Newcastle's growing reputation as a foodie mecca

NO longer dismissed as a steel city to be bypassed for better dining options in the Hunter Valley, Newcastle is fast developing a reputation as a dining destination.

Not only are there a number of noted and even hatted restaurants peppering the streets, but a number of Novocastrian chefs are manning the pans.

Arguably the leader of the pack in Newcastle dining is Hunter Street’s Restaurant Mason which in its first year received a hat in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2013. 

Head chef and owner Chris Thornton spent time in  noteworthy kitchens including Restaurant II, Bistro Tartine and at fellow Novocastrian Brett Graham’s The Ledbury in London before launching his own restaurant last year.

‘‘I wanted to be at the forefront of pushing the Newcastle dining scene forward,’’ Thornton said. ‘‘It also gives me a great sense of pride to see the community really embracing those restaurants who  strive to produce high quality and technically difficult food.’’

Thornton is also hoping to foster the next generation of chef talent by passing on his skills and knowledge, as Graham and other chefs did for him during his apprenticeship.

Across town at Darby Street’s The Bistro, chef Thomas Green has returned to his Newcastle roots after working with Brett Graham at The Ledbury in Notting Hill, The Square in Mayfair and Sydney’s Pier. He grew up in Merewether and said he always wanted to come back to Newcastle to open a restaurant and to enjoy the beach and weather.

‘‘The relaxed Newcastle lifestyle and beach culture create a need for high quality cafes, restaurants and bars,’’ Green said. ‘‘While our reputation as a tourist destination gets better and better, I believe we will see more establishments offering a very high standard of food and service, while keeping reasonable prices and a relaxed atmosphere.’’

Meanwhile, Hamilton’s Bistro Tartine has also welcomed back a hometown boy with chef Anthony Morrison taking over the formerly Mark Hosie-owned eatery earlier this year.

The recently opened The Landing Bar & Kitchen, in Honeysuckle, is a partnership between Andrew and Lisa Margan, of Broke’s Margan wines, and Julianne and Ty Burford, of Merewether’s Burwood Inn. They have also assembled a Novocastrian team.

‘‘The beauty is that all of them are Novocastrian. I really wanted a team with that Newcastle connection,’’ Lisa Margan said. ‘‘They have all been here and grew up in the Hunter Region.’’ 

Kids get into food 

THE recent slew of cooking-related television programs has created a culture of ‘‘foodism’’, especially among children, according to organisers of Hunter cooking classes. 

Children have responded to the image of the celebrity chef and left parents to search for ways to satisfy the appetite for cuisine preparation.

Sonia Cousins, who is hosting  a cooking school for children  until October 5 at Newcastle’s Essential Ingredient, attributed the increase to what she called ‘‘the MasterChef phenomenon’’. 

‘‘Our school holiday classes are often full. It’s become very popular among children, especially those in later primary school,’’ Ms Cousins said.

Ms Cousins said cooking provided numerous benefits for children.

‘‘Cooking offers an excellent opportunity for children to learn life skills, gain confidence and provide a sense of accomplishment,’’ she said. 

Melissa Murray, of Greenhills,  took her son Harrison to the local shopping centre for a bakery workshop for young, aspiring bakers.

‘‘You get to explore and experiment with baking. You get to create things you really like and you feel proud,’’ Harrison, 11, said. 

- Perry Duffin 

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