Newcastle sounds like a long way to go for dinner, but not when some of your best friends live up that way. Dylan grew up in the Lake Macquarie area, north of the Central Coast and south of Newcastle. Most of his friends have moved to Sydney or New York, but a couple still live in the area.
Steve and Sal are two of our closest friends. We’ve enjoyed many weekends at their place, cooking food, drinking (lots of drinking), wine tasting at the vineyards and, more recently, hanging out with their two gorgeous boys. As Steve was turning 30 they organised dinner with a group of friends at Bacchus Restaurant.
Bacchus Restaurant is located on King Street in Newcastle. The building was constructed in 1902 for the Central Methodist Mission, which closed in 1987. Since then the building has been used as a theatre but has remained mostly unused. In 2006, restoration work began to bring the building back to life. Upon completion, Bacchus Restaurant was opened, named after the god “of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology” (thanks, Wikipedia).
By 2009 Timothy Montgomery had been recruited as head chef and since then Bacchus hasn’t looked back; being awarded a chef’s hat by the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
The building is very large, with a lounge area to the right of the main dining area, flanked by velvet curtains, Victorian style armchairs and a fireplace. We started with cocktails in the lounge and I’ll tell you now, they make some seriously good cocktails. I went for the special, a gin martini with a citrus twist. I’m not much of a fan of a regular martini as they’re a little dry for my liking, but the addition of citrus was ingenious and the perfect apéritif.
Degustation – $120.00 per person / with matched wine $195.00 per person.
- Amuse Bouche – ‘A celebration of the Newcastle coastline’
- Cured swordfish belly, spanner crab, remoulade, avruga, pickle, green strawberry
(2010 Nigl Freiheit Gruner Veltliner, Kemstral, Austria)
- Veal sweetbread, scampi, tongue, carrot, quinoa, miso
(2010 Bernard Defaix Organic Chardonnay, Petit Chablis, France)
- Redgate Farm quail, muscatel, scotch quail’s egg, poached grape, curry oil
(2010 Mac Forbes ‘Yarra Valley’ Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria)
- Rangers Valley Black Angus beef, Congewai Valley escargot, celeriac
(2008 Greenstone Monastrell, Heathcoate, Victoria)
- Pre Dessert – Lemon posset, verbena sorbet, berries, pistachio
- ‘Autumn’ – Toasted rice pudding, chestnut, fig
(Henriques and Henriques 5yr Medium Rich Madeira, Portugal)
- Petit Fours
Trio of breads.
Seeing the basket of bread coming to the table, I thought I’d be faced with an awful decision to make of which bread I would like. But don’t worry, you won’t face any sort of bread dilemmas at Bacchus, you’ll simply be asked if you would like one of each. I do believe my response was the fastest “Yes please!” restaurant manager, Heather Moore, had ever heard.
Starting with the brioche and smothering it with butter, it was a delight. Quite crumbly and not as buttery as the real deal in France, but delectable all the same. The white and wholemeal were both nice and soft but the brioche was my favourite.
Amuse Bouche – ‘A celebration of the Newcastle coastline’.
I could tell right from the word go that this meal was going to be a special one. The amuse bouche contained pieces of leather jacket ceviche placed upon a bed of creamy, buttery saffron custard. A sprinkling of puffed rice added texture, and the addition of coriander cresses added a light herb complexity to the tang of the ceviche. It certainly got my tastebuds dancing and the entire table talking about what was to come.
Please excuse the terrible photo, we still haven’t learnt the skill of photographing amuse bouche glasses.
Cured swordfish belly, spanner crab, remoulade, avruga, pickle, green strawberry.
Pickle, did someone say pickle? Well that went straight over to Dylan’s plate, much to his delight. But I wasn’t too fussed about the pickle anyway, I only had eyes for the gorgeous little pile of seafood slaw in front of me. Let’s just forget the ingredients of remoulade for a minute and forget that I don’t like vinegar, mayo, mustard or condiments in general. This dish was amazing. Grated celeriac and crab flakes piled into a little mound of deliciousness. A combination I’d never had before but fell instantly in love with. The saltiness from the avruga may just have covered the non-Lex friendly ingredients in the remoulade. And the swordfish belly was lightly cured and ever so tasty. I’d go back for this dish alone.
Veal sweetbread, scampi, tongue, carrot, quinoa, miso.
Dylan and I didn’t know all the guests at the table and could only laugh as we quickly became the ‘go-to’ people to explain what each dish was. Everyone was keen to try everything and were all pleasantly surprised that they enjoyed the sweetbreads – which, if you’re unaware, are thymus glands of veal (or other animals). Don’t knock them until you’ve tried them.
Veal sweetbreads are difficult for a novice like me to explain. The crispy outer gave way to a creamy white centre, firm to the touch yet tender and delicate in flavour. I loved the wonderfully cooked piece of succulent scampi on its own, but it felt out of place with the sweetbreads and tongue, too much of a contrast to work for me. My favourite element was the juicy and flavoursome veal tongue which went so well with the buttery carrot puree and crunchy quinoa. Naturally, the pickled carrot was granted to Dylan. While I loved the individual elements I was a little unsure about this dish however, as it didn’t quite come together on the plate for me.
Redgate Farm quail, muscatel, scotch quail’s egg, poached grape, curry oil.
The quail, from Redgate Farm in NSW, was simply stunning. Juicy, tender and cooked really well on the bone. Of course the scotch quail egg’s oozy centre was a sight to see and I can only imagine how much of a nightmare they would have been to make – quail eggs are so tiny and a nightmare to peel (not that I’ve ever tried, just from what I have heard). Perhaps the quail egg was a little overpowered by the meaty casing but all in all this was another lovely course.
Rangers Valley Black Angus beef, Congewai Valley escargot, celeriac.
Grass fed beef. Smiles all round. I have to say it yet again – Tim and his team know how to cook meat to perfection. Succulent and with a gorgeous flavour, every mouthful was a pleasure to eat. Combined with cubes of celeriac, creamy parsnip puree and finished with a touch of deep fried watercress and garlicky escargot. To me this is what good food it all about – beautiful produce, cooked to perfection and given the justice it deserves.
Pre Dessert – Lemon posset, verbena sorbet, berries, pistachio.
With savouries out of the way it was on to the sweet stuff. Refreshing verbena sorbet, tart raspberries and blueberries on a bed of tangy lemon posset. The toffee was absolutely scrumptious, but it got stuck in my teeth and for me wasn’t necessary (though I’d love a whole bagful to munch on right now please). I could have demolished another bowl of this, with the crushed pistachios and fluffy marshmallow just finishing it off.
‘Autumn’ – Toasted rice pudding, chestnut, fig.
Wow. The whole table was thrilled to bits when the dessert arrived in all its dry ice glory. It looked like fog rising from the forest floor where the autumn leaves have fallen. Spectacular. The flavours were incredible, with silky rice pudding, fresh figs and strawberries, and some more puffed rice (I think someone at Bacchus has a thing for puffed rice right now). But I must admit I struggled to finish it. A rather heavy dessert to finish a degustation on, even most of the guys were defeated by it.
Overfull I couldn’t say no to a macchiato… or the petit fours! I’m not usually a fan of truffles but these chocolate ones were delicious. The cute profiteroles were filled with a silky creme patissiere and delightful.
Impressed is somewhat of an understatement. I loved the meal at Bacchus and can see why Steve and Sal talked it up so much. The service was great – although I think being a larger group we didn’t hear as much from the sommeliers which was a shame, and the food was impeccable. The lounge area is absolutely brilliant and I love the idea of their Cocktail Degustation. L’Occitane soap and cotton hand towels are nice little touches that don’t go amiss.
Newcastle may not have the variety of Sydney, but Bacchus sure is a gem.
141 King Street
Newcastle NSW 2300
(02) 4927 1332
Bacchus Restaurant Website