BISTRO Lowlands make the best burgers in Newcastle. There, I said it. This shouldn't come as a revelation to most people, but I think it needs to be said, again, nonetheless...
On a wintery Sunday afternoon, the Bistro Lowlands bowling green is bathed in orange sunlight. Wispy streaks of white cloud start to turn pink as the sky slowly shades from blue to purple to black. High above the synthetic green, floodlights flicker and help illuminate the bowls being rolled down below. Between the ever-present glow of the TV's, the industrially designed tables and chairs, and the broadloom carpet homage to Piet Mondrian, it's bloody hard to make a bowling club sound appealing. But, let's face it, you're not going to Lowlands for the decor, are you? You're there to meet a few friends, have a beer or a cheeky glass of wine, maybe roll a few bowls, and eat tasty foodstuffs from the Bistro Lowlands' kitchen.
The menu has snacks and starters featuring herb and garlic toast, sweet corn fritters, arancini balls, and southern style chicken wings. Mains include, bowlsey favourites; panko crumbed fish and chips, bangers and mash, chicken schnitzel, and a 300g rump steak, as well as dumplings. Then there are the $10 burgers... The Standard, the Royal with Cheese, the O-Fishl, the Veggie, the Colonel, the Pisgy, and, the recently returned, Firebird with hot sriracha sauce.
Over the last few months, my dining associate and I have been involved in some rigorous R&D, and now I can report the following about the Lowlands burger menu: The Standard is anything but, while the Royal with Cheese is worthy of its own scene in a Tarantino flick, and better with bacon (for an additoinal $3.50). For the seafood fans, the O-Fishl is legit delicious courtesy of a panko crusted Barramundi fillet, and for the vegetarians and lovers of a crispy sweet corn fritter, the Veggie burger elicits a smug, self-satisfied smile, every time. The recipe for The Colonel chicken burger might have been found in the back pages of Harland Sanders lost cookery book, but for me, the recent return of the Firebird is a bona fide blessing; ultra crispy buttermilk fried chicken sits between spicy slaw, jalapenos, and melted cheese, all liberally doused in Huy Fongs red hot sriracha masterpiece. Lastly, the Pigsy pulled pork with spicy slaw and hoisin sauce tastes like a delicious edible East meets West metaphor for how to reconcile tensions in the South China Sea. Each tasty burger is served in the type of red plastic basket made famous by Newcastle gourmand trailblazer, Big Al's.
Head chef Tony Harrison and his kitchen accomplice Ian Towse are not merely a one trick burger-pony. On the second Monday of every month, Harris and Towse conjure up a simple feast of foreign flavours as part of their Urban Mess communal dining nights. The Italian night featured roast spatchcock with farro and potato, while July's Urban Mess was inspired by the smells, tastes and textures of Morocco. On a recent Monday for $25 a head savvy locals were treated to a feast of recipes from the top of North Africa. Punters sat on makeshift long benches and chatted between mouthfuls of spicy lentil soup, fried eggplant, roast cauliflower, and lamb tagine with couscous. Each dish was full of flavour, clearly composed with texture in mind. Harrison occasionally comes out from behind the stove to greet guests and chat about the food. It's a nice touch. The next Urban Mess will be French themed.
This reviewer reckons Harrison and Towse make the best burgers in town, but that's not all. There's plenty more to discover just about any night of the week. Get along to the next Urban Mess, and, never judge a bistro by its cover.