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A Canberra Girl’s Guide to Newcastle

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It’s the next best thing to Sydney—but many would argue it’s even better. Laid-back with an industrial edge and a surfie vibe here’s our Canberra girl’s guide to Newcastle.

From a dip in the iconic Ocean Baths, to a table at a hatted restaurant or a gig at an historic church-turned concert venue, Newcastle is surfing a wave of cool, not coal. Here’s our guide on how to experience a city reborn and brimming with style and energy.

Eat

Newcastle long ago cast aside its staid reputation for meat-and veg to satisfy its hungry and high-viz workers. Now it’s foodie central—helped in large part by coffee-swilling hipsters and close proximity to all the seasonal goodness growing out of the Hunter Valley.

Some days it is hard to keep a track of what new fine-diner or café has opened its doors. There are those establishments which have stood the test of time, while others are rocketing up the latest hot-list—it means there’s definitely something for everyone.

The Blue Door

It is, by now, an oldie but a goodie. The Blue Door set an early benchmark for wholefood indulgence in the city with simple but well-executed dishes. The staff serving you have the glow of good health and surfing about them and the place is almost impossible to get a table at on peak weekend brunch sittings.

Blue Door Café | 363-365 Hunter Street, Newcastle | blue-door.com.au

Momo Wholefood

Similarly, Momo Wholefood sustains vegetarian, vegan and health-conscious eaters with a casual menu served under the enormous vaulted ceilings of a heritage bank building on the corner of Hunter and Brown Streets. Produce is more likely than not sourced from the organic Hunter Valley Phoenix Park Farm.

Momo Wholefood | 227 Hunter Street, Newcastle | facebook.com/momonewcastle

Corner House

Think blonde wood and bricks with a Scandi twist and a style school sensibility. Corner House is pared back with a simple menu and a coffee obsession. Anyone for a Jigesa Ethiopian on the batch or a Moredocofe Espresso? They’ve got you.

Corner House | 29 Union Street, Newcastle | facebook.com/cornerhousecafe.newcastle

One Penny Black

One Penny Black serves coffee just the way Novacastrians like it—strong and deep. The type of place where baristas take every step of the process to heart, here is a café to benchmark all other coffees—serving up filter and single origin brews from a rustic shopfront and offering a small but seasonal menu to go with.

One Penny Black | 196 Hunter Street, Newcastle | facebook/onepennyblackespressobar

Baked Uprising

The suburban streets of Maryville have not been so sleepy since Baked Uprising set up shop. Serving up the freshest and most heavenly-smelling baked goods each morning, Alice and her team have earned a loyal clientele keen to secure their share of bread, tarts, brioche, pastries and cakes. Baristas are on hand to make the journey truly worthwhile.

Baked Uprising | 21-25 Downie Street, Maryville | facebook.com/bakeduprising

Subo

It’s time to ditch the boardies and frock up for fine food and an elegant atmosphere. At Subo, it is about delicious and picture-perfect plates with a Japanese/French twist. Partners Suzie and Beau bring their Sydney and Melbourne restaurant polish to this tiny but brilliant 35-seater establishment. Stay awhile and enjoy the degustation.

Subo | 51D Hunter Street, Newcastle | subo.com.au

Restaurant Mason

Chris Thorton is a Newcastle lad who went out in search of culinary adventure, worked in Michelin-starred restaurants in the UK, then came back home to win some impressive accolades for his own establishment Restaurant Mason. Not shying from offal, venison, goat, or pheasant (but equally catering for vegetarians) Chris pushes the envelope and sets the city’s top standards. All accompanied by a beautiful wine list.

Restaurant Mason | 3/35 Hunter Street, Newcastle | restaurantmason.com 

Ginger Meg’s

What Ginger Meg’s large warehouse fit-out lacks in windows it makes up for in giant Asian murals and brash, raw style, prompting people to wonder where it is they have landed for dinner. Promising Asian hawker-style dishes with flair and finesse, such as Shanghai braised pork belly and a plethora of dumpling choices, here is a place which also houses a truly fabulous bar. What is not to like?

Ginger Meg’s | 212 King Street, Newcastle | gingermegsx.com.au

Drink

Mereweather Surfhouse

Sun, salt, and surf often require a chilled cocktail to take the heat off. But if you want to keep a close eye on those perfect waves, then the Merewether Surfhouse provides the best of both worlds. The terrace bar on the top level is a perfect perch from which to imbibe a fresh cocktail, or ale of your choice. If it sparks an appetite, pop across to Lesley Taylor’s eponymous restaurant and order a bottle of wine to enjoy while the sun sets.

Merewether Surfhouse | 5 Henderson Parade, Merewether | surfhouse.com.au

Vault 73

Vault 73 takes its name from the fact it is housed in an old bank building complete with marble pillars, miles of wood panelling and an old-fashioned manager’s door. Large leather armchairs conjure images of Newcastle’s monied forebears in discussion with their mortgage brokers, but really, all you’ll be thinking about is which cocktail goes best with the Italian food you’re about to order. A God Father (Amaretto di Saronno and Scotch whiskey) with Italian meatballs? A sound investment.

Vault 73 | 73-75 Hunter Street, Newcastle | vault73.com.au 

Rustica

Rustica makes it difficult to know where to look. Up at the hundreds of lanterns which make up its baroque interior? Or out at the crashing waves of Newcastle Beach? Perhaps you should simply focus on the menu, which delivers tapas-style, Mediterranean-infused platters best shared with friends or someone special.

Rustica | 21 King Street, Newcastle East | rustica.com.au

Babylon

Step back into the ‘20s at Babylon, which promises an art deco, dark-wooded, sophisticated bar experience even if technically you are sitting in a former Methodist Mission. Don’t let that put you off their extensive whiskey menu or a delightfully obscure craft beer. It feels extra fancy to lounge on velvet sofas underneath giant brass chandeliers.

Babylon | 145 King Street, Newcastle | babylonnewcastle.com.au

Basement on Market St

Basement on Market St promises drinks as tempting as Limoncello Sorbita—Vodka, Licor 43, mint & limoncello sorbet. If that doesn’t scream Newcastle sunshine then what does? Basement is just as it sounds—dark and moody, with lots of steel, exposed brick, and just the right amount of lighting to set off an enormous stone bar, Basement is where the cool kids congregate for a Malbec and a selection of tapas.

Basement on Market St | 2/2 Market Street, Newcastle | basementonmarketst.com.au

Coal & Cedar

You’ll need to be in on a few secrets to visit Coal & Cedar. This hidden speakeasy has no signage or doorbell. But never fear—text a special code to a number on the wall and a host will open the door and usher you inside. There you’ll find a dark and tiny bar holding a maximum of 60 patrons.

The bar staff love nothing more than discussing spirits and superior mixes, so tell them what flavours tempt you and see what they come up with.

Coal & Cedar | 380 Hunter Street, Newcastle | coalandcedar.com

Shop 

Darby Street

Darby Street shopping is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a street absolutely crammed with destination points. Fuel up at any one of the 25 cafes and head in to buy the latest street designer wear, alternate music, second-hand books, quirky homewares, or jewellery your heart desires. Unique fashion boutiques will have any style requirements covered. If you can decide on an outfit, peruse one of the private art galleries, where you can chat with a local artist.

Darby Street, Newcastle

The Olive Tree Market

Whether it is fresh produce, clothes, art or the most covetable of homewares, Newcastle has an edge as a shopping mecca. Founded in 2008, The Olive Tree Market is the city’s most thriving contemporary handmade art and design market.

Featuring 150 stalls each month, you can purchase photography, illustration, fashion, ceramics, home wares, jewellery, printmaking, sustainable design, textile arts, wood and metal work, painting and handmade children’s clothing and toys. There is also dedicated gourmet artisan produce area and delicious food from around the world.

First Saturday of the month, and first and third Saturdays of November and December, in Civic Park, Newcastletheolivetreemarket.com.au

Newcastle Farmers Market

Speaking of food, the Newcastle Farmers Market is a true treasure. Peruse avenues of fresh produce and chat to the farmer who lovingly nurtured it to market. If you’re feeling a little lazy, fill your basket with prepared gourmet treats—everything from bread to pasta to wine awaits you. And if you can’t even be bothered waiting to get home, there’s food ready to eat then and there. No one will go hungry.

Each Sunday in various locations around the city | newcastlecityfarmersmarket.com.au

Street Feast

Street Feast is all the food you need to eat while soaking up a carnival-style atmosphere which shows off Newcastle harbour and those magnificent sunsets. Part of the Hunt&Gather market empire, Street Feast takes place one evening of every month—usually at Foreshore or Dixon Parks. Bring a picnic blanket and enjoy live music while you try and narrow down the food highlights you’re keen to try. Stretchy pants mandatory.

Street Feast is held monthly | huntandgatherevents.com/street-feast 

Play

Sanbah Gindhouse

Sanbah Gindhouse allows you to eat, drink, shop. And skate. Grab your deck and hit the (indoor) pavement or just watch how the experts do it at any number of competitions and demonstrations. Always buzzing, you can enjoy the 570 square metre concrete skate by hiring equipment for the day.

Sanbah Grindhouse | Shop 35, Marketown Shopping Centre, Newcastle West | sanbahgrindhouse.com

Heli Services Newcastle

If you want to see the city from its best vantage—go up. Heli Services Newcastle offer a unique perspective on the city from its fleet of helicopters that take in the harbour before swooping over foreshore attractions including Honeysuckle and Nobby’s Head. Try a breweries tour, or the aptly named “vines from the sky”, or head out to the dunes of Port Stephens.

Heli Services Newcastle | 8 Cowper Street, Newcastle | heliservices.com.au

Fort Scratchley

Built in 1882 to defend the city against a possible Russian attack, Fort Scratchley went into battle in June 1942 during the shelling of Newcastle and was decommissioned in 1972. Set atop Flagstaff Hill, here is a place rich in interest and history, with tours running daily. Or simply explore it yourself. The underground tunnels are particularly thrilling—if you don’t mind confined spaces.

Fort Scratchley | Nobbys Road, Newcastle East | newcastle.nsw.gov.au

Newcastleafoot

Alternatively, get out and tour the city on foot. Newcastleafoot offers specialised tours by those in the know. The Seascapes to Laneways Tour includes eclectic streets between the harbour and the sea, hidden houses, art and laneways, and the hippest creative hubs.

Get the low-down on everything from Aboriginal culture, to the city’s rich convict and industrial history, right through to what makes modern Newcastle tick. Includes a coffee stop at one of the buzzing cafes that makes the city tick.

newcastleafoot.com.au

Civic Theatre

The city’s cultural heart beats strongly, and nowhere more so than out of the Civic Theatre. The 1400-capacity venue has a jam-packed calendar of shows to suit every taste—drawing the big international and national names. From comedy festivals, to music and children’s theatre, there is always something interesting to book.

Civic Theatre | 375 Hunter Street, Newcastle | civictheatrenewcastle.com.au

Blackbutt Reserve 

If nature is more your jam, Blackbutt Reserve is less than 10kms from the city but feels like a world away. Explore the natural bushland park where you can hang with wildlife including koalas, emu, wombats and loads of birdlife. Reconnect with your contemplative side during a long walk or book in for a reptile encounter or emu feeding time.

Blackbutt Reserve | Carnley Avenue, Kotara | newcastle.nsw.gov.au

Photography by Edwina Richards

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