Subo’s violet crumble, and right, the cured iki jime ocean trout. Pictures: Ryan Osland
FINE dining in Newcastle hasn’t really been the same since Bacchus closed its doors more than two years ago. Nowadays, it’s all about large, cavernous dining spaces, and sharing meals served on anything but a traditional round plate.
Then there’s Subo, on Hunter Street. Intimate, classic, yet casual. It’s not exactly fine dining, and by that I mean it’s not so exclusive that you need to be a subscriber to Epicurean magazine in order to understand what’s on your plate. But, by the same token, bookings are essential, and I wouldn’t advise wearing a tracksuit to dinner.
Behind a large, stacked timber door the dining space is simple and compact. White walls lightly decorated with wiry busts of farm animals glow a pale shade of orange, courtesy of a gorgeous spider’s web-like chandelier. A brick wall up the back of the room is inset with a small, rectangular window that shines white fluorescent light from the kitchen where chef Beau Vincent and his team are busy creating.
We begin with a shallow, black bowl of pan-fried king prawn, served with avocado, century egg and umami dressing. The staff are ultra-professional and informative, and are there to explain everything that’s on your plate. If you’re wondering what a century egg is, it’s basically an egg that is soaked in a saline solution that turns the yolk creamy, while the whites are transformed into a dark coloured jelly.
The prawn is halved and seared on one side, which adds a firm finish to the flesh, as it sits soaking in a lukewarm and cloudy umami broth that has a delicate barbecue flavour. Small dollops of smooth avocado puree are dotted around with crunchy grains of puffed wild rice, while thin strips of black nori are sprinkled on top. All five tastes are exquisitely thought out and combined in a dish that is as textual as it is flavoursome.
White cut spatchcock from Galston comes out next and is served on a blue and white marble-patterned plate that is hot to the touch. However, in clever contrast, the meal itself is served cold. Small medallions of young poultry rest on a puree bed of macadamia and chilli, cucumber and lightly pickled onion. After the glorious fanfare of the king prawn curtain raiser, this dish appears to pale in comparison. That is, until you realise that its concealed delicacy is actually its strong suit. Curious flavours swirl about the plate and it’s hard to pinpoint their exact location. It makes you think about the meal more, indicating that the chef in the kitchen has too.
A little conversation time is granted between each course, which also gives us time to look at the wine list. Impressive in its brevity, you shouldn’t be too stumped for something to drink, and if you are, just ask. My suggestion? Drink riesling.
Following the spatchcock think-piece, the third and final savoury dish for the evening is bay-leaf roasted White River veal cutlet, with cauliflower, end-of-season truffle and crispy rigatoni. Served in threes, with an extra piece for the man, the veal is cooked to tender perfection and glistens with fine savoury flavours. The cauliflower and end-of-season-truffle mash is hard not to eat all at once, by itself, but tastes even better when smeared all over the veal, while the two small pieces of pan-fried rigatoni adds a firm crunch to an otherwise softly focused dish. There’s a deliciously simple fennel salad, drizzled with preserved lemon vinaigrette, on the side, adding a refreshing dimension to a hearty third course.
Dessert gets divided by two, and first to arrive is a strawberries and balsamic amuse-bouche. It’s served in a small pot that features bright-red, icy granules of strawberry over a dollop of smooth, white ice-cream sitting in a shallow pool of caramelised balsamic. It’s light, sweet, and refreshing. To conclude our evening, we’re treated to 64per cent chocolate ice-cream with smoked chocolate granita, eucalyptus and Swiss meringue.
Highly innovative and creative, familiar and foreign flavours meld together in stunning harmony. Who knew that chocolate and eucalypt were best mates?
The menu is set and changes twice seasonally, so even if you don’t end up eating exactly what we had on this particular night, I’d happily wager that you would still be treated to a most memorable dining experience, no matter what came from Susie and Beau’s kitchen.
In a city with a burgeoning gastronomic scene, Subo is a leading light.
Where: 551D Hunter Street, Newcastle West, 2302. Phone 4023 4048; subo.com.au.
Owners: Susie and Beau Vincent.
Drinks: Wine, beer and cider, spirits, fortifieds. Soft drinks. Tea and coffee.
Hours: Open for dinner from 6pm, Wednesday to Sunday.
Vegetarian: Yes. Set menu, but with enough notice the kitchen can accommodate.
Bottom line: $270 for two including drinks.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Do try: The five-course set menu. Changes twice seasonally.