The businesses along Hunter Street have copped a shellacking this past year with all the construction. Noise, dust, accessibility issues and reduced parking, it’s been, well, tough to say the least. Despite these challenges, on a cold Wednesday night people are still finding their way into town, past the road closures and wind, to Basement on Market for a midweek drink and meal. They are making the effort because this is a dining venue worth venturing to.
The Basement opened in 2015 and has been a welcome, surprising and popular addition to the edge of the mall ever since. With a focus on share plates and delicious drinks, the atmosphere is warm and sophisticated and the food complements. It’s this high standard and creativity that draws people back, regardless of the weather or work.
That high bar is set by founding chef Leron Ben Avraham, but let’s call him Hugo, like everybody else does. The thing that appealed to me most when they first opened, and that still does, is that Hugo wants to deliver a different dining experience for guests, to introduce us to new flavours and dishes. With a leaning towards the Mediterranean, dishes are a reflection from many of the countries bordering the sea - France, Italy, Spain, Israel and influences from further afield - Yemen and Australia.
They have a new menu and it is fresh, innovative and fun. There’s plenty to choose from, whether you’re after a snack to go with a cheeky after-work drink, or larger plates for a full meal. You could begin with the ‘Night out in Paris’ section for something small; think olives, oysters, cheeses and carpaccio.
Share plates fall under the heading ‘Oh They’re Yum!’ in the menu, and yes, they are. Four fried stuffed zucchini flowers are plump full of cheesy ricotta and sun-dried tomatoes. They are hot and crispy and we dip them in a cooled smoky charred red capsicum sauce that is at once both sweet and pungent.
Spanish-influenced empanadas are served in a cute mini deep-fry basket. The pastry is crispy and smooth with a fantastic doughy lining, encasing the soft salty beef brisket. The four parcels are served with a chunky chimichurri verde. A hearty plate of fried cauliflower sits on a cheesy manchego sauce with sprinkles of mint and chilli. There’s a bit of heat in the chilli, although the earthy flavour of the cauliflower is delicious on its own.
The chicken sliders are probably the closest to mainstream bar food, but even this rendition is a step above. Two cute burgers involve a toasted brioche bun, super crunchy crumbed dark chicken meat, caramelised onion plus extra fresh red onion for zing, lettuce and lashings of creamy mayonnaise. Filling and flavoursome.
If you want to go big, head to the ‘I Know What I Want’ selections. Here you’ll find Yemeni Hawayej-style chicken with exotic spices; marinated lamb legs with crispy chats; jus-splashed scotch fillets; fluffy falafels; or comforting ricotta basil gnocchi. For sharing, the vegetable or Israeli platter runneth over with vegetables and dips.
Save yourself room for piping hot cinnamon churros, perfect in their imperfect pea-pod figures. These are not sickly sweet – there’s a hint of the savoury about them, but with dustings of cinnamon, sugar and lashings of milk chocolate and malted milk sauce, plus banana, strawberries and vanilla ice-cream, it’s sure to hit the sweet spot.
The team at the Basement are really putting in an effort to offer an above-average experience, and it is reflected in the menu, the service and the ambience.
- What: Basement on Market St. 1/2 Market St, Newcastle.
- Contact: 4906 1386. basementonmarket.com.au
- Hours: Lunch and dinner, Tues-Sun.
- Head chef: Leron ‘Hugo’ Ben Avraham
- Take note: Tues tapas specials, $12 Thurs cocktails.
- Bottom line: Small share plates $10-19; large dishes $24-32.
- Must try: A platter to share.