand at making his own pepperoni, but the bulk of the smoked goodies come from Quattro Stelle and the salumi from Pino’s Dolce Vita, both in Sydney.
The charcuterie selection (21) is a taste-fest of speck, truffle salami, jamón, pepperoni and the most divine ‘dnuja – a spicy, spreadable pork sausage that packs a real punch.
From the protein list, the hot smoked rainbow trout (32) is probably the best I’ve come across. It’s warm, aromatic served whole. A little work is involved, but not much. Simply peel back the skin and dive in. Bloody beautiful.
Should any gents require some grooming, the communal “wet area” provides a tub of beard balm – something for the bearded urban gentries that simply must have their facial growth coiffed at all times. Makes me wonder if it’s also a jar that’s a communal gathering of hairs from different blokes.
Back to something much more appetising, a farro & roasted plum salad (15) is about simplicity, taste and texture. Creamy labne is a nice addition, something that’s much needed to cut through the rich fattiness of the Sichuan lamb ribs (29). Lined up like soldiers, the melting meat and fat is complemented by pickled eggplant and a little black garlic.
First breakfast venue on this fleeting visitation was at The Blue Door, down in the civic precinct in the CBD. Early opening times mean early breakfast; a wise move as these guys are heaving by 9am.
Decent coffee and a rather hearty Spanish breakfast (24) served in a small cast iron skillet. It’s a celebration of tomato, beans and chorizo; topped with poached eggs and a side of kipflers.
A much lighter smashed avocado (18) on toast is spruced with feta, cherry tomatoes and spritz of lemon.
Full tummies, it was time to hit the markets.
Sunday morning, sun was shining and Novocastrians were out at the farmers’ market stocking up on all things fresh, tasty and hand crafted. Local wines and produce from the Hunter Valley seem to be the highlight, along with a whole gamut of jewellery, clothing, accessories and stuff for the home and kitchen.
The market sprawls much more than we’d expected, filling two pavilions as well as the areas around them. Wafts of food being cooked fill the walkways; bacon, grilled meats, fried pastry and fresh coffee draw you in to taste and buy.
Held every Sunday 8am-1pm.
Yes, the farmers’ market had a sizeable selection of food stalls, and yes we could have grabbed lunch there, but I wanted to try a place back in Hamilton.
Tucked beneath the Boulevard on Beaumont, Fortunate Son wears a smart outfit of browns and blacks, almost feeling like you’re in a hotel lobby.
The morning crowd is looked after with a very decent spread of breakfast and Pablo & Rusty’s coffee, whereas the lunch punters have bar snacks, smoked and cured meats, baguettes and lunch plates available. The dinner menu looks mighty fine, as well; taking a step up from lunch with the likes of confit pork belly & cured cheek or Pyrenees lamb with sweetbread.
If I was a local I’d be making repeat visits to try just about everything on the menu. Yes, it’s that good. For some reason I kept my gluttony in check and ordered just two dishes.
The house black pudding (9) is like none other that I’ve tried. Served in a small terracotta ramekin, there are no defined slices of the pudding. It just seems like one mass of pudding, injected with a fruity purée (peach or apricot?) here and there. Some heavily buttered toast is the only accompaniment, and man, that gorgeous pudding is almost as fine as the purée; far from the granular stuff I’m used to.
The other half tucks into one of the baguettes (16), loaded with rocket, pickles, mustard and house-smoked chicken. That chicken packs a smokey punch.
From the “Grilled & Braised meats”, I head for the bbq beef short rib (26). The great lump of meat tears away with very little effort, is smokey and incredibly rich. A few brassica greens inject a bit of colour and a very tasty cheese & cauliflower “cobbler” has me quietly wanting more. Oh man, those juices and that cobbler. Magic.
A few quiet sundowners by the waterfront got us in the mood for our final meal for the day – at Subo, a contemporary dining room on a part of Hunter Street I wouldn’t expect to see a restaurant of such calibre.
Chef Beau Vincent has done stints with Tetsuya Wakuda, Guillaume Brahimi and Warren Turnbull, so you can imagine what kind of edibles turn up on the five course menu. Front of house is managed by Suzie, Beau’s wife, and with years of experience between them, they’ve created a stylish and intimate venue that celebrates seasonal ingredients.
The front room of the restaurant feels a tad gallery-like; pretty much bare walls except for a couple of sculptured wire animal busts and oversized wooden pegs that serve as coat hangers at the bespoke front door .
At the back of the restaurant, past the kitchen, is a detached pavilion-style dining space where things are a little more intimate.
When Subo first opened there was the choice of a la carte or five course set menu (82). They’ve done away with a la carte and made it easier for themselves; a simpler process for the diner, as well.
Special mention needs to be made about the bread. It comes from Baked Uprising in Maryville, about five minutes from the restaurant. Served with house-churned butter and dusted with nori, it’s probably a bit dangerous that you can have as much as you want.
We start with roasted brie that features three types of cabbage – savoy, Chinese and Brussels sprouts; strewn over the creamy cheese with a touch of beurre blanc, dill oil and crisp potato curls. The cheese is the clear winner in this one, dominating the other more neutrally flavoured elements with its buttery richness.
Next is the ika shime calamari that’s sourced from Port Lincoln, very lightly roasted over charcoal and served with squid ink crisps. A black pool of squid ink, lemongrass and kaffir lime sauce spills away from the squid tube, with a splodge of deep green nettle purée and light dusting of powdered codium seaweed.
Grown near the Riverina town of Junee, this small hunk of lamb has been slow-cooked for two days. It’s an exceptional piece of meat, given the glaze treatment with caramel, star anise, coriander and chilli. A creamy parsnip purée and shaved daikon in chardonnay vinegar are the only accompaniments. As great as that lamb was, it was the daikon that stole the show for us. That dressing was incredible.
The first dessert took me back to the early 90’s, ordering one of those frozen desserts from a flip menu at a mediocre Italian restaurant. You know the desserts I’m talking about? The Subo frozen orange is nothing like the rock hard ones I remember – it’s filled with orange ice cream, topped with orange granita and powdered with crushed milk crisps. So refreshingly beautiful.
Finally, we get a tarte tatin like no other. Butternut pumpkin, to be precise. The pastry is thin and slightly crisp, and chunks of soft pumpkin huddle together beneath a coat of maple syrup and pepitas. An almond milk & chestnut ice cream freshens the earthy sweet-savoury pumpkin. Definitely an intriguing combination.
An early wake-up call saw us at One Penny Black, lining up in the freezing cold to order some rocking coffees and food to boot. Inside was already full – not that it takes much – so beneath fleecy blankets out on the mall it was for us.
Check this for a breakfast plate – wild black rice & quinoa porridge (15). No, I haven’t gone all vegan on you, but you must admit, it looks pretty damn tasty. This is a porridge that requires a bit more chew-time and what makes it shine is what’s happening around it. Poached pear and rhubarb, coconut cream and coconut panna cotta. Kinda like dessert for breakfast, sans the high levels of sugar.
A much more conventional bacon & poached eggs (21) was the other choice, served over grilled sourdough with feta, sautéed mushrooms and tufts of rocket and pea tendrils. Massive quantity of bacon, I should add.
I thought 7am was a tad early for a busker to be belting out folk tunes on a mall that had only two places open. We were quick to learn that it was the first birthday of Doughheads and the musician was there to set the mood. Talented girl, whoever she was.
I reckon these guys would do fine without the live soundtrack, as the line of 20-odd people trailing out the door was indicator enough that there was something worthwhile inside. Time to jump in and see what all the commotion was about, methinks.
A handful of crafted doughnuts and nothing much more. For our post-breakfast sugar hit it was a vanilla glaze and sticky date, plus a complimentary buttercream because it was their birthday. As far as a doughnut goes, they’re pretty special, and with varying levels of caffeine and sucrose bouncing about our bodies, it was time to hit the freeway.
Thanks, Newcastle, we’re outa here.