It’s been a climatically bizarre year. Just as it seemed that the surfers’ dream of an ‘endless summer’ had become a literal reality and that we were going to bypass winter completely and slide straight into next year’s swimming season, there was a crisp nip.
The West End’s confused deciduous trees seemed relieved that winter had finally made its, albeit mild, arrival. In Wood, Bellevue and Hunter streets the plane trees’ autumn leaves are finally falling. They had turned a yellowy brown a few months ago, but have been clinging to bare branches in a half-on, half-off state while they waited for winter to arrive properly, apparently as confused by the unseasonably warm weather as their human counterparts.
One of winter’s delights is the appearance of comfort food, that wonderful nosh which is more than just sustenance; it kindly imparts emotional warmth to all who ingest it. Comfort food is simple and inherently hearty. There is emotional contentment in a bowl of steaming porridge with brown sugar, or golden syrup, which a quinoa, sprouted almond and vegetable salad can never emulate, no matter how nutritionally dense it might be.
Of course the exact nostalgic element of comfort food varies, depending on what triggers your positive childhood memories, but in the West End there are some all-time favourites. Soup, particularly nursery classics such as pumpkin, tomato or pea and ham always appear in the top 10 comfort foods as do desserts such as baked rice custard and bread and butter pudding.
With this in mind it was time to follow my nose and see what winter delights were on offer in the West End. In Parry Street the sweet café The Tufty Hidey Hole promises a different soup every day and has just introduced its winter speciality: slow cooked meals such as tagines, casseroles and curries. They provide options for vegetarians, vegans and those having to eat around food intolerances such as gluten or lactose.
Across the road The Edwards is taking the onset of winter seriously. Pushing open their front door the distinctive and aromatic smell of a wood fire wrapped around me and I was further delighted to hear that this crackling heater is soon to be joined (inside the restaurant) by an open pit fire, which surely must be a Newcastle’s first. One of the smartest and best value ways to keep warm is to do Wednesdays there when it is ‘stew and brew night’, you’ll be sated with a jug of Cooper’s and a big pot of stew for two.
The Social is the West End’s Cuban specialist café and they don’t have to try too hard, there is something inherently hearty and warming about quesadillas, bocadillos (sandwiches) and Cuban coffee made on hot condensed milk. Their wintery best sellers are the dishes featuring their superb pulled pork, cooked for 12 hours in achiote paste, a spice popular throughout South America, but rarely seen here.
Around in Bellevue Street the Bank Corner Café has changing soups including winter vegetable with pearl barley, toasted sandwiches of kumera and potato made on piadina (a thin Italian flatbread) and wins my award for the best warm drink in the West End this winter – old school Milo made with hot milk.
Whether you want to pull on trackie dacks, footy socks, a beanie and ugg boots and head out in comfort, or if your style is more belted trenchie, jeans and leather boots – it doesn’t matter. It’s cold. You’re hungry. The answer to your foodie prayers is in the West End.
Have you chosen the West End as your home or as the perfect place to run your business? Do you have a West End tale which deserves a wider audience? What inspires and infuriates you about the West End? If you have a story to tell I would love to talk to you! Here’s how to find me: firstname.lastname@example.org; 0413 250 155.