Thursday, June 16, 2011

Coffee and art: a wet weekend in Newcastle

I came to wander around the foreshore but ended up hiding out in cafes and bookshops. All is not lost when the rain buckets down on the 9th best city in the world.

I’ll be honest, when I hit the Newcastle CBD early on a drizzly Saturday afternoon I wondered if the city was closed for the weekend. When the first of the recommended cafes came into sight I brightened. One Penny Black gets repeated mention in social media for the best coffee in Newcastle. Barely bigger than a hole in the wall, it’d be more at home in a Melbourne laneway than a rather sad looking mall. The food also hit the spot. Though the menu is limited to mainly toasties, they had a better than average vegan offering of falafel on toast with hommos, rocket and sweet chilli sauce. It worked.

The coffee was good.

Just above OPB, one of the many Renew Newcastle initiatives has set up shop. Currently showing at the ARThive gallery is Art Vandelay: an exhibition about nothing, a quirky homage to Seinfeld group show. I loved the stuffed dolls depicting the main characters.

For an art loving visitor artist run initiatives are a boon. It means there’ll always be an artist on hand to pick their brains for local knowledge. The exhibitor at ARThive sent us up the road to the Lock Up to catch the end of an artist talk and exhibition. Happily Ever After explores female narratives within the fairy tale genre. This group show covers a variety of media, including some exquisite artists books. The exhibition will be touring later in the year so keep an eye on the blog for details. It’s worth a look.

The Lock-up museum documents both the inmates and the police who locked them up. The Dickensian cells were in use ‘til the early 1980’s. Some are now incorporated into the gallery space but the padded cell is a statement in itself. Not for the claustrophobic.

Just opposite the Cultural Centre we spied a Balinese Restaurant. The friendly people at the surf shop next door gave it the thumbs up, so it was earmarked for dinner later that night. Bali Corner smelt great, a sure sign that fragrant fresh herbs are used rather than pre-made substitutes. Actually it was the aroma wafting from the closed restaurant that made me want to come back. The owner/chef chatted to me as I eyed up the menu on the door, she’s the real deal and I’m happy we trekked back up Hunter Street once the sun went down. We sampled some prawn and corn fritters, fish cakes (more Thai in flavour than Indonesian), a steamed fish curry (great flavour and presentation but a little over cooked) and the omnivore ate something meaty. The food was good, though Warung Agus in Melbourne sets a higher bar. Sadly we’d headed off without an umbrella and the clouds had opened. Once there was a break in the deluge we didn’t linger and set off at a fast to walk back to our hotel.

The plan had been to leisurely wander back via the waterfront, have a drink by the water and make it a late night. Oh well. Maybe next time.

Another recommendation for coffee and food was “anywhere in Darby Street”. Like a mini-Brunswick Street, the road connects the CBD with the inner suburb of Cooks Hill. It’s a short walk from Hunter Street. There was a good selection of cafes to choose from but we headed for another pick from a friendly local (can you see a trend here? All the Novocastrians we met were delightful and helpful). Grind was packed but we managed to nab the last table as the torrential rain ramped up once more. It’s cosy inside and the staff did a great job at delivering service with a smile and efficiency. The architecture and layout in Newcastle reminded me a lot of Wellington but it was the cafes that nailed the connection. Almost every breakfast menu had fritters of some sort. As I can’t pass up a taste of home, I opted for the corn and shallot fritters and wasn’t disappointed. The waitress helped me vegetarian-ise the order, swapping bacon for mushrooms, but it didn’t need the additional side as the fritters, stacked with crushed avocado and tomatoes, were whoppers. We lingered in the warmth over a second excellent cup of coffee and headed out into the damp once more.

Darby Street is dotted with independent stores, including the whimsical Blackbird Corner. It’s a handmade haven packed with clothes, magazines, jewellery, cards, decorations and Lomo cameras. Pop in and chat to the delightful owners and buy yourself a treat from the reasonable priced goods on offer.

But when it came to bargains, a second hand store down the road won the prize. We got lost in the shelves of Cooks Hill Books and Records for over an hour. A great mix of quality recently released novels, genre fiction and non-fiction. Oh and they have vinyl too. Judy Garland for $5? Yes thank you very much. The shop flows through a number of rooms but is well displayed, not overwhelming like some second hand book stores. I have to wait for my stash of books (including a 1930s British Grocers handbook) to arrive when the Significant Eater drives south next week, as my carry-on only baggage couldn’t fit them.

Opposite the Queen Street entrance to the shop is the rear of the Newcastle Regional Art Gallery. Their exhibitions were the jewel in the crown of our art crawl. A well proportioned gallery, big enough to spend an hour or two but not so large you have to bolt through the shows to see everything. Currently on display are two collections of Australian art, both studded with gems, Citizen Collectors and Laverty 2. These included works by Richard Larter, Patricia Piccinini and Rosalie Gascoigne, as well as some stunning indigenous art.

Outside the rain continued to pour and the drains over-flowed. Time to hit the road for Sydney, with promises to return. But perhaps, next time, it will be in summer.

Don’t go to Newcastle without:

Printing off the Renew Newcastle map to inform your art and craft crawl.

Flicking through the Novocastrian Files, a great blog chronicling the best of indie Newcastle. The interviewees’ favourite places to eat, drink and shop are also a wonderful resource.


One Penny Black
111 Hunter Street, Newcastle

ARThive Gallery
1/111 Hunter Street, Newcastle

The Lock-up Cultural Centre
90 Hunter Street, Newcastle

Bali Corner
95 Hunter St, Newcastle

Grind Coffee Co
127 Darby St, Cooks Hill

Blackbird Corner
90 Darby St, Cooks Hill

Cooks Hill Books and Records
72 Darby St, Cooks Hill

Newcastle Regional Art Gallery
Laman Street Newcastle

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Blogger Siobhan said...

Thank you for the blog mention. I'm so happy to hear you had a great time and all the locals were on their best behaviour :)

2:16 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Hey Siobhan, nice to (virtually) meet you. Love the interviews on NF and will check out Far Out Brussel Sprout. Am looking forward to my next visit.

2:26 pm  
Anonymous Ed said...

Excellent! We're off to Newcastle at the end of July and you've done all the hard work for us. And our trip is an arty trip too - the Taronga Conservation Soc show.

2:48 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Ed there's a heap more on the list that didn't happen. Might catch you for a coffee before your trip. Otherwise twitter was very useful (plus the NF interviews) for ideas.

4:56 pm  
Anonymous lisa said...

I love One Penny Black - have been going to Newcastle for years and it's the best coffee I've had there. Especially love the vegan options at breakfast.

1:36 pm  
Blogger FoodieFi said...

I hardly recognise my hometown in this post! Did you know Grind is where Jesse and Vanessa from Anada started out?

And you unlocked some very happy memories with mention of the Cooks Hill bookshop :) I used to live around the corner and it supplied the majority of novels I read for uni. It's one of my all-time fave secondhand book stores.

4:57 pm  
Blogger Ayesha said...

Thanks for a nice share you have given to us with such an large collection of information. Great work you have done by sharing them to all. simply superb. Photo Recovery

2:48 am  

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