Fran Digges wrote her first dining review for the Newcastle Herald in 1992. She critiqued Eats on the Beach at Merewether’s Beach Hotel, afterwards taking the time to chat to owners Lyn and John Twohill about their plans for the venue, which was being renovated at the time.
Laminated copies of Fran’s review, shaped into a cone, are today used to serve the hotel’s fish and chips offering. Imagine her surprise when, some 20 years later, she realised the Twohills owned an apartment in the same Nelson Bay building she calls home.
“I started at the Herald in about 1985 on a casual basis, at first writing advertorials. My career prior to that was in home catering and, prior to that, I was an English and French teacher,” she told Food & Wine.
“The then editor-in-chief John Lewis knew of my interest in food and extended my advertorial writing about local restaurants to critiques. This was a first for the Herald but while I visited a restaurant incognito first to make my assessment, I always followed up with an interview which allowed the restaurateur to explain why things were done the way they were.
“I also wrote a food and shopping column each week and was chosen to do some exciting interviews with celebrities visiting Newcastle.”
Fran was 40 when she started writing for the Herald. Ten years later though, at the age of 50, she was told she had a brain tumour and required major surgery.
“It was life-changing in many ways,” she said. “I absolutely loved my career in journalism so was devastated when it had to come to an end.”
Fran grew up in Merewether. The Beach Hotel, better known as The Beaches, was her father’s “drinking hole” and she has watched its progress with interest over the years.
“John and Lyn have transposed it into a trendy and exciting hotel which makes the most of its amazing location – aspects that were ignored when it was first built and operated,” she said.
“When I reviewed their eatery it had just changed persona from bar food to a more stimulating menu. This has continued to develop and the menu today is filled with favourites as well as several adventurous dishes. The setting and presentation are likewise exciting.”
She still enjoys dining out – and is particularly fond of spicy food – and says she is excited to “discover restaurateurs who go beyond the ordinary”.
“I am fortunate to have done a considerable amount of travelling. The cuisine of a country is to me just as important as any sights, history or adventures.”
These days Fran tends to eat out closer to home at the Bay but the keen cook still has her ear to the ground when it comes to Newcastle’s restaurant scene and dining trends.
“It is exciting to see such a restaurant as Habesha (Ethiopian) becoming so popular and friends do pass on favourable comments about places. There are certainly some beautiful outlooks from Newcastle restaurants,” she said.
“One sad aspect I have noticed, though, is that when in Newcastle, I often see a restaurant that captures my interest – for example Persian or French – and when I return to try it out, it is no longer there.”
To read Fran’s original review, go online to theherald.com.au and check out the photo gallery.
Herald wine writer John Lewis remembers Fran well: “She was an excellent writer and a charming lady. Her mother and father were neighbours of mine when we lived in Scenic Drive”.
It really is a small world.
Spicers Guesthouse Hunter Valley is opening in November after an 18-month refurbishment. Executive chef Cameron Matthews is in the process of creating Spicers’ first Italian restaurant, Éremo. Spicers Retreats purchased Peppers Guest House in Pokolbin in January, 2016. Prior to the renovations starting head chef Brett Hobson, formerly of Palazzo Versace, took over the former Chez Pok restaurant and changed the menu to modern Italian.
Crook to Cook
Fun fact. US rapper Snoop Dogg is releasing his first cookbook, From Crook to Cook, in October. It will be published by Chronicle Books, distributed by Hardie Grant in Australia and feature 50 of his all-time favourite recipes – think baked mac and cheese; chicken and waffles; baby back ribs; and filet mignon. Snoop Dogg first showed the world his cooking chops when he guest-starred on Martha Stewart’s show, Martha, in 2008. Their Emmy-nominated Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party is now in its second season.
The next Great Lakes Food Trail is on Sunday, October 7, and will celebrate the freshest of spring produce. The easy-to-follow route visits farms, gardens, wineries and cafes from Bulahdelah to Bungwahl and Forster. You can pre-book an educational tour or simply drop in to the many farms along the trail for a tasting experience. Download the trail at thegreatlakesfoodtrailnsw.com.au.
More by Moor
Moor Newcastle East is branching out with Cadre Coffee, an espresso bar at the new Harris Farm Market on Darby Street: “We are situated very close to the street and will have seating outside the store,” said Moor’s Shane Brunt. “The coffee is going to be at the specialty end. We are working with the amazing girls from Floozy Coffee Roasters and Hal Gibbs (ex-owner of Esther C). It’s going to be an awesome collaboration. We will be selling lots of retail coffee roasted by Hal and the girls along with some of our favourite roasters from Sydney. We will also offer a fantastic grab-and-go menu and some take-home tagines prepared at Moor. It’s set to open in late September or early October.”