What: The Honeysuckle Hotel
Where: Lot 31 Wharf C, Honeysuckle Drive, Newcastle
Prices: Breads, $6 to $12; starters, $7 to $16; oysters, $18 to $38; share plates, $17 to $49; pizzas, $17 to $22; salads, $21 and $24; burgers, $18 to $22; favourites, $21 to $35; sides, $3 to $7
Chef: Luciano Cruz
Wines: Small list, mainly Hunter, SA, NZ; all 22 available by the glass. Moet & Chandon and Veuve Cliquot by the bottle only
Hours: Monday–Thursday, 10am–11pm; Friday–Saturday, 10am-midnight; Sunday, 10am–10pm
Vegetarian: Three starters, four breads, one share plate, two pizzas
Bookings: 4929 1499
Bottom line: Shared antipasto plate, two mains and a side, about $80
Wheelchair access: reasonably good
You wouldn't expect the predominantly GenX and GenYs here tonight to remember when this building was part of the rather ugly and weed overgrown Newcastle foreshore, the bit forgotten when the eastern end acquired some freshly laid turf and new paint in time for the 1988 bicentenary.
Today the former wool store is reborn as a trendy pub, part of the Honeysuckle redevelopment, its spacious outdoor deck and indoor area accommodating a melting pot of diners, drinkers, sports enthusiasts and punters. Newcastle's biggest TV screen ensures you don't have to miss a second of that race, or the latest dropped catch. And there's a large mezzanine area boasting original exposed beams, available to host corporate or private functions.
While predominantly a bar, the kitchen turns out an eclectic selection of pub grub; large and small shared plates, snack style starters, breads, oysters (eight ways), pizzas, salads, burgers and pub favourites.
In keeping with the pub format, drinks are available at the bar and you order food at the counter, and pick it up when it's ready. Even on a busy night the wait is not too long, and there's plenty to see if you score a table on the long deck.
A shared dips plate comes with a generous serving of golden, toasted schiacciata bread. The taramasalata has lots of flavour but the eggplant dip and tatziki, on first inspection, were rather bland. A judicious addition of salt works wonders. They don't call salt the universal flavour enhancer for nothing.
The seafood plate to share is a meal in itself as is the Brazilian barbecue plate.
What's not to like in the pork belly with poached pears. It's a good slab of fall apart meat with a crackling covering of crisp skin, and comes with a splodge of cauliflower puree, a couple of Dutch carrots cooked al dente, poached pear wedges and bright green broccoli. But where was the promised port jus?
There are also a couple of steak dishes - 300-gram grain-fed scotch fillet or 400-gram grain-fed rib-eye and a surf and turf of scotch fillet, prawns and scallops - and a few fishy offerings on the favourites (aka mains) list. You could choose battered flathead fillets, prawn and squid linguini or crisp-skinned barramundi.
There's even the ubiquitous chicken schnitzel, and a herb butter and pine nut-filled, prosciutto-wrapped chicken fillet. Most of these come with very good, thick cut chips as does the daily special of ocean trout, the must-have dish for me.
Crisp skin tops a moist, pink slab of succulent ocean trout; so much more flavour than farmed Atlantic salmon. Those excellent chips, and a shared side of vibrant steamed broccoli, golden squash, brilliant carrot, small cauliflower florets, steamed zucchini and a few spinach leaves make a very good accompaniment. You don't really need the ho-hum mango salad that comes with this dish.
I look in vain for dessert; there doesn't seem to be any. For that you will have to cross the boardwalk for an indulgent gelato or two.