Food and Drink in Newcastle (Australia)
Whether you're looking for a casual cafe serving fresh local produce, a stylish wine bar where you can sample some of Australia's finest wines over a light lunch, or a more substantial gourmet experience, Newcastle offers dozens of top-class eateries. The key dining neighbourhoods are The Boardwalk on Honeysuckle Wharf, overlooking the harbour; Darby Street in Cooks Hill, where you can browse galleries and secondhand shops among small, individual cafes and restaurants; the inner city and West Newcastle areas, where exciting bars and boutique restaurants are popping up in between commercial buildings; and Hamilton's Beaumont Street, which is lined with pubs and pavement cafes.
Rustica: Open for lunch Thursday to Sunday, the waterfront Rustica has jaw-dropping views across Newcastle Beach. The menu features Mediterranean cuisine, from tapas to seafood, focusing on local produce such as Port Stephens oysters, Upper Hunter lamb and Hunter Valley wines. Vegan and kids meals are also available, as well as liqueurs, whiskeys, spirits and cocktails. Groups are welcome with a booking. The $20 express lunch menu is top value, especially with that ocean vista. Choose from Moorish spiced squid, pork belly, herb and lemon crumbed chicken schnitzel, fish and chips, ratatouille salad or house-made spaghetti bolognese. If your cruise departs at night, an early dinner is possible: eat at 5.30 pm and be done by 7pm ($70 for lamb shoulder, vegetables and a bottle of wine). For a later dinner, the six or eight course banquets are highly recommended. Rustica is a short stroll from the Novotel Newcastle Beach.
Paymasters: Head for Paymasters on the harbour foreshore for lunch with a side order of history. This Heritage-listed building was once the home of the railway paymaster and is on the site of the historic Convict Lumber Yard, next door to the Customs House Hotel. Starters include a delicious smoked duck salad and baked Binnorie goat's cheese (Binnorie is a well-known Hunter Valley dairy). Lamb two ways and a classic eye fillet of beef are on the mains menu, along with seafood dishes such as barramundi and risotto. (18 Bond St, Newcastle; 02 4925 2600; open for breakfast 9.30 to noon at weekends; lunch Wednesday to Sunday, from noon to 2pm; dinner Wednesday to Saturday, from 6pm)
The Landing Bar & Kitchen: This place combines a busy bar, outdoor water-view lounging deck and a lower-level dining area in an open, contemporary space. While the cocktail menu is very attractive, a cider brewed in nearby Scone is the perfect accompaniment to a whopping big Wagyu beef burger. The menu has sharing plates -- mushroom and taleggio arancini and chicken wings -- as well as pizzas, imaginative salads, and good old fish and chips. (1 Honeysuckle Drive, Newcastle; 02 4927 1722; open for lunch Friday to Sunday, from noon to 3pm; dinner Wednesday to Monday, from 6pm until late)
Reserve Wine Bar: If you don't fancy a day trip to the Hunter Valley, check out the super-stylish Reserve Wine Bar in the former ANZ bank building in Hunter Street. The wine list, which is regularly updated, boasts more than 350 wines with the focus on regional NSW and ACT wines and a substantial representation of wines from the rest of Australia and around the world. The atmosphere is informal and fun while the service is top-notch -- knowledgeable but friendly. Light bites include a house-made duck liver pate and terrine, an excellent cheese plate with imported and local cheeses, and more substantial dishes include Angus beef sliders with aioli, rocket and tomato chilli relish and Moroccan lamb skewers with couscous. (102 Hunter St, Newcastle. 02 4929 3393; open Tuesday to Friday, from noon; Saturday from 3pm)
Merewether Surfhouse: You can't beat Merewether Surfhouse for lunch with panoramic ocean views. Surfhouse Cafe on the promenade level is a top spot for a late breakfast, lunch or afternoon coffee; the beachside pizza shop is open from 4pm onwards, while the Surfhouse Restaurant on the top level serves Mod Oz cuisine for lunch and dinner. The terrace bar is popular with visitors and locals alike and is open from 11.30am until late every day. (Henderson Parade, Merewether Beach; 02 4918 0000; open Wednesday to Sunday, noon to 3pm; dinner from Wednesday to Saturday, 6pm - 9pm)
The Tea Project: This gorgeous tea room is ideal for a quiet cuppa and a snack. The passionate staff, including the owner, present the teas in beautiful pots, cups and saucers in a ceremony style. There are almost 100 high-quality teas to choose from, which can also be served iced. Food includes a selection of fabulous cakes, house-made scones with fresh cream and rose water jam, and even steamed dumplings, which go surprisingly well with tea. High tea is also available for $65 per person, with vegan and gluten-free options available. (177 King Street, Newcastle; 02 4906 1125)
Don't Miss in Newcastle (Australia)
Harbour Cruises: The commentary onboard Nova Cruises' harbour lunch cruise (2.5 hours) gives an excellent overview of Newcastle's changing foreshore, coal-loading operations and history of the port. It runs every Sunday, departing Honeysuckle Wharf at noon. Whale-watching cruises (2.5 to three hours) run three times a week from May to November and every day during NSW school holidays. (5 Honeysuckle Drive.)
Fort Scratchley: Built in 1882 on a hill overlooking the Hunter Valley Estuary, Fort Scratchley is the only coastal fort in Australia to return fire at an enemy vessel during a time of war. Guides lead 45-minute tours through the labyrinthine tunnels and recount the history of the site and how it was operated over the years. A gun is fired every day at 1pm, in time-honoured maritime tradition, and it's also fired when cruise ships leave the harbour. Some cruise ship captains have been invited to have a go themselves when they visit the fort. Admission to Fort Scratchley is free and visitors can take a self-guided tour around the barracks and above-ground defense structures. A self-guided tour brochure is available from the Artillery Store (shop). Tunnel tours cost AU$16 for adults, AU$8 for children under 14 and AU$38 for a family of four. Concession price is $9. (Nobbys Road. Open six days a week, 10am to 4pm, with the first tour at 10am and the last departing at 2.30pm.)
VRXP: A virtual reality studio is one of the newest and most mind-blowing things to do in Newcastle. Suitable for all ages, the high-end VR experience is easy and fun. Just put on the headset to explore under the ocean, create 3D art, shoot aliens or enter many other types of immersive worlds. Pick up the controllers, walk around and interact within the room, while playing your favourite music in your headphones. Staff will help you use the equipment and guide you through each step. Sessions cost $30 for half an hour and $50 for an hour, charged per space, rather than per person. A single space can be shared by up to four people. (20 Watt St, Newcastle; 02 4023 3226)
Newcastle Art Gallery: Culture vultures keen to find out more about Australian and indigenous art should head to the Newcastle Art Gallery, which houses more than 5,000 works of Australian drawings, paintings and prints from colonial times to the present day. There's also a collection of indigenous bark paintings and 20th-century Japanese and Australian ceramics, and regular visiting exhibitions. The gallery is close to the Darby Street caf? and shopping precinct. (Laman Street. Open 10am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday, admission free.)
Dolphin Cruise: A 1.5-hour Moonshadow dolphin cruise is a relaxing way to explore the stunning inland waterway of Port Stephens. The boats depart daily at 10.30am and 1.30pm from Nelson Bay, which is about an hour's drive from central Newcastle. Kids of all ages love the huge boom nets, but if you don't want to get wet while looking for the resident bottlenose dolphins, the boats have triple 360-degree viewing decks.
ATV Rides: Thrill-seekers will enjoy riding quad bikes on Stockton Bight Sand Dunes, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. Sand Dune Adventures offers a choice of adventure rides, all led by experienced guides: quad biking (one- or two-hour tours), Aboriginal Culture Tours, sand-boarding and quad biking (1.5 hours) and Hummer Tours (1.5 and 2.5 hours). Safety gear supplied. (Murrook Cultural Centre, Nelson Bay Road, Williamtown; 02 4033 8808. Book as a ship's tour, or book directly with the operator well in advance.)