CREATING the perfect burger isn't about piling layer upon layer of meat and cheese.
Keeping it simple (meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, pickles and special sauce on a milk bun) is the winning formula that chef Paul Thornton follows to build his burgers at Hotel Jesmond.
His take on a classic cheeseburger, known as the Jeso Burger, has a cult following.
It won the title of best burger at the 2019 Australian Hotels Association's NSW AHA Awards - yep, the best pub burger in all of regional NSW - and continues to reign supreme as one of the top-sellers on the bistro menu.
For the record, Thornton walked away with the NSW AHA Award for best regional chef that year too.
"We wanted to create something for everyone. Our burgers are not massive stacks of burgers, they are just simple, classic burgers," Thornton says.
"We work closely with our butcher and have created a special blend of mince for our burger patties and the sauce is also something that we developed over time - it's a bit of a secret sauce recipe.
"Use a good quality milk bun and then pickles, lettuce, tomato and we're good.
"Everything works well together and there's nothing on it that takes away from anything else. It's a really well-balanced burger."
Thornton's belief that using locally-sourced produce and house-made ingredients makes all the difference extends across the menu, from the share plates and salads to the pub classics and grill.
The mains menu elevates the standard of pub fare with dishes such as the pork cutlet with roast fennel, charred leeks and jus ($28); house-made potato gnocchi with roast cauliflower, almonds, sage and parmesan ($26); and pan-fried snapper with ruby grapefruit, walnuts and radicchio ($28).
The grill menu operates on a "paddock to plate" level with Thornton keeping an eye on which cuts of meat are available each week and adding the best to the specials board.
Elsewhere on the menu you'll find pizzas, sides, desserts and kids meals.
Thornton's arrival in the kitchen at Hotel Jesmond coincided with the completion of a two-year renovation at the hotel. The area that once housed a yum cha restaurant was demolished to make way for the expansive bistro area, which has been completely transformed by high ceilings and hanging greenery.
There's no shortage of variety on offer at the bar, with 20 brews on tap, including craft beer from Young Henrys, BentSpoke and Furphy.
The bistro flows through to the revamped sports bar and out to the beer garden, which has undergone one of the hotel's most dramatic changes. Lush gardens soften the area, creating an oasis for an afternoon drink.
"The brief for the renovation was natural light and opening it up," owner Dan Ferguson says.
The bistro offers $12 lunch specials every day, while weekly specials include $12 schnitzel night every Monday; $12 rump steak night on Tuesday, $10 half kilo wings on Wednesday; and $10 burgers every Thursday.
Despite the misfortune of having a COVID scare at the hotel last year (a patron from Sydney who tested positive dined at the venue), Ferguson says trade has finally returned as strong as it was after they won big at the AHA Awards.
"We went from having hundreds of people every night after lockdown to having no one," he says.
"It was a challenge, but we've bounced back again now. We have a good chef, good food and good team, and a great venue, so I knew we would come back from it."
- Where: 182 Newcastle Road, Jesmond.
- Food: The bistro operates all day service every Friday, Saturday and Sunday 11.30am-9pm. Open for lunch every other day 11.30am-3pm, dinner 5.30pm-9pm.
- Drinks: 20 taps including mainstream and craft beer, alcoholic ginger beer; wine list features Australian and international wines; cocktails include the popular amaretto sour ($16); pink gin spritz ($15) and lychee martini ($16).
- Dish to try: Buttermilk fried chicken: half bird with choice of two sides and sauce for $26 or whole bird with choice of three sides and sauce for $36.
- Drink to try: Lust Liquor alcoholic mango passionfruit seltzer (on tap).