Scratchley’s – 200 Wharf Road, Newcastle, New South Wales
Newcastle is a mere two hours drive away from Sydney and offers a great escape with some beautiful beaches and sensational seafood. One place that a visit to Newcastle is not complete without a meal at is Scratchley’s. A veritable institution located right on the water, it offers a stunning view of the harbour, if you can spare a moment to look up from your plate that is.
The seafood was spectacular even though my visit during the Christmas – New Year period meant that I didn’t get a chance to try out the famed “Specials”, an ever-changing menu available during off-peak periods which is constructed according to the seasonal fish hauled in. A lunch for five amounted to $285, complete with drinks all round.
I started out with Scratchley’s Famous Char-grilled Antipasto ($19); this appetiser portion is conveniently half the size and price of having it as a main. Every single marine critter was done complete justice despite the immense variety on my plate; each one was grilled its individual point of perfection balancing flavourful char and springy softness or delicate flakiness where appropriate. The squid was likely the best I’ve ever had with a yielding chew and a remarkable sweetness I had never tasted in squid before. However, it was ultimately the plump, juicy baby octopus accentuated by a robust, coarse basil-almond pesto that stole the show completely and which continues to defy adequate description.
Another starter popular at our table was the Scratchley’s Seafood Chowder ($15) with a masterfully executed classical Velouté base of light stock thickened with blond roux. Smooth and adequately yet not overpoweringly flavoured, it set a new standard that typically lumpy, over-thickened and starchy chowders fall far short of. A solid combination of vegetables like carrots, corn kernels and scallions supported the sweet shrimp, pliantly chewy octopus and tender fish, all chopped into bits that were large enough to be distinguished on the tongue yet small enough so as not to detract from the velvety smooth feel.
The Garlic King Prawns Sautéed in Garlic, Shallot, White Wine and Cream Sauce with Steamed Basmati Rice ($19) was quite breathtaking with that gorgeously glossy sauce napping the massive prawns and gradually soaking into fluffy grains.
Both the Garlic Bread ($5) and Herb & Cheese Bread ($5) were pillow-soft and extremely fluffy. A mere half-centimeter layer of flavouring agent on the surface of the bread provided all the punch and character necessary. This allowed both bread and spread to harmonise but remain distinct, thus avoiding the typical soggy saturatedness or rock-hard crispness found in most flavoured breads.
My Red Emperor Fillet Dusted in Cajun Spices on Smashed Kipfler Potatoes with Char-Grilled Balsamic Vegetables, Carrot & Ginger Raitha and Sweet Potato Curls ($38) was every bit as spectacular as that wonderfully detailed description promised. Firm and moist, it was fragrantly spiced yet subtly enough that the natural flavour of the supremely fresh fish was not overwhelmed but further accentuated by a creamy, tangy raitha sauce. The coarse mash had a mind-boggling array of flavour and texture from sweet pepper to salty zucchini and mealy potato, all perfumed with a generous amount of thyme.
I couldn’t cross-examine my fellow diners for their opinions on their own mains but I think the pictures alone will suffice as more than adequate descriptions!
Blue Eye Cod Fillet Roasted in Thai Flavours with a Corn & Coriander Crust on Saffron & Lime Basmati Pilaf and Green Curry Coconut Sauce ($35).
Snapper Fillet Roasted in Lemon, Garlic & Thyme on a Salad of Black Lentils, Preserved Lemon, Pine Nuts & Coriander with Coconut Yoghurt Dressing ($38).
Tender Calamari Golden-Fried with Real Tartare Sauce & Lemon ($32).