LIZ LOVE EATS OUT: Bar Petite

What: Bar Petite

Where: 5 King Street, Newcastle

Prices: Bar snacks, $3 to $8; small plates, $14 to $18; large plates, $22 to $35; cheese, $10 each

Chef: Tony Harrison

Wines: 31 by the glass (out of 34 bottles); good selection with an emphasis on Hunter and French wines as well as other Australian, NZ and Italian

Hours: Monday to Thursday, noon to 11pm; Friday and Saturday, noon to midnight; Sunday noon to 10pm

Vegetarian: Two bar snacks, two small plates, one large plate (if you leave off the pork bites), cheeses

Bookings: 49293033

Bottom line: Two snacks, two small plates, one large plate and cheese, about $80 without drinks

A revisit was overdue. The short life of this popular bar has seen several necessary changes. It’s still a funky blend of your favourite aunt’s living room and somewhere you might expect Graham Greene or Somerset Maugham anti-heroes lurking for a clandestine rendezvous.

The owner and chef are new; you can now get a coffee, and the list of cocktails and wines has increased. I am just a tad concerned that it’s so empty on a recent Tuesday evening.

The bar selection (available noon-2.30pm and 5pm until late) is short and includes simple toasted sourdough, olive oil and a balsamic reduction, crisply battered onion rings with smoked paprika mayo, Port Stephens oysters (vinaigrette or natural with lime), ham and potato croquettes and white anchovies with tomato ragout on toast.

If your only acquaintance with anchovies is with the excessively salty, hairy strips that need a massive soaking before you can even consider using them, white anchovies will be a pleasant surprise. These are supple and sweet and match so well with the tomato, onion and caper ragout. Add good sourdough toast and you have an excellent snack.

The crusty coating on the rustic-looking croquettes (one each) confines an oozy, creamy, smoky Serrano ham and potato filling. They probably would have been fine on their own. There’s no real need for the smear of paprika-flecked mayonnaise.

With seven small plates (3-4 dishes per two guests suggested) and five large plates (1-2 plates per two guests) there’s enough to tempt a hungry diner to extend the snacks into a full meal. The house-prepared charcuterie platter boasts a duck liver mousse, a firm, well-seasoned, herb-flecked corn-fed chicken terrine, a wobbly suckling pork brawn and plenty of Melba toast to finish the lot.

We are four, so can easily handle another small plate. The roast shellfish sauce hiding four large, luscious prawns has an incredible depth of flavour which is only enhanced by the inclusion of zingy Sicilian capers. And there’s more of that good sourdough bread to soak up every last drop.

I’m a sucker for well-prepared beef cheeks so am disappointed when told the beef cheek, dark ale and mushroom pie is finished.

The slow-braised Moroccan lamb tagine with sourdough makes an adequate substitute even if I can’t find the promised roasted baby potatoes, and it could be a bit hotter. A couple of baked potato skins on top are a successful addition to the falling apart meat in the subtly spiced sauce.

No desserts, but there is an interesting selection of three cheeses, albeit imported. The Italian saporini – a soft white rind cow, sheep and goat’s milk cheese, and the Pyrenean bleu de Basque (soft sheep’s milk blue) – have been well handled and go down a treat with some house-made quince paste, marinated grapes and a generous quantity of bread.

Or you could just finish with a coffee and digestif from the bar.

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