ENCORE: Bacchus is setting the standard for Newcastle cuisine. PICTURE: PETER STOOP
Where: 41 King Street, Newcastle
Prices: Degustation, $120 and $110 (vegetarian) per person; entrees, $24 to $28; mains $46 to $49; sides, $8 and $9; desserts, $19 and $20; selection of cheeses with accompaniments, $28
Chef: Tim Montgomery
Wines: Extensive wine list of iconic and rare wines, and a large range organised by grape variety from all over the world to suit all pockets; 14 dinner wines by the glass
Hours: Dinner, Tuesday to Saturday from 6pm; high tea one Sunday a month from 1pm to 5pm
Vegetarian: One entree, one main; degustation menu
Bottom line: Entree, main, dessert for two, about $190 without drinks
Wheelchair access: A couple of steps to negotiate at the entrance but ask about a ramp.
That Newcastle can stand tall and proud in a culinary sense is in no small way due to the likes of Tim Montgomery and his pioneering team at Bacchus.
Let me make a small point here. That Bacchus is in a restored theatre is no accident; a meal here is a well-choreographed performance.
Bottles are arranged behind the full-length bar where the stage would have been, like dancers in a chorus line; waiters and sommeliers are the supporting act, moving in well-rehearsed patterns designed to enhance your dining pleasure. Some dishes, like tonight’s skate wing entree, have theatrical connections; the garnish is named after Gabrielle Réjane, a famous Parisian stage actress of the early 1900s.
Small things underline the performance. House-baked bread rolls; hand-churned butter; tiny amuse bouche to start; a jewellery box of petits fours at the end; glasses of tap water refilled when required; the polished glasses, appropriate to the wine ordered; the napkin folded and placed on the table when leaving the table for any reason. And you must try the loos!
When did you last see skate on a menu? Skate wings Gabrielle Réjane is a stunning dish. The flesh has been stripped from the wings and formed into a parsley-flecked cylinder. The wings are deep-fried to provide a crunchy topping. The traditional garnish is globe artichoke, bone marrow and spinach, but Montgomery substitutes iodine-rich, fluoro-green samphire foraged from the Newcastle Bogie Hole, for the spinach.
Yolks of locally produced Cornocupia biodynamic eggs are poached inside a milk skin with a soubise sauce (bechamel-infused with onion puree), and garnished with wild mushrooms, deep-fried croutes and crisp onion rings; breakfast poached egg with mushrooms and toast fingers was never like this.
It’s all very clever, and utterly delicious.
The mains give Montgomery more scope to show produce sourced from around the region. Lamb from the New England region is used when possible but tonight it’s the excellent white Pyrenees lamb from Victoria. This dish takes its flavours and components from the traditional Lebanese shish barak (lamb dumplings with yoghurt sauce), with a twist.
A perfectly pink, dark-crusted fillet, fall-apart lamb belly and crisply-coated lamb sweetbread are topped with potato crisps, charred-edged chicory and a minty yoghurt soup which is poured at the table.
Glen Innes is the source of Rangers Valley Black Angus beef. The tri-tip cut of this Angus/Wagyu cross is cooked slowly sous vide to render the marbling then flash browned. Added interest comes from the house-made beef and black quinoa sausage, and locally sourced snails which have been lightly battered and tossed in garlic butter.
The show continues with desserts. There are just four; I want to try them all but there are limits.
Autumn is represented by a dry ice-generated pine and cinnamon-perfumed fog which soon dissipates to reveal a dish of warm jasmine rice pudding, chestnut custard, burnt-butter ice-cream and torched fig.
The show is over. All that is left is the applause.