MOVE over Jimmy & Joans, there's a new Jimmy Joans in town. And no, it's not a spin-off of the famed New York bagel cafe.
This is Jimmy Joans, Hunter style - a brand-new bar and restaurant that's already become a local hangout.
"We're just off the Hunter Expressway in Lovedale so locals are stopping by to pick up a coffee on their way to Maitland and Newcastle, and the after-work crowd drop in for a beer and a bite in the evening," explains restaurant manager Eliza Boyd.
The Wilderness Road eatery blends a sip and snack bar and fine diner into a winning combo. There's a more relaxed menu in the bar and garden, where guests can enjoy wine, beer and cocktails perched on bar stools indoors, or outdoors at picnic tables and on picnic rugs.
The softly lit restaurant has a combustion fire where chef Thomas Boyd offers a four-course set menu showcasing locally sourced Australian produce.
"The menu is a bit of a spin on a gastro pub where the food is wholesome, familiar and most importantly delicious and easy to eat," Thomas says.
"As always, I'm using as many local producers and suppliers as possible such as Hungerford Meat Co, Kapsali Farm for eggs, Shane's Seafood and Broomfield Pies, just to name a few."
He's a chef happy to let the ingredients speak for themselves with little trickery on the plate. A beef cheek with parsnip puree and fiorette and a side of silky potato mash and red wine jus is as exceptional as it is unpretentious. So too is the steamed "Sticky Mick Honey" sponge pudding drizzled in a honey butterscotch sauce with vanilla bean ice-cream and custard.
The wine list is also unpretentious - it's small and Hunter dominant, but seriously well-considered and well-priced. Thumbs up for the BYO option too. If wine's not your thing, there are 15 cocktails, more than 20 whiskies, 11 rums, nine gins and five tequilas to choose from.
"Currently the restaurant menu is changing weekly and you can expect to see things like fish taco, sausage sanga and ploughman's platter on the bar menu soon," Thomas says.
"In spring, we hope to have a few pop-ups and theme nights on the grass area out the front - keep it interesting and fun for the locals - and us!"
For now, it's just Thomas in the kitchen but he hopes that will change soon so he can "expand the offering".
Jimmy Joans is the brainchild of long-time hoteliers Kim and Mick Starkey, who went into partnership with the Boyds. The Starkeys have been in the hotel business for years, having owned the Australia Hotel at Cessnock and the Royal Federal Hotel in Branxton, and who currently own the Stag & Hunter Hotel, Mayfield, and Customs House in Newcastle.
Their hotel experience pairs well with the Boyds, who have their own hospo cred. Both grew up in the Hunter, with Thomas a second-year apprentice at Margan Restaurant when he was named Apprentice of the Year by the Australian Culinary Foundation.
He met Eliza while working at London's two-Michelin-starred restaurant The Ledbury, where she was head waitress. Love blossomed and they returned to the Hunter to continue working together at Margan with Thomas as head chef and Eliza restaurant manager.
The Starkeys bought the old Mojo's on Wilderness restaurant several years ago and wanted to establish a welcoming watering hole with quality food where locals could chill out with family and friends. Then, along came the Boyds.
"Thomas and I were running a catering business and approached Mick and Kim about hiring the kitchen to expand our business," says Eliza. "They told us their plans and invited us along for the ride."
After a refurb of the Mojo's restaurant space which included adding a floor-to-ceiling glass alcove overlooking the garden for bar seating, Jimmy Joans was born. The name is inspired by Kim's grandparents, Jim and Joan Moyle.
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