NSW Holiday 2007-2008 – Day 9

Sunday, 30th December.

I woke up nice and early, took a couple of photos…

Early morning view

Early morning view

…and then went back to bed and slept in. We got up when it was bright and sunny and got ready to go out to breakfast.

Paymaster’s Cafe
18 Bond St Newcastle East NSW
Sunday surcharge AU$2.00 per person

I was in the mood for pancakes and bacon, and Paymaster’s seemed to have the dish to satisfy my craving.

(Of course, I’m pretty much always in the mood for pancakes and bacon! Luckily good sense prevails and I don’t indulge every one of my cravings. I’d be the size of a house if I did.)

When we stepped through the door, three waitresses were standing in a line while the maitre’d/host spoke with them. Despite having seen us arrive, they left us standing there for just a little too long – Jac wasn’t very impressed. If it was an important discussion that had to be finished before serving customers – customers who were standing right there – a friendly smile and a quick “We’ll be right with you” would’ve done wonders for our first impressions – Customer Service 101. When the host finally gave us his attention, Jac asked for a table for two, to which he replied, “Great idea!” Hmmmph. Not a brilliant beginning.

After we’d had a few minutes to study the menu, a waitress came to our table and we expected that she’d take our orders, but instead she welcomed us to Paymaster’s and proceeded to tell us, “a few things about our menu.” She told us: Paymaster’s eggs benedict comes with a sundried tomato hollandaise sauce; the three cheese omelette was made with three different cheeses (I’m sorry, but “really? duuuuh!”); and the deep pan pancake could be ordered with caramelised banana and bacon or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of maple syrup. I thought this whole spiel was a little odd and quite unnecessary – this was information we could get simply by reading the menu, and indeed, we already had. We waited politely as she delivered her little speech and when she was done, she said, “You already know what you want to order, right?” Right. I got the feeling she felt silly stating the obvious, but was merely doing as she’d been directed.

Jac ordered the stuffed field mushroom cap and bacon (AU$17.90), with a side order of hash browns (AU$3.90). The mushroom was filled with feta, roasted garlic and English spinach. The stuffed mushroom cap was topped with slices of bacon, a chunky tomato sauce and half a grilled tomato. I was quite surprised to see the tomato sauce on the dish, as (1) it had not been mentioned at all in the menu and (2) this detail had not been mentioned by the waitress in her little speech – surely it would be more useful to the diner if the supplementary information provided by waitstaff included details not covered by the menu, rather than merely repeating what was already in the menu? We thought it strange and quite risky really, to leave out such a significant element of the dish in its description, as it would no doubt have a major impact on the dish’s overall flavour. It’s something you’d want to know about a dish before you ordered it. This is why they mention on menus at Italian restaurants if the spaghetti marinara comes in a cream-based or a tomato-based sauce. This is why a specials board mentions if the fish of the day is battered or grilled. The tomatoey-ness of this dish would definitely be a problem for a person who didn’t like tomatoes or worse, was allergic to tomatoes. Being a sauce, it had pretty much left its mark on everything else on the plate. And tomato issues aside, the feta made the dish really salty.

Stuffed field mushroom cap with bacon

I had much better luck with my dish, the deep pan pancake (AU$12.90). The pancake is cooked on the stove, finished in the oven, and served with caramelised fresh banana and bacon. The fluffy, thick pancake was really good for soaking up the rich and heavy caramel sauce. Bacon and caramel, the very salty and the very sweet, taste absolutely delicious together!

Deep Pan Pancake

Our meals were delivered to our table by the head chef himself. I do try not to make personal criticisms when I write about our dining experiences, but sometimes it’s impossible not to. To be frank, I didn’t care for his manner. He offered both of us freshly cracked black pepper for our meals and when I said, “No, thank you”, he said, “Awww, go on. Why not? Go on, go on, have some.” I chose not to respond, but in my head I was thinking, “I’d rather not have cracked black pepper on my pancakes with caramel sauce, THANK YOU! Now go away!” *snort* Besides the ridiculousness of being offered cracked black pepper for a dish that clearly didn’t require it, what really annoyed me was the way he didn’t actually look at me when he spoke. It made him seem quite arrogant – well, there’s another word I could use which I think is the perfect word to describe my impression of him from this little exchange… As we ate our meals and he continued to deliver food to other tables, I noticed he would say the same thing to everyone who declined his offer of cracked black pepper, and always with the same lack of eye contact: “Awww, go on. Why not? Go on, have some.” Is it this his idea of witty banter with the customers?

Another point – written in the Visit Newcastle brochure and on the Paymaster’s website is the following statement: “Dining at Paymaster’s is a delight with a passionate chef who makes everything inhouse… ” (the bold + italic emphasis on “everything” is theirs, not mine). We’d been expecting the glorious pleasure of homemade hash browns, but they looked and tasted exactly like the ones you can buy in the frozen foods section in the supermarket. The thing is, I do like those commercially bought hash browns and wouldn’t have batted an eyelid at being served them, if only Paymaster’s (or whoever wrote that copy on behalf of Paymaster’s, which was then used by Paymaster’s to represent their establishment) not made that proud everything declaration.

Criticisms aside, I really enjoyed my (pepperless) food. Jac thought her meal was too salty, and that unexpected inclusion of the chunky tomato sauce was just strange. Overall, we didn’t really care for our experience at Paymaster’s – I guess if I had to sum up the experience and service in a word I’d have to say “irritating”. A shame, really – that pancake with caramelised banana and bacon really was scrumptious. And the pork sausages on another customer’s plate on the table next to ours looked really good!

After paying for breakfast we went on walking, and outside we saw this fountain, all sudsy with bubbles. Jac went right up to the water and noticed it smelled very soapy-perfumey. Obviously someone had had some fun!

Who put bubbles in the fountain?

Why didn’t anyone tell me there’s a Harry’s Cafe De Wheels in Newcastle?

We went for a walk after breakfast along the river and I was thrilled when we stumbled upon a Harry’s Cafe De Wheels next to the train line! I’ve wanted to try a Harry’s Cafe De Wheels pie floater for years and years, ever since I saw Detective Frank Holloway tucking into them regularly on the TV show Water Rats. I did hope we’d get a chance while we were in Sydney but had a feeling we’d run out of time. I’d already told myself “never mind, there’ll be other trips to Sydney”, and now to find myself unexpectedly standing in front of a Harry’s Cafe De Wheels was really quite overwhelming. I know I probably sound melodramatic – I am after all, talking about a pie stall! Must be a foodie/pie-lover thing. But excitement turned to dismay quickly as I remembered how full I was from breakfast. Jac, being a sweetie and knowing exactly what was going through my head, suggested we come back here the next day and have breakfast before catching the bus back to Nelson Bay. I beamed with pure joy!

Harry's Cafe De Wheels

For the timebeing, we just stopped and had a drink. I was very excited to see from the photos on display that Colonel Sanders once ate at Harry’s Cafe De Wheels!

Colonel Sanders was here!

I took a photo of the Tiger pie sign – I planned to have a Curry Tiger the next day. I love a good curry pie, and the thought of one topped with mashed potato, mushy peas and gravy (I’ve had that thought for a long, long time!) was really appealing to me.

The Tiger

We walked along the river, went to the Honeysuckle Markets and then to Nobby’s Beach.

Nobby's Beach

It was really hot by the time we got back to the hotel, and we stopped at Kiwi Waffle N Cones to for a cold drink and ice cream. Jac had a milkshake made with toffee swirl ice cream (AU$7.00 – really expensive for its size!), and I had a scoop of lemon tingle sorbet on a plain wafer cone (AU$3.50 – nice, but not as good as the Royal Copenhagen lemon sorbet I had back at Circular Quay). Kiwi Waffle N Cones is located just across the road from the hotel entrance, at 40 Zaraa Street and is open Monday to Thursday 12pm to 10pm, Friday 12pm to 11pm, Saturday 11am to 11pm, Sunday 11am to 10pm, very handy for those unexpected late night ice cream cravings!

Jonah’s on the Beach Restaurant and Cocktail Bar
At Noah’s on the Beach, Corner Shortland Esplanade and Zaara Street, Newcastle NSW
10% surcharge Sundays and public holidays

On the day we arrived at Newcastle, I’d booked a table for dinner at Jonah’s on the Beach, the hotel’s restaurant. I was really looking forward to this, having read about the restaurant when organising our accommodation.

Upon arrival we were welcomed and seated by the window with a view of the ocean/beach as I’d requested. We were also presented with complimentary steak tartare on mini toast.

Steak tartare (complimentary)

Steak tartare is not something I would normally think of eating (I usually prefer my steaks done medium-well, after all!) – see these Flickr photos for various incarnations of steak tartare. Jonah’s version of steak tartare consisted of finely chopped steak with finely chopped onion and gherkin and a squeeze of lemon juice. Since I had it sitting there right in front of me, of course I had to try it! (It was free too, after all! :)) It was a very nice savoury bite and didn’t taste like raw (or even rare) meat at all. I think the lemon juice would’ve partially cooked the steak, and the onions and gherkin gave the meat a lovely flavour. I noticed that the young girl and guy at a table near ours hadn’t touched theirs. They told their waiter to take it away, and I so wanted to call out, “We’ll have it!” (I didn’t, of course!)

Our tongues and tummies awakened by those savoury morsels, we started our meal with the garlic and chive baguette (AU$5.00). The bread was savoury and buttery, but as with many garlic breads I eat I would’ve liked more garlic. The chives did add a lovely flavour to the bread though. And now my tummy was growling for more.

Garlic and chive baguette

I’d been studying the menu since we arrived (a copy was included in the hotel information booklet in our room) and knew I just had to try the sauteed king prawns in a brandy flamed garlic and chervil cream sauce with sweet potato gnocchi (AU$21.00) for my entree. Along with the garlic and chilli prawns from Sandpipers in Nelson Bay, this was easily my favourite dining out dish from our holiday. The prawns were wonderful, and the sauce exquisite. The sweet potato gnocchi had a smooth texture with a pleasing firmness and satisfying chew – they were totally moreish.

Sauteed king prawns with sweet potato gnocchi

For her first course, Jac was compelled to try the Port Stephens Oysters, 3 Ways (AU$22.00 per half dozen).

Port Stephens Oysters, 3 Ways

First: oysters with wasabi dressing with pickled ginger and shallots. Jac thought these were the best of the lot. She really loved the flavour.

Oysters with wasabi dressing with pickled ginger and shallots

Second: oysters with champagne sorbet and salmon caviar. The flavour of the champagne sorbet was too strong and overwhelmed the flavour of the oysters. This was Jac’s least favourite of the “3 ways”.

Oysters with champagne sorbet and salmon caviar

Third: oysters with native fingerlime mignonette sauce – these were quite nice, but not as good as the wasabi ones. The wasabi ones were basically a winner, the sorbet ones thumbs down and the fingerlime ones okay.

Oysters with native fingerlime mignonette sauce

For my main course I had the Thai seafood tasting plate, with marinated fillets of baby barramundi, fried squid, baked scallops in soy and lime butter and king prawns marinated in Thai chilli paste (AU$36.00). The menu claimed the fried squid was “crispy” but I didn’t think it was particularly so. The scallops were absolutely tiny and a little chewy. The dominant flavour in the scallops’ marinade was Chinese five spice, rather than soy or lime butter. The prawns were nice, but most of the chilli flavour was left on the shells once I’d peeled them. The salad in the centre was okay, but I think it served the function of “boofing up” a small serving rather than adding significant deliciousness to the dish. At the bottom of the plate between the scallop and prawns were two sauces, a sweet chilli jam and a butter that tasted lemony (or was this meant to be the lime butter?). Both went nicely with the seafood but neither seemed particularly Thai in flavour. I thought this dish was just okay – not spectacular and definitelynot worth raving about or recommending.

Thai seafood tasting plate

Jac had the fillet of Cargill beef on a layered potato and prosciutto galette, finished with porcini mushroom butter and a cabernet jus (AU$39.00). I liked the presentation of the dish – galette, steak and big mushroom piled high, with a generous knob of porcini butter at the very top (“Hurry up and take your photo!” Jac said, “My porcini butter is melting!”). Jac found the jus and the prosciutto very salty, but she did appreciate the thick steak cooked to a perfect medium-rare.

Fillet of Cargill Beef

The ordinariness of my main course didn’t put me off wanting sweets. Yes, I’d been studying the dessert menu too. :)

My dessert was the baked lemon and passionfruit tart served with a coconut and passionfruit gelato (AU$13.50). I loved that the gelato could taste so much of passionfruit without the presence of crunchy black pips, and I really loved how something could taste so recognisably like passionfruit yet also be distinctly and (surprisingly!) harmoniously coconutty. The lemon tart was smooth and velvetty, more lemony than passionfruity, more tart than sweet (the tart was tart – heh). I’d thought that the dots of berry coulis on the plate were mainly there for decoration and colour contrast, but I actually rather liked the flavours of lemon, passionfruit and berry together.

Baked lemon and passionfruit tart

Jac chose the Turkish delight creme brulee with pistachio nut macaroons, rose petals and double cream (AU$13.50). This dessert is apparently a favourite of some of Jonah’s staff.

Turkish delight creme brulee with Pistachio nut macaroons

The macaroons had actual pistachio nuts in them. They sat on a dollop of double cream garnished with fresh strawberries and sugar-dusted cubes of Turkish delight.

Pistachio nut macaroons

Jac loves Turkish delight, and was delighted (hah!)* by the smoothness of the custard and its delicate rose water flavour. When Jac got to the very bottom of the creme brulee she discovered a layer of Turkish delight, a lovely surprise! And no, she didn’t eat the rose petals. We thought this was a clever way to present/assemble a Turkish delight-themed dessert.

Turkish delight creme brulee

We really enjoyed Jonah’s on the Beach. It was a lovely dinner to celebrate what had been a great weekend in Newcastle.

View from our table

* So what I’m saying is: my tart was tart, and Jac was delighted by her delight. Heheheh.

These posts have been taking longer to write than I’d hoped. This one I found particularly difficult because of the negative things I felt I had to say. I didn’t want to be unnecessarily unkind, but I wanted to accurately convey my experience and impressions. But anyway I am once again – thanks to slower than expected writing and the need to go shopping – a little behind with the posts. I’ll keep plugging away as time permits. It’s Jac’s birthday tomorrow and we’re doing whatever she pleases, so I may not get the chance to sit here at the computer! Thank you for all your lovely comments and emails so far, glad to hear you’re enjoying these holiday posts. I’m back at work on Monday – booo!

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