Signalling a new chapter

A landmark city building embraces a new direction.

Working behind-the scenes for almost 80 years, Newcastle Railway Station’s signal box was an integral part of the smooth movement and flow of the city. Located on the central Market Lawns, the new Signal Box restaurant that resides in its place is testament to the past, as well as being an exciting new chapter in our city’s future.

After the closure of the heavy rail into Newcastle at the end of 2014, the signal box was decommissioned and the building lay empty. Yet, Andrew and Emily MacDonald, owners of the beloved The Little Nel in Nelson Bay, had a vision of what the historic landmark could become.

The pair set the wheels in motion to repurpose the space and turn it into an exciting new restaurant; a place that continues the legacy of serving the community, this time with delicious food set in a vibrant atmosphere. It has taken five years for their vision to be realised, but now the doors are open and the old Victorian-style features have been fused with modern-era aesthetics, designed by Derive Architecture.

The original building has been lovingly preserved and houses the kitchen downstairs, with the upper level still showcasing the operating system and levers from days gone by. A new steel and concrete dining pavilion has been built alongside to offer a striking addition to the heritage site, as well as being a nod to Newcastle and the Hunter’s industrial roots. This dining pavilion is light and bright, with hydraulic windows to let in the sea air. Warm-toned furniture creates a welcoming feeling. Climb a stunning steel spiral staircase to access the pavilion rooftop and enjoy a drink while you take in the current streetscape of the city skyline and surrounds.

Head chefs George Mirosevich and Dan James, who are also partners in the venture, have created a menu designed to be “familiar and simple, yet clever and done well.” As much of the menu as possible is made in-house – “from sauces, stocks and pickles through to fresh juices, chai and sodas” – and produce is sourced locally and seasonally resulting in a menu packed with flavour and finesse.

We often skip the bread at the start of a meal to allow more room for the main course, but in this instance, it’s just too hard to resist. Chunky, soft chargrilled sourdough comes with light-as-air whipped ricotta and a syrupy beer honey to drizzle over it. It’s a meal in itself and a truly lovely way to begin. An entree of delicate salmon tataki glistens with a pesto and ponzu dressing. The cured meat plate with pickles is a showcase of the detail and skill of the kitchen.

The installation of a Josper charcoal grill means meat can be prepared with rustic flair and home-style TLC. The flatiron chicken is a case in point: charred and moist, with a side of potato salad with bacon and egg and sweet mustard. Accompanying garlic cucumbers are light and tangy at the same time. The 36-hour short rib is melt-in-your-mouth tender with a smokey element and sweet, but rich onions and jus. If this is comfort food, the big bowl of perfectly cooked fries with chicken salt is the blanket on top.

Save room for the drenched rum baba or the dense chocolate brownie with raspberry and mousse – both are decadent and delectable.

The wine list has been curated by Stephane Pommier and happily features a large contingent of local heroes. Enjoy a draught beer outside by the courtyard fountain or sip on sparkles from the viewing platform. You can also pop in all week for breakfast or lunch, the menu offering “bright staples, hearty lunches and brunchy bits for in-between.” Diners at the Signal Box can expect a fun, welcoming all-day restaurant, steering you towards an approachable and memorable food experience.

Open for breakfast and lunch all week and for dinner from Thursday to Saturday.

Story by Judith Whitfield, images courtesy of Headjam

Read more great stories in the Autumn issue of Hunter&Coastal Lifestyle Magazine.