2020 is the year we stayed home. There's a wave of restaurants and food businesses catering to this need by making dining at home easy and delicious. Whether you fancy a night off cooking or want to try something different to your usual takeout, here are five Newcastle-based options to try.
Chef Ashley Marcantelli launched his Waratah-based business, Knockin' Gnocchi, after the lockdown in March. It was an idea born over a beer one afternoon with his partner Laura.
"She suggested maybe I could start up a home delivery service. Next thing I know we are posting menus to Facebook and, within an hour or so, our phones were going ballistic with orders!"
Marcantelli, who has worked at Rustica and the Criterion Hotel, makes gnocchi by hand which are frozen fresh and delivered to your door from Wednesday to Friday.
"I change the menu fortnightly while introducing sauces that the customers may not have tried before, as well as including Italian style starters and sides. I want them to branch out and try something new!"
Marcantelli's vegetable garden and pumpkin patch is the source of much of the fresh produce which features on his menu.
His favourite? "The forest mushroom with goats' cheese salsa verde - I could eat that every night of the week."
The Autumn Rooms
"What we love about what we do is that we bring people together - and all of a sudden we couldn't do that," says Ben Richardson, owner of The Autumn Rooms, on how the lockdown impacted their business. So, Richardson and his team got creative and launched The Brunch Box by The Autumn Rooms.
"Everybody was at home, they were cooking, and wanted to find things to do with their family. So, we thought, why can't we take what we're known for to our people? That's how it first came about," he says.
The Brunch Box brings together Autumn Rooms favourites like house-made crumpets, waffles, croissants, ingredients for bacon and egg rolls, plus cold brew or chai.
"We did it so people could create a beautiful brunch at home with their family at the time," Richardson says.
The first Brunch Boxes were posted on social media and sold out by the next night - and for tseveral more weeks. After a huge Mother's Day and Father's Day, the boxes are here for the long-term. "We were just overwhelmed with the support that we got from the community and our staff as well. It was amazing," says Richardson.
127 Darby Street, Cooks Hill, theautumnrooms.com.au
Maria Ha opened Haha's Eatery in May this year. It's a small family business that she runs alongside her husband, John (between them they have 30 years of hospitality experience), with her mum, Diem, as its cook. "My mum, Diem - also known as Mama Ha - is the core of our food as she uses traditional family recipes with her own touch," says Ha, whose family came to Australia from Vietnam in 1989.
"Mum learnt how to cook as a little girl by sneaking into caterers' kitchens and asking them to teach her. She then adapted the skills she learnt to cook at home," Ha says.
Customers place orders from a weekly changing menu by 9am Thursday for Friday and Saturday evening pick-up from the Uniting Church in Merewether. "The pre-ordering model means our food is super fresh, purchased the day before and cooked ready for pick up at a specific time. It also means we operate as a zero-food waste business, with no leftovers either being thrown out or used the following day," she says.
"Our food is not mass-produced, with even our spring rolls lovingly hand-wrapped by myself and my mother. "
Taiyo Namba, the restauranteur behind Susuru (and Nagisa), had long wanted to introduce frozen ramen and gyoza to their offering. It was the lockdown that eventually saw them added to the menu in April.
"Many were stuck at home and we wanted to make sure all of our customers got their ramen and gyoza fix from Susuru," says Glen Peacock, Susuru's assistant to the director.
Susuru's frozen ramen kits come in boxes of five, with five flavours to pick and mix from, while their gyoza comes in packs of 20, with eight flavours available.
The frozen range has been a huge hit. "We thought they would sell, but they went out the door like hotcakes. The feedback has been wonderful too, as many believe preparing the frozen ramen at home is a better alternative to ordering regular delivery from us!," Peacock says.
Susuru do monthly frozen product drops to Greater Newcastle and Greater Maitland.
140 King Street, Newcastle, susuru.com.au
Newcastle Food & Flower Markets
Jessica Eckford-Aguilera, founder of Newcastle Food & Flower Markets, is a proud supporter of local producers. The market's Boxes of Goodness - a range of curated food packs, which can be delivered - showcases the market's fresh food offerings.
When the lockdown hit in March, the range was extended, with the likes of their Brekkie Box, Grazing Box and Cannoli Box - each is filled with the tasty bits and pieces needed to make meals at home. "We thought, why not pop them online and deliver it to people's doors? It just went nuts."
Any favourites? "We're pretty renowned for our crumpets and pancakes," Eckford-Aguilera says. Both can be ordered as part of the Brekkie Box or as add-ons.
1 Rural Drive, Sandgate, foodandflowermarkets.com.au