For an indication of just how far Newcastle’s inner city has come since the closure of the heavy rail line, you need go no further than a visit to Signal Box restaurant just down from the old Newcastle railway station.
On a recent Friday night visit by @ The Coalface, families and couples were enjoying the crisp summer air, walking and cycling along the wide promenades, bringing life back to what was once a barrier between the harbour and the city.
The Newcastle signal box was constructed in 1936 to move the tracks into position and was decommissioned on Boxing Day 2014.
It reopened as a restaurant in 2019 and, as a nod to the site’s industrial past, the heritage building now features a dining pavilion made nearly entirely of steel and concrete, a beautiful steel spiral staircase to give access to the rooftop and views of Newcastle city from Queens Wharf to the now-bustling Hunter Street, as well to the mezzanine to view the historic signalling and lever gears.
But a visit to Signal Box is all about the food, as well as the ambience.
We came in for the early 5.30pm dining sitting and found the staff delightfully helpful and determined to make the experience as efficient and pleasant as possible.
Over the course of an hour-and-a-half trying the Signal Box fare, other couples, families and groups of friends seated themselves in the open, airy and well-spaced pavilion, allowing intimate conversations without seeming to be crowded in and, with Covid concerns still a reality of hanging around with groups, plenty of space and airflow for a safe environment.
Highlights of the comprehensive, yet not-too-large, menu are local seafood and produce, with just about everything leaving the kitchen made in-house and from scratch.
For entrée we had Sydney rock oysters from Port Stephens and Tasmanian half-shell scallops. The oysters, which also come as a Kilpatrick option, were a tribute to the reputation of our Hunter seafood and were accompanied by a tart, yet sweet, dressing. The scallops were served warm with Café de Paris butter, tomato and wakame.
These and the mains, were accompanied by glasses of a 2022 Hart and Hunter Riesling from the Hunter Valley, which provided a perfect accompaniment to the freshness of the seafood and a tribute to the great Hunter wine tradition.
Service was efficient, informative and discreet and, after allowing sufficient time to us to enjoy the ambience, the mains were delivered. We chose seafood again, although there are plenty of other protein and vegetarian options.
Dishes sampled were Queensland Spanner crab and king prawn linguine with fresh chilli, garlic, basil, lemon, roasted tomato sugo and parmesan and the market fish of the day. This was grilled swordfish accompanied by macadamia nut and kale pesto, black garlic and a delicious stone fruit, tomato, beetroot, fennel, goat’s feta and mixed leaf salad.
Both mains were declared fresh, a delight of complementary flavours and of a size just right as part of a three-course meal.
From the dessert menu we chose coconut panna cotta with caramelised mango and coconut crumble (a heavenly, wobbly panna cotta with the mango a perfect accompaniment) and the yuzu and orange curd with white chocolate custard and macadamia nut crumble (for lovers of citrus curd, this was a huge hit!).
Throughout our dinner, staff were busy delivering an impressive range of very popular cocktails (obviously one of the restaurant’s attractions). There were also plenty of wines are available by the glass or bottle for reasonable prices.
Entrees range from $19 to $55 (a dozen oysters or scallops) and mains from $22 to $52 with some very tempting salads available, as well as a children’s menu. Bookings are recommended and, from our experience, it’s worth a number of visits to sample the many delicious menu options.
Signal Box is located at 155 Warf Road Newcastle and is open for lunch from 11.30am to 3pm and dinner from 5.30pm to late, Wednesday to Saturday, and from 11am to 3.30pm on Sundays.
A post-dinner or lunch stroll along Newcastle’s remarkable foreshow is also perfect way to cap off a visit.