IT’S a terrible thing when moments turn into memories where there's no food involved. Of course, some fare can make for fuzzy recollections later, while other times the feast might be utterly forgettable… but, friends help to make it memorable, nonetheless.
Out from beneath coal carts, grey steel girders and sloping corrugated roofs, heavy riffs and thumping drums, the roar of 20,000 Novocastrians, and the rugged beauty of one of the world's best coastlines comes a million and more moments for those of us who love to eat, drink, and be merry in the Steel City and its surrounds.
Today, Newcastle and the Hunter Valley is alive with cafés, cooking, and cuisine and our region has an abundance of popular places and secluded spots to enjoy it all.
For this special edition Weekender asked a few of our region's finest to recall their most memorable food and drink moments spent either somewhere in the city, by the lake, the bay, or out and about in the Hunter Valley itself…
"I used to love grabbing a bottle of Malbec and some tapas with my wife at Bocados Spanish Kitchen, but now, with a 10-month-old child at home, dining-in has taken precedence. So now, my favourite thing to do is to sneak into the Grain Store, have a couple of ales and a chat before heading home. It’s my little bit of down time, and I love it."
"I know it's cheesy but I just love my cheese! I love taking a few pieces with a bottle of champagne, the French stuff of course, and driving to the top of the Brokenback Range. There is a hidden lookout that only locals know about. It juts out over the valley and you have views as far as the eye can see... it's incredible! Sitting up there on a summer afternoon, watching the sun set over the Valley is magical!"
Pork Ewe Deli, Mayfield
"Soaking up some afternoon rays sitting for hours over a delicious lunch and a bottle of wine is up there among my favourites. Food experiences have a priority in my life, so a meal out often turns into a bigger adventure that typically involves a bicycle ride along Throsby creek and the harbour. We’ll stop in for morning tea treats from Baked Uprising on the way in and a coffee at Bank Corner cafe or a drink at The Edwards on the way home."
Underground Epicureans, Newcastle
"Summer draws us inland dwellers to the beaches in Newcastle. It's so close to go for a swim at Nobby's or the baths and soak up the big city vibe. Afterwards, I love to call in for a gelato and coffee at EstaBar, or for something more substantial, you can't beat a delicious lunch at Moor in Newcastle East."
Slow Food Hunter Valley
I love taking a few pieces with a bottle of champagne, the French stuff of course, and driving to the top of the Brokenback Range. There is a hidden lookout that only locals know about.
"For a casual eat, I can't go past hot chips on the sand at Bar Beach. There's something about the cone-shaped containers that sit so neatly by your beach towel as you compete with the seagulls for a bite! One special food memory I have is when friends joined my husband and I at our place for a combined birthdays dinner party, catered by renowned local chef, Tim Montgomery. We had five courses and it is by far and away the best meal ever to be served up in my humble kitchen! Great food, fabulous friends and fine wine - it doesn't get better than that."
NBN News, Newcastle
“One of my passions and creative outlets is cooking. I love bringing friends and family together around food. My cooking palette is inspired by my travels around the world, particularly the Middle East and India. A trip to Shannonleigh Organics in the Hunter Street Mall or to Newcastle Farmers Markets will often inspire a gathering of friends for feasting, good wine and great conversation complete with chaotic kid action.
“Restaurant highlights have been taking visiting artists and guests out after our openings at The Lock-Up. Bocados, Reserve Wine Bar and Moor are all in The Lock-Up's neighbourhood and offer great food and atmosphere to keep the art party going and share Newcastle’s offerings with visitors!”
director, The Lock-Up
"The Hunter has a plethora of beautiful places to picnic, relax and connect with nature. I remember one occasion when I surprised my partner Beau with a picnic at the Washpools waterhole in Scone on New Years Day a few years back; 42˚ degree heat, cold vintage champagne, and a backpack full of oysters, charcuterie, cheese, an essential Greek salad, and good bread... Eat, drink, swim, and repeat!"
Running my own place means I don't get out much, but when I do I think that escaping the city and heading out to the Valley is always a good option. I love to go to Muse for a special occasion... I think Troy's food is exceptional. It's more than just the detail on the plate; it's the produce and the philosophy too. Combine that with a well-polished service team and the whole experience is seamless.
Reserve Wine Bar, Newcastle
Usher Tinkler's cellar door and salumi never misses a beat. It's so relaxed, easy and cool. You walk in to a beautifully restored old church with some hip-hop playing on vinyl and Ebony Tinkler manning the meat slicer, shaving off thin slices of all these amazingly delicious meats. Personally, I love to indulge in a generous selection of reypenaer [like a soft, creamy Gouda] with some Jamón ibérico cured ham. Pair this with a bottle of Usher's wine and their homegrown figs... It's so easy to sit back and lose a few hours to relaxation.
"One of my favourite places to eat and drink in Newcastle is Nagisa Japanese Restaurant, on Honeysuckle. Sitting out next to the water with an ice cold bottle of Semillon, from the Hunter Valley of course, and eating their delicious sashimi is a perfect way to spend a sunny day. And when the days aren’t sunny, you can't go past a bowl of their awesome, warming ramen and a bottle of Hunter Shiraz. It doesn’t get much better than that!"
Pepper Tree Wines/Briar Ridge, Pokolbin
I have two favourites. When my wife and I go out for dinner, we like going to The Edwards. It’s a nice place to relax, the atmosphere is always easy going and the food is always delicious. Whenever we have friends visiting us from England, we love to take them to the Mereweather Surfhouse. It's nice to sit out in the warm afternoon sun and the view really showcases the beauty of Newcastle.
head coach, Newcastle Knights
Our preference to give inner city living a go has been a treasure hunt of health and fitness, increased social life and culinary delights. We start mornings with a walk to Newcastle baths stopping in for cranberry and nut bread with Black tahini and labna cheese spread and a fab coffee at Moor Café or the best Indian breakfast at Momo café. As nights off are rare our favourite lunch haunts range from visiting our good friend Chris at the Edwards or watching the harbour action relaxing at Six Degrees. If we get an early night one of our favourite pit stops is a cocktail at the Basement.
One Friday night during the campaign I found myself sitting with family and friends outside a tiny café enjoying lamb shanks and mash with minted rosemary jus and listening to a duet perform Adele’s Hello. I could have been anywhere in the world, but I was in Barton Street Kurri, at Happi Chicken, and proud of it. Rosa and Helena Grine do great healthy, homely food. I love their roasts and homemade cake.