Newcastle's year on a plate

LIKE a vine-ripened tomato or a perfectly risen souffle, the Newcastle central business district achieved culinary cult status this year. Foodies flocked to the city, and a host of bars and eateries received awards. There was a Mexican wave across the city and suburbs, and the Hunter Street Mall emerged as a coffee-lover’s haven.

Relative newcomers to the region’s dining scene, Restaurant Mason, in Newcastle, and Subo, in Newcastle West, were both feted with chefs hats in September’s Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide awards.

The two restaurants were among eight Hunter Region restaurants who received a nod in the awards. Other hatted establishments were Bacchus, Newcastle, Muse, Pokolbin, Muse Kitchen, Pokolbin, Bistro Molines, Mount View, Zest, Nelson Bay, and  restaurant deux, Newcastle, which has since merged with le petite deux, also in Newcastle.

This year was even busier for Restaurant Mason, which also expanded its footprint with the opening of cafe and patisserie Cafe Mason, next to the Hunter Street restaurant.

The Newcastle City Farmers Market, held at Newcastle Showground, Broadmeadow, most Sundays, was named in the Top 10 Regional Farmers’ Markets in the Sydney Morning Herald guide. They capped off a busy year by expanding to Lake Macquarie.

The Lake Macquarie City Farmers Market, at Speers Point Park, is held on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. It will run this Saturday, and the Newcastle market will run on Sunday.

The Newcastle CBD also welcomed some new eateries and cafes in 2012. The first half of the year signalled Bocados Spanish Kitchen’s move to bigger and better premises next door to the corner of Watt and King streets, Newcastle.

In the months that followed, Lesley Taylor’s restaurant deux merged with her King Street offering le petite deux, which opened at the former Bocados site at 27 King Street. Taylor also took on cheffing duties at Longworth House.

There was a change of guard at Bar Petite, with Tony Harrison (formerly of Nor’East) taking to the kitchen with aplomb, and the bar topped the ranks of NSW bars with a win at the 2012 AHA Awards for Excellence.

Also in the CBD, Persian restaurant Cafe Zeytoon opened at the former Periwinkles site in October on the corner of Bolton and King streets. 

The same month, French restaurant La Belle Epoque opened in the former restaurant deux site on Bolton Street.

In Newcastle East, Mexican eatery and tequila bar Casa de Loco opened on Pacific Street, joining Hamilton’s La Casita and Guzman Y Gomez on the Mexican wave.

 Lunch-time favourite Al Gators, also on Pacific Street, was taken over by John and Stephanie Rowlatt after the duo bought the business from founder Ian Markwell.

Hunter Street Mall welcomed some new faces in 2012. Ground Floor opened at the former Gloria Jean’s site and cafe and barista training facility Coffee On Hunter opened across the mall at 146 Hunter Street. Given the popularity of One Penny Black just metres away from the two new additions, Hunter Street Mall is fast becoming a coffee destination to rival Darby Street, Cooks Hill.

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