Is Newcastle in line for its first-ever three star restaurant?
Want more evidence that Newcastle is on the up, gastronomically speaking? Try the news that Cory Campbell, long-time head chef at Melbourne's Vue de Monde, has returned to his home city with involvement in a café and a wine bar, and ambitious plans to open its first ever three-star restaurant.
Campbell's relocation to the city best known for coal and Silverchair, after finishing at Vue de Monde at the end of last year, is an endorsement of its burgeoning dining scene. He and his wife had done a reconnaissance mission and liked what they saw. "The coffee scene in particular is going gangbusters. It reminds me of what Melbourne's coffee scene was like five years ago. There are exciting times ahead."
Campbell met the owners of café One Two Seven when they dined at Vue de Monde, and he now has a stake in the business. Right now he's revamping the menu along with the dining room, which is closing in a few weeks' time for a renovation, after which the plan is to start offering dinner three nights a week. "We're doing Proud Mary coffee and really looking to step the game up."
The other iron in the fire is Reserve Wine Bar - an alternative, he says, to the city's prevailing pub culture. "One thing missing here are some great places to eat with a more tapas-style menu. The guys at Reserve have a cracking wine list and we're getting the food up as well." Campbell's menu includes the simple elegance of anchovies with condiments, Joselito jamón, and steak tartare alongside the dangerously wine-friendly likes of smoked bone marrow on toast and (hello) ham and cheese doughnuts.
A dessert such as the very Vue-sounding "Rye bread and beer porridge, milk, candied fruit" probably hasn't been seen in these parts for a while ("Not unless they spit their breakfast beer into their porridge," says Campbell) but he thinks the surf city is ready for something more adventurous still - a category his own restaurant certainly falls into.
For the moment, he will divulge only that he has identified a site and engaged architects to see if it will be feasible. And the bigger question of whether a three-star restaurant in Newcastle will be feasible? "People from Newcastle used to leave and never come back, but these days they're really well travelled, they've seen the world, and they want something like this. It's looking promising."
One Two Seven, 127 Darby St, Cooks Hill, NSW, (02) 4929 4710; Reserve Wine Bar, 102 Hunter St, Newcastle, NSW, (02) 4929 3393, reservewinebar.com.au