A sense of place
A sense of place
Carrington Place is much more than just a new restaurant in town. Renowned chef Scott Webster tells GO Magazine about his latest venture.
Published GO Magazine Spring/Summer 2010
Had you come to Newcastle 20 years ago, you would have found one of the city’s best restaurants over the bridge in Carrington. For 13 years Carrington House offered locals and visitors fine food in this harbour-side suburb.
A few doors up from the sophisticated Carrington House was the Oriental Hotel, a favourite haunt of dock workers looking for a cool schooner to sate their thirst after a long shift.
Unfortunately for the suburb, Carrington House closed around 15 years ago, followed by the Oriental which called last shout in 2002. While the Carrington House site was converted into offices, the Oriental stood derelict, waiting for someone with the vision, budget and willingness to tackle this heritage-listed building.
That someone turned out to be none other than Newcastle-born, internationally renowned chef Scott Webster. Breathing new life into the Oriental Hotel, Webster has created Carrington Place, putting an end to the pub’s ‘spit and sawdust’ past and bringing it more in line with the tradition of its former neighbour.
Scott’s vision began in 2006, after a hip replacement forced him to re-evaluate his lifestyle. For three years prior to this, Scott owned and ran Osia, a Michelin-starred restaurant in London’s West End. Although this was a critically-acclaimed venture, it eventually took its toll. As he explains, “Cooking at that level it’s seven days a week 18-hour days. After being on my legs so often on hard floors I needed hip surgery.”
After the hip replacement, Scott went straight back to work only to find himself needing to go back under the knife just six months later. With this came a grim warning from his doctor: “If you want to work like a madman you’re going to need new hips every 10 years.”
This wake-up call led Scott to sell up in London and return home, asking himself, “Where am I going to go?”
But on reflection he decided to stay home. “The kids are here growing up, [wife] Jen is here, my family… And I’m from Newcastle.” London’s loss became Newcastle’s gain. His first foray into the local culinary scene was to buy Sesame’s at The Junction, but at the same time he wanted to find somewhere “to hang my hat on.” He knew he didn’t want to join the dining strips of Darby Street, Hamilton or Honeysuckle, but instead wanted to be out on his own and create, “a beacon people could come to.”
On discovering the Oriental, Scott saw through its decrepit form and envisioned a multi-layered business like no other in Newcastle. Stepping through its original entrance, to the right he found an old-style pub with a massive horseshoe bar (these bars maximised the amount of drinkers who could be served when the six o’clock swill was enforced). To the left was a poolroom and behind that, the ladies’ parlour. There was a small kitchen for serving pub grub and a large beer garden outside.
As Scott says, “a lot of TLC and money” has brought about an amazing transformation. Heritage restrictions dictated that the horseshoe bar had to remain, but it’s no longer so dominant, allowing space for relaxed seating in stylish lounges. Incorporating past and present, the beautifully modern fit-out blends with original touches like the lovely old feature tiles that encircle the bar.
Visitors can enjoy Bluetongue, Peroni and James Squire Golden Ale on tap to accompany a casual menu of tasty treats such as fresh oysters, pizza or tapas. In the former beer garden Scott has added an extension to create a spacious dining room. This opens onto the garden during the warmer months and can be converted to a function room for 80-100 people. Changing seasonally, the restaurant menu has a ‘slow food’ focus. Everything is cooked in the hearth, including pizza, flat bread, hot pots and even steak. Sumptuous winter offerings include starters of steamed Kinawooka mussels with leeks, shallots, white wine and cream, or onion soup with tarragon and roasted cheese croutons. For mains there’s a choice of pasta and pizza, or for something more hearty there’s White Rock veal osso bucco with saffron risotto and gremolata or confit of duck maryland with stewed herb lentils and roasted baby beetroot.
Although this is a far cry from pub grub, Scott is keen to point out that he hasn’t created a fine dining experience like that of Newcastle’s Restaurant II or Bacchus. Instead he explains, he wanted to create the type of place he’d be happy to eat in. “I’m the type of person that wants to go out and eat good food, but I want casual. I don’t want to have to feel I’ve got to put a jacket and tie on to go out for dinner. I want people to think they can come here and eat relaxed and enjoy it.”
For those who want to experience a more intimate dining experience, Scott has converted the old ladies’ parlour into a private dining room for up to 12 people. This room is named in honour of Hunter legend and good friend of Scott and Jennifer, Trevor Drayton. Their friendship with the Drayton family continues and the wine list exclusively features some of Trevor’s best known and most awarded wines. Along with drops from Drayton’s, Scott has crafted a wine list that’s predominately Hunter Valley, with names such as Tyrrell’s, McWilliam’s, Audrey Wilkinson and Margan.
As well as food and wine, Carrington Place now also offers a place to rest your head. Upstairs there are 14 spacious rooms, which Scott says he has fashioned on the European model of guesthouse-style accommodation. This came about partly because of heritage restrictions that meant he couldn’t put en suite bathrooms in the rooms. But Scott also wanted to promote himself as a guesthouse rather than a hotel and in doing so invites people to “come and stay in my home.”
This, of course, means shared bathrooms, which are divided into male and female and have separate shower and toilet facilities. Adding to the homely touches, guests are welcomed by fresh apples, a pitcher of water and fluffy bathrobes in their rooms.
Having established this vibrant new venture, Scott has succeeded in creating a place to firmly hang his hat on. But that’s not all; Carrington Place is a fantastic addition to the changing face of Newcastle, helping to spread the word that this coastal haven is an exciting tourist destination.