All the good things you like in a pub, and more

Reborn: The open-air beer garden at the Commonwealth Hotel. Pictures: Jonathan Carroll

Reborn: The open-air beer garden at the Commonwealth Hotel. Pictures: Jonathan Carroll

INVICTA, the rampant white horse emblem of one of Australia's oldest brewers, Tooth and Co., is embedded into the white tile walls of the Commonwealth Hotel in Cooks Hill, Newcastle. At once, it reflects the past and the present as our town's historical status continues to find new meaning in an increasingly renewed present, and dare I say it, gentrified future...

Indeed, those boozy late nights at 'The Commo' are a thing of the past. Last drinks are called before midnight, the pokies have been moved, and, sadly, the pinball machines are gone; they've been replaced with chic antique mirrors, couches and art-deco advertisements for absinthe and Orangina, and an open-air beer garden that, for once, lives up to its name.

 Outside, hanging plants are suspended in abundance above chatting family's and friends, while inside, in between gold pressed metal detail in the roof, stained timber floorboards and old maps of Newcastle that hang on the wall, the citizenry sit and drink and dine in front of the pass at the newly improved Commonwealth Hotel restaurant.

There are starters to share or enjoy on the side, there's salads as big as main meals, there's pub favourites, kids meals, more mains and dessert, oh, and they serve rolls not burgers.

There are enough options here to cater to anyone's dietary requirements, including vegetarian, dairy and gluten free.

The seven-spiced squid and crispy fried prawns with rock melon and tamarind sauce, for instance, was a standout the last time my dining associate and I visited. Both the cephalopod and the crustaceans were cooked perfectly - firm not rubbery - and encrusted with a fragrant blend of zesty spices that paired well with a schooner of Six Stings 'Golden Ale'. Order up by the kitchen and pick up your cutlery and condiments off to the side.

The taps in the front bar often rotate with a few craft beers from local brewers, like Grainfed and Rouge Scholar. They're poured alongside a slew of old favourites, including Kent Old Brown, which, I reckon, would be smartly matched with a plate of crumbed lamb cutlets, chips and vegies.

The pub's wine list is good for a few local drops, including Tamburlaine's deliciously fun 'Scarlett Bubbles', and Tulloch's Pokolbin Dry Red, which happens to complement 300 grams of Black Angus scotch fillet soaked in pepper sauce.

Before that, however, we need to try this strange sounding dish from the specials board: Cornbread waffles with buttermilk fried chicken, beer battered jalapenos and maple syrup. Two thick and crispy cornbread waffles sit underneath a pile of crunchy yet tender chicken morsels, jalapenos and rocket, all soaking in maple syrup. It's an unexpected, creative and, ultimately, impressive combination of flavours and textures well worth moving into the starting line up.

For main, my dining associate opts for the Sweet Home Alabama roll, which is bursting with pulled beef cheek, charred corn salsa, battered onion and chipotle between two halves of a long brioche bun, with chips on the side. The whole roll packs a tonne of morish flavour. Bits of blistered yellow corn add sweetness, while battered shreds of onion and warm chipotle add acidity and spice respectively to the rich fleshy, gravy flavours of the slow cooked beef.

My Black Angus scotch fillet is more rare than medium rare, as I requested.  However, I must admit, I don't mind too much as the meat remains juicy and tender while the pub fare standard side of chips and vegetables are crispy, crunchy, and fresh.

The relatively new fit-out and restaurant has given The Commonwealth Hotel a new lease on life, while keeping the old boy charm and those Aussie pub feels intact.

Maybe, the owners should bring back at least one pinball machine, but it's a bit hard to complain with these improvements to 'The Commo's' decor, service, beer, and now the food.

  • QUICK BITE
  • What: Commonwealth Hotel
  • Where: 35 Union St, Cooks Hill 2300 / facebook.com/commonwealthhotelnewcastle 4926 2680
  • Owner: Stewart Smith and Cath Antaw
  • Drinks: Beer, Wine, Spirits, Soft Drinks
  • Hours: Mon-Sat: 10-Late/ Sun: 12pm-10pm
  • Vegetarian: Yes
  • Bottom Line: $ ($75 for two, plus drinks)
  • Wheelchair Access: Yes (via car park)
  • Do Try: Seven Spiced Squid, Cornbread Waffles
Seven Spiced Squid

Seven Spiced Squid

Slow-cooked beef cheeks

Slow-cooked beef cheeks

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