Scratchleys on the Wharf really is one of the Newcastle stayers. From humble beginnings in 1989 in the old Stockton Ferry Terminal, it has lasted 27 years in the same location. That surely gives it some clout in an industry that moves fast.
When it renovated in 1999 and turned into the restaurant we are familiar with today, it set itself up as one of the best located eateries in town.
Perched right on the water, it has come to embody much of what Novocastrians love about having dining out in our city: food, water views and casual simplicity.
If you're planning on coming to Scratchleys for a quiet, intimate meal, forget it. It’s the holiday season and friends and family are catching up for celebrations and milestones.
Even after the peak season is gone, the hustle and bustle of the large space and the coming and going of the waitstaff means there is always plenty of movement at the station. The bar in the middle of the dining room is also is a hive of activity with drinks being prepared and bills being paid. This is a place for chatter and laughter and fun, not delicate whispers across tabletops.
But if you’re here for the atmosphere and outlook, well, the view can't be beaten. Is this Newcastle’s prettiest dining venue?
We are seated at our table and watch as the sun sets over the harbour; the tugs are coming in for the night, birds glide past and the distant views of Stockton and beyond makes this waterfront table dining experience feel like you are royalty.
With its nautical setting, the menu focuses predominantly on seafood, as expected. The famed seafood platters are what many come for – towers of grilled, crumbed and battered, hot and cold morsels from the deep to share with the table. Australians’ love of seafood is passionate and lifelong and Scratchleys knows this.
We begin with half a dozen mixed oysters: Kilpatrick, mornay and natural with a red wine vinaigrette. The oysters, which tonight are the Sydney Rock variety, are on the tangy spectrum rather than creamy and briny. The mornay and Kilpatrick are rich to counterbalance.
A dish of chilli prawns are sautéed in a spicy cream sauce and served with rice, chilli flakes and an unnecessary salad garnish. The prawns are cooked well and are big and plump and when they say the sauce is creamy and hot, they really mean it. This dish packs a punch.
The chargrilled seafood antipasto plate is listed as a house specialty. It features baby octopus, mussels, squid, prawns and pieces of fish finished with a basil and almond pesto. This is one of those plates where it tastes better than it looks, because, really, it’s not that pretty. I suppose when I read the word “antipasto” I had visions of a selection of items on a board to graze on, not a bowl where it is all thrown together and sitting in a puddle of oil. But that was my assumption. Apart from lacking in presentation, the seafood itself was cooked well and the pesto was delightfully herby and nutty.
Rather than diving headfirst into a plate of golden fish or octopus or prawns, we opt for the daily specials – a long list of fish choices including barramundi, salmon, dory, tuna and trout; as well as a sprinkling of other seafood and non-seafood offerings – think seafood risotto, scallops, lobster, and chicken filo parcel. The regular menu also has non-seafood options such as steak, lamb, pork belly, chicken schnitzel and duck spring rolls.
A jewfish fillet, pan fried, with chilli, garlic, eschallot and cherry tomatoes sits in a pool of sherry butter with vibrant green vegetables on the side. It’s fresh and flavoursome and pretty. The jewfish is white and flaky and tasty.
The blue eyed cod fillet, or trevalla as it is sometimes known, is firm, moist and delicately flavoured. It comes with two herb and ricotta croquettes and sits on a sweep of red pepper puree with sweet roasted baby onions and earthy fennel jam. These fish fillets are grilled which means they are still hearty without making you feel like you’ve eaten too much. They are shown just the right amount of TLC.
If you manage to have any room left by the end of your meal, you could try a classic dessert along the lines of passionfruit cheesecake, white chocolate brulee, lemon curd tart, pannacotta or sticky date pudding. We get two spoons and an enormous ice-cream sundae with three scoops of ice-cream, gooey chocolate sauce and roasted walnuts. It’s heaven for little and big kids alike.
The wine offerings are plentiful and the service is attentive. For such a large establishment, it runs like a well-oiled machine.
Heading to Scratchleys is still seen as a special event for many of us, but a bit of pizzazz when it comes to presentation could really bring the food up a notch. The regulars on the menu are veering into retro territory, but I suppose after 27 years in business, their formula is still working. And with multiple sittings, seven days a week, it must be more than just the view that keeps people coming back time and time again.
- What: Scratchleys on the Wharf
- Where: 200 Wharf Road, Newcastle.
- Contact: 4929 1111; scratchleys.com.au
- Hours: Open 7 Days. Closed Public Holidays. Lunch: 11.30am – 3pm; Dinner: 5.30pm – 9pm
- Owner: Neil Slater
- Head Chef: Nathan Bunting
- Drinks: Plenty of wine by bottle ($28-$600) and glass (from $7.50)
- Wheelchair access: Yes
- Vegetarian: Breads, four mains, desserts.
- Bottom line: Entrees $17-24; Mains $29-$40; desserts $16; seafood platters $67-$194
- Do Try: Fresh fish from the daily specials.