It looks like a rainbow made out of food!" exclaimed my dining associate when we visited Bolton Street Pantry, on... you guessed it... Bolton St, Newcastle. A recently rare sunny summer's day had lead us to make a snap decision to head out for lunch. A quick search of the latest social media hastags for #foodporn and #newcastlensw revealed more than a few suggestions, including a mouth-watering cheesecake on one of Darby St's perennial cafes, and a Chiko Roll straight out of the deep fry at Hunter Stadium. I'm not gonna lie to you, I lobbied pretty hard for the Chiko Roll, until my dining associate showed me a photo of a bowl of black rice with all the healthy colours of a nutritious rainbow posted on Bolton Street Pantry's Instagram account. The Chiko Roll would have to wait.
Located on one of Newcastle's most architecturally impressive streets, Bolton Street Pantry is a mindfully nonchalant space decked out in that 'modern industrial' look that was all the rage for restaurants in the meatpacking district of New York, back in the 1980s. Black wires connected to glowing Edison light globes sling their way above exposed brick walls and concrete floors filled with metal chairs and timber tables, black stools and galvanised benches. Bright white tiles enclose the busy kitchen beneath an all-concrete ceiling lined with silver tubes full of wires and cables.
When we arrive the place is buzzing with plenty of people who may or may not have seen the same Instagram post as we did. We scramble for a spot against the bricks, taking a seat on those screw adjustable stools that become pretty uncomfortable after twenty minutes or so.
Within a few minutes, one of the staff comes over to take our order: An espresso coffee and an orange juice, a serve of the 12-hour lamb shoulder, and, obviously, the black rice bowl.
Owner Zach Levien is busy bustling between tables and chatting with his customers while he and his staff bring out plate after plate of brilliantly colourful, fresh food. The crusty baguette for the Summer Salad Sub can barely contain its contents - sweet potato, avocado, pickled beetroot, sprouts, grains and feta, while the fritter and smoked salmon has been plated up with artistic zig-zag streaks of balsamic and olive oil adding aesthetic flair to a stack of fresh ingredients.
The lamb shoulder arrives with black wiry lines of balsamic spiralling out from the middle of a large white plate, where a pile of tossed rocket, feta, onion, mint yoghurt and couscous mingle with lumps of soft lamb shoulder. The overall savoury flavours of the lamb and couscous are sweetened ever so slightly by a few juicy tomatoes, some sweet potato and the balsamic to provide a lovely balance to this fairly soft, almost mushy dish. I think if a bit of texture was added from some smashed pine nuts, or something similar, then you'd have the makings of one totally delicious dish.
To think that only mere hours ago my hungry dining associate and I had been looking up food-related hashtags on social media in an effort to try and find a suitable place to indulge our most basic survival instincts and came upon a well-lit portrait of a bowl of black rice salad, and were now about to eat that bowl of black rice salad... I mean, what a time to be alive!
Teeming with bite-sized colours of sustenance and nourishment, the black rice bowl is a feast for the eyes, as well as the stomach. Crunchy bits of black rice and a few sweet raisins get mixed up with loads of diced red onion, capsicum, charred corn, beans, avocado, sprouts, coriander, and nuts that pile high onto a bed of tangy rocket drizzled with garlic olive oil and a squeeze of lime. So refreshing and flavoursome, this dish tastes even better than it looks.
Bolton Street Pantry nails the brief with quality food and service all done with great passion and skill.