Food Glorious Food

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I like unexpected things in unexpected places. It keeps me on my toes and stops complacency, an important life lesson. Public art is a good example of the unexpected; a sculpture suddenly appearing where it isn’t meant to be, or a roving street poet regaling passers-by with a surprise verse or two. Yarn bombing, a take-it-to-the-street movement by crafty urban knitters, provides that ‘whoa!’ moment – was that really a tree wearing a hand knitted scarf?

Neroli Foster is a kindred spirit in that way. The creator of Underground Epicureans and food tours to the East End and West End she’s a natural foodie and entertainer, but not in any predictable way. Her business started in late 2012 when she began running pop-up dinner parties; people could eat well, but here’s the catch, it had to be in a space not normally associated with dining.

An Underground Epicurean dinner location sounds evocative. Who’s for fine dining in a warehouse, laneway or a gaol? Neroli relishes challenging people’s idea of what a food space could be and her audience likes taking the challenge. Often the venue itself inspires the food for the night, giving it a natural theme and a unity. The dinners usually sit around 50 people and they’re classy: diners sit at long tables with linen napery and enjoy a three course quality meal prepared by an innovative cook.

Working closely with local chefs in order to create the dinners had opened Neroli’s eyes to the wealth of great food in the city and the inspired creatives who were powering a Newcastle cuisine revolution. When friends would despair that there was no-where decent to eat in the city she was astonished because she knew the city was undergoing a culinary renaissance.

A food tour she enjoyed in Hobart inspired her to think about doing something similar in Newcastle and a new part of the business was born now known as Epicurean Excursions. Neroli began running mini-tours of the CBD’s best eateries and was surprised to find that even born and bred Novocastrians had little idea of the city’s gastronomic richness. Launching late last year these day-time food excursions now run weekly, alternating between the East End and the West End.

I had heard great things about the West End food excursions and how its participants had been astonished to even think of the West End as an eating destination. Yes, the West End is arty, edgy, gritty, eclectic and unique – but rarely is it considered in the same sentence as ‘extraordinary food’. Yet those of us who love it know it’s a great place to eat. Neroli revealed that it is the West End food excursion which surprises people the most, with many confessing they didn’t think there was anything much in the West End at all (ouch!) and certainly not any fabulous food (double ouch!). This food excursion, to our favourite part of town, takes the lucky tourers to seven West End hot spots, all under acknowledged culinary gems and also some gorgeous arty spaces. And here’s another surprise, you’ll only walk a total of 500 metres to find them all.

Sure she’s a passionate foodie, but I was intrigued by what drove Neroli’s creation of out-of-left-field dining and her unique food tours. She smiled, “We all like secrets. Having them, hearing them and trying (in vain) to keep them. I know the best places to eat in Newcastle, I know the chefs and the owners and I don’t want them to stay hidden. I like spilling those kinds of secrets.”

Epicurean Excursions are held every Friday from 9.30am – 12.30pm. To book see their website: http://www.epicureans.com.au Phone: 0438 208 297. Find them on Facebook, Underground Epicureans and on Instagram as newicuri_ous.

Kimberly O’Sullivan

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 or 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: kimberly@netspace.net.au; 0413 250 155.

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