Restaurant Mason Newcastle

Far beyond the city streets, dining at Restaurant Mason.

It’s lunchtime. I look left, I see Jess. I hear a stomach rumble. Mine or hers?Either way we’re hungry so we sit down at Chef Chris Thornton’s Restaurant Mason. Chris has spent much of his time in what is considered to be one of the most difficult kitchens in the world. Chris was a chef at Brett Graham’s The Ledbury. He is now settled amongst the busy suburbia of inner city Newcastle. Mason makes a bold statement with crisp white linen, friendly service and a pair of tattooed arms at the pass. We settle in on an outside table. Jess and I love to watch the hustle and bustle.

This is food with precision. As we sit we are greeted with house made bread and churned butter. Our starters are friendly flavours but this is food that you want to keep eating. For Jess roasted prawns with rosemary gnocchi and a butter sauce. The gnocchi is featherlight and contrast the crisp prawns wonderfully. For me I chose a salad. Yes I know, a salad. Now I have nothing against salad but I am usually a protein followed by more protein person, but a salad of quinoa, crisp squid, rocket and ratatouille was way too good to pass up.

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A breeze picks up and suddenly I am reminded that winter is almost here. The next two dishes are a reminder of winter warmers, a thick wool coat, uggies and everything else that makes the cold weather fantastic. For Jess, pork belly, braised red cabbage and roasted carrots. It’s like a roast dinner on steroids. The slightly pickled cabbage cuts through the rich and fatty pork and the carrots have just enough sweetness to drive home the deliciousness.

image Now after a salad it is time for me to dive into some protein. And here it is. A porterhouse steak, a sauté of local mushrooms and a golden potato rosti. Salivating? You should be. The mushrooms are cooked in butter and finished with thyme, the steak is a perfect medium are and the rosti is a little gold friend crashing the party. I broke records devouring this plate. I barely had enough time to notice the huge bowl of triple cooked chips next to me.

imageNoticing a wayward parking inspector checking out my car it’s dessert time. Jess has a textures of chocolate plate, a touch of naturalism here. The dessert looks like a chocolate forest, mousse, berries and an oozing chocolate fondant.

imageMy dessert is something else entirely. I have the Restaurant Mason carrot cake. Layers of carrot cake are pressed with sour cream, cream cheese and finished with an intensely savoury carrot purée. There’s also a silky looking quenelle of chai ice cream. This blend of sweet and savoury is something I really enjoy. Not only for the fact that carrot cake reminds me of baking with my mum but for the taking of the past and thrusting it into the future. It is food with love but there is a deft touch here. A touch of a professional.

imageMason may be set in amongst the urban sprawl of hunter street but it is a setting that is anything but. You may find yourself in a little hustle and bustle getting a table but the food here is tight, neat and tasty. The tattoos give it away. Chris works hard and his food shows. From that tiny little kitchen he can take you far off the Newcastle streets and into a world where the only touch is his own.So take a moment. Step out in Newcastle and let Restaurant Mason take you far beyond the city streets.

Dined May 2013

3/35 Hunter St, Newcastle NSW

http://www.restaurantmason.com

The Beltree Hunter Valley

An Italian feast at The Beltree Trattoria, Hunter Valley
Well it’s a Monday public holiday and incredibly Jess and I are both off work. So we’re heading into the happy Hunter Valley to visit Guy and Jess Parkinson at their newest venture The Beltree on Hermitage road.
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We could not have picked a nicer spot for lunch. A beautiful warm welcome and we are quickly whisked away to our table. Chef Parkinson and his team work diligently in the background as the girls in chef aprons seem to glide around the bustling dining room. Water is brought out in carafes filled with fresh citrus from local growers and ciabatta is sliced warm with house marinated olives.

imageThe menu is an homage to all that is wonderful Italy. A crudo of swordfish with fresh citrus and fennel makes a light but delicious start. Paired with a plate of beef carpaccio with aioli, capers and wild rocket leaves, Parkinson makes plates that pack a punch. We have only just begun and Jess and I are demolishing plates eagerly awaiting what is next.

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Peering over the pass I get a quick wink from Guy before he sends us out some delicious tastes of his choice. A dish of rich, buttery sautéed mushrooms with a slow cooked egg and potato aioli. We are in winter heaven. A slow cooked egg is a modern technique where an egg is placed in a water bath at 60 degrees. The result is a semi set egg with a custard like yolk. This combined with earthy mushrooms created something truly heavenly and unique. This is food cooked with love and is paired with a drinks list that reminds you of sitting at home, enjoying family. For me a beer and for Jess a house made lemonade, with gin! Warm, family atmosphere drips from the walls here at The Beltree. The waitresses are kind, relaxed and very welcoming.

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Ok in true Italian style it is now time for our pasta course. First a dish of pork tortellini in an autumnal duck broth with scallop and hazelnut. Now the broth alone was enough to make me weak at the knee but combined this dish was incredible. Beautiful, silky hand rolled tortellini bob in the pristinely clear broth finished with tiny marigold flowers which add a pepper note as well as looking very pretty. I loved this dish. Plain and simple. I wanted to bathe in the duck broth and the rich little bites of pork were like a hug from nonna.

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Along with this dish we had a squid ink linguine with fresh seafood and a shellfish butter. The prawns, the garlic, the chilli. This is winter on the coast of Venice. I can practically hear the gondola men singing and cheering. Fresh cherry and grape tomatoes burst in each bite and the pasta courses are cleaned up.

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Next is what is becoming a signature of The Beltree. Suckling pork with house made sausages, apple, mustard fruits and prunes. With a side of Brussel sprouts just in case we weren’t already full to bursting point. Now this is quality cooking. There is care here. Respect for ingredient. It is all cooked with love. The pig is slightly smokey and fall apart delicious. The crackle pops in the mouth like prawn crackers and the prunes add lovely sweetness. My stomach is about to burst but I must keep eating. Must persevere. Dessert is near.

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And here it is. Dessert. For Jess a warm chocolate pudding with pistachio and anise ice cream, for me a buttermilk pannacotta with fresh berries. The pudding is practically brooding it’s so dark. Chocolate flows like molten lava and the pistachio is forest green. It is a dessert for chocolate lovers and Jess has not said a word since she has started digging in.

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My panna cotta has the sexy wobble of a woman in heels and tastes like silk. The texture is wonderful with the berries adding bursts of acid and sweetness. Even though we are full our dessert stomach cries out for more, more, more! We close this fantastic three hour lunch with a limoncello, of course!

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The food at The Beltree is about love. The menu is inviting and in no way intimidating. The waitresses are fantastic and attend to your every whim without ever hovering or crowding you. Jess runs her team fantastically and Guys steady hand in the kitchen means that they can pump out fine quality fare with the best of them. I think Jess and Guy have put a lot of themselves into this place and it really does feel as though they are welcoming you into their home.

Go and check them out. Let them cook for you. Let the bells ring!

Cheers
Josh & Jess

Dined June 2013
266 Hermitage Rd, Pokolbin NSW 2320