What: Longworth House
Where: 129 Scott Street, Newcastle
Wines: Comprehensive Australian, New Zealand, Chile, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese selection; 13 by the glass
Hours: Wednesday to Thursday, 5pm until late; Fridays, Saturdays 5pm until midnight
Vegetarian: Six tapas and the cheese plate, as well as bread and olives
Bottom line: Tapas for two (3 selections each), about $90 without drinks
Wheelchair access: A couple of steps to negotiate to the main, tapas bar floor
This popular tapas bar and function centre must be doing something right as just finding it can provide a challenge. On a cold winter night we have to make a couple of passes by the railway station; the building is almost in darkness and the small plaque above the door is easily missed; which makes it all the better to find such a warm welcome once inside. The space orientation makes for cosy corners even though the ceilings are high, and our corner has an atmospheric but small gas fire.
It’s a while since last visit and it’s heartening to find the earlier teething problems have been overcome. Water and menus arrive almost immediately and the dishes, once ordered, aren’t too tardy.
Another major improvement is in the seasoning. Last time I thought some dishes were too salty. It’s good to find this is not a problem now and we’ve roped in an extra person in order to be able to comfortably make a dent in the selection of 13 or so tapas on offer.
Three excellent vegetarian dishes arrive. A towering edifice of creamy centred, crisply fried polenta fingers comes with a spicy tomato sauce for dipping together, and a plate of intensively flavoured mixed mushrooms roasted with sherry provides a challenge: there are just two each of the large Portobello, Swiss brown and king brown. We three cope.
The third vegetarian item is a platter of perfectly cooked green beans perfectly combined with shaved fennel and red onion, black nigella seeds and labna.
There seems to be a trend emerging with the use of cheaper cuts of lamb, beef or pork. The meat is slow cooked then shredded and pressed into shape before being crisped up on the outside, sometimes with a crumb coat, sometimes by just finishing off in a hot pan.
Tonight there’s slow cooked lamb shoulder masquerading as four moist-centred, crisp-edged patties crowned with a chiffonade of red cabbage in balsamic vinegar and served with a generous smear of bright orange carrot puree.
Two seafood dishes complete our savoury selection. The lightly seared tuna is just as meltingly tender as I remember it but this time the wasabi aioli has more bite. Golden brown, pillow-soft scallops are classically teamed with cauliflower puree with slivers of apple, crumbled goats cheese and hazelnuts introducing some surprise elements and extra crunch.
To finish, there are just three desserts and a cheese plate, with crème brulée the standout dessert. The crust breaks with a satisfying crunch to reveal creamy custard hiding a generous layer of sticky, sour cherry compote. Two crisp fig biscotti are just right for dipping.
The other two desserts aren’t bad either. Tangy apple and raspberry comes with a crumble topping that includes crushed nuts, and a small jug of crème anglaise for pouring. And a very dense wedge of chocolate tart gets relief from a puddle of the same vanilla bean flecked custard.
If tapas are your thing this is not a bad place to indulge.