THREE Bears Kitchen looks a little like an abandoned train station that once doubled as a market stall.
Exposed brick, steel beams and rubble mix with faded signs and pastoral frescoes on the roof and walls, with wooden crates, copper pipes and a patterned concrete floor making a nod to a colonial pub past. There's a steam boiler next to the coffee machine, which runs copper pipes above the bar, feeding low-lit industrial lighting to the dining space that looks as contemporary as it does old fashioned.
Three Bears Kitchen is usually open for breakfast and lunch, but come the weekend it stays open a little later to serve up a revolving menu of intrepid, postcard-themed fare from around the world.
For September the food is inspired by a beautiful European country of landmark art and ancient ruins, birthplace of the Renaissance, and home to some of the most simple, delicious and timeless food.
Spread over five courses, tonight's set menu reads like a love letter to Italy, and tastes like a weekend in Naples with Sophia Loren or Clark Gable, depending on your preference. It's $55 per head and there are limited seats, so book well in advance. It's also BYO ($5 corkage per bottle).
The curtain-raiser is a seafood brodo with chickpeas and salse verde. It's warm and full of fresh fish, mussels and squid, all swimming together with fresh herbs and soft chickpeas. The broth is bursting with flavour, it's rich and revitalising, and is a great way to start the meal.
As the room hums with hungry, smiling patrons, friendly staff dressed in casual denim and flannelette float between the tables offering a detailed description of each meal, as they are served.
A plate of prosciutto with pear, Sicilian green olives and parmesan soon follows the seafood broth, and then a second plate arrives with a generous serve of crispy fried zucchini flowers filled with gorgonzola, and walnuts soaking in truffle honey.
Both plates are beautifully presented and teeming with the sort of fresh produce that Three Bears has recently become known for. The proscuitto is thinly sliced and gets draped over comparably thick slices of crisp pear, primo Sicilian olives and fine shavings of fennel. Textually, the dish is compelling when each element is combined and eaten all at once.
The zucchini flowers stuffed with gorgonzola are crunchy, salty, creamy and utterly addictive - these fried courgette blossoms attack with a battered crunch, releasing an oozing blue-veined bite of saltiness and creaminess, mixing, melding and melting in the mouth.
The mains arrive with a lot less fanfare than they deserve. Tuscan roasted chicken with strozzapreti pasta, tossed with black pepper, artichokes, courgettes and parsley pan juices. They arrive together, but on separate plates.
The chicken is cooked to perfection. It's moist, fleshy, white and soft. There are flakes of crunchy kale tossed about the plate, and a hunk of lemon wedge to add a splash of citrus freshness, if you like.
The pasta is quality, cooked al dente, and drizzling with simple ingredients combined with effortless ease. My dining associate says it's like someone has cooked this dish with all their soul, as if a friend, or family member has cooked this especially for us. I agree.
When dessert arrives, I go quiet. A small, rectangle lump of broken hazelnuts and crushed pistachios (among other things) rests on a bed of chocolate-nougat-flavoured semifredo, drizzled with more chocolate, and dusted with icing sugar and almond flakes.
There's a hint of Jaffa-esque orange It's crunchy, soft, brittle and smooth. It's a texture addict's dream. I don't say a word; instead, we both just sit in repose of pure pleasure, with broad smiles on our faces.
What: Three Bears Kitchen.
Where: 2 Market Street, Newcastle; 4929 4477, threebearskitchen.com.au.
Owners: Mark Hosie and Will Creedon.
Drinks: Soft drinks, tea, coffee and BYO alcohol.
Hours: Breakfast and lunch seven days, dinner from 6pm Friday and Saturday.
Vegetarian: Set menu – ask when booking.
Bottom line: $110 (food only, set menu for two)
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Do try: Tuscan roasted chicken and Torrine Morbido.