An old favourite: Rocksalt. Picture: Dean Osland.What: Rocksalt, Newcastle Marina, 91 Hannell Street, Wickham; 4961 1676; rocksaltnewcastle上海龙凤419m.au.
Chef: Rodney Rae.
Wines: Small list made up of mainly Hunter wines, with a couple of others from the rest of Australia, New Zealand, France and Spain.
Hours: Seven days for lunch; dinner on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Vegetarian: A couple of breads, one entree but ask when booking.
Bottom line: Entree, main and dessert for two, about $135 without drinks.
Wheelchair access: Yes.
Do try: West Australian sardine fillets.
SCRUMPTIOUS: There is much to be said for a seafood dish and glass of semillon at Rocksalt restaurant. Picture: Dean Osland
FOOD fashions come, food fashions go – it’s good to know that there’s more than great pub food and craft beer places in this town.
Forget the Next Best Thing and head to a place that has been earning its stripes for several years now, an ever-present stalwart in a changing food scene.
Not that the menu of Rocksalt is static. With rich seafood pickings just along the waterfront at the Newcastle Commercial Fisherman’s Co-op, the menu is constantly changing and evolving.
But they can’t drop the Boston Bay black mussels. What an outcry there would be if they disappeared.
It’s a busy Friday night, but the waiters are meeting the challenge with menus and water arriving at top speed. And the kitchen is more than a match; dishes appear at well-spaced intervals.
Not that there isn’t plenty to entertain you while waiting. This working port never seems to sleep, even in this quiet marina with its rows of pleasure boats. You might be treated to the sight of a large crane cradling a yacht, being manoeuvred through the gates of the boat yard next door and onto the wharf, where it is lowered into the water.
West Australian sardines are hard to resist; simply grilled, they lurk below a shower of nutty French lentils, sweet roast capsicum and smoked eggplant ($17) with a generous serve of crisp flat bread on the side to give an extra crunch.
Picture: Dean Osland
The usual scallop accompaniment of pork belly is replaced with rashers of bacon edged with crisp crackling playing second fiddle to the star performers – three perfectly seared sea scallops, spiked with wasabi aioli and topped with iodine-rich, fluoro-green wakame ($18.50).
Though seafood is the natural star here, landlubbers can choose between confit duck ($32) or seared eye fillet ($38).
On the other hand, why rock the boat in a seafood restaurant? You can’t go far wrong with a main of whole crisp fried sole ($30), Australian barramundi with poached clams and king prawns with a lovely, slurpy risotto-style cataplana ($38) or a Nicoise salad using fresh Atlantic salmon instead of tuna.
The sole is so crunchy you can eat the bones. Not that the flesh is overdone; it’s soft and sweet and peels easily from the ribs to enjoy with an Asian-inspired bean shoot, chilli, ginger and herb salad and perhaps a glass of semillon from First Creek; no one does semillon like the Hunter Valley.
My pick has to be fish of the day, softly yielding jew fish fillets under a crackling skin perched on a neat stack of warm potato salad, spiked with a herby salsa verde and a smear of pureed, vibrant red pepperonata (today, $32).
The dessert list covers most bases; affogato, creme brulee with berries, a decadent chocolate tart with caramelised mandarin and mascarpone, and a butterscotch ice-cream meringue cake with strawberries (all $15).
Kaffir lime brings unique aromas to a dessert that reeks of the tropics. Syrupy spiced pineapple is balanced by smooth coconut and refreshing lime sorbets, shards of fresh coconut, fine shreds of Kaffir lime leaves and crisp pieces of sesame biscuit.
And if dessert is not your thing, a house-made chocolate truffle ($3 each) goes down a treat with an end-of-meal espresso.