Reece Hignell and Tori Tokpah's restaurant in the Riverlink
Maitland’s stunning Riverlink building is home to a restaurant once again – introducing Acacia Dining, a collaboration between Reece Hignell and Tori Tokpah.
The new restaurant is the result of a 12-year-long friendship between Reece and Tori, who met as teenagers, when Tori was an apprentice chef and Reece was a wine waiter.
Chances are you’ll already be familiar with Reece – he’s the man behind much-loved cake shop Cakeboi, a Masterchef alumni, and cookbook author. While you might not be familiar with Tori’s face, you might have already enjoyed her cooking – she’s been a chef for more than a decade, heading up the kitchen at iconic Newcastle venues like Scottie’s and Foghorn Brewery.
“Tori is local to Maitland, I’m local to Newcastle. We decided to collaborate on [Acacia] and mush our experiences in hospitality together to create our own thing,” Reece said.
The pair have been collaborating as their careers have developed alongside one another, so it made sense for them to team up on Acacia.
“When this building came up, a restaurant was kind of our end goal and I’ve learnt over the last few years to just give it a go, just try and if you don’t succeed it’s fine, just try the next thing… So we put in our submission for this venue, and we won the tender, so we kind of got our end goal straight away. It’s a little bit of pressure, but I think we’re both used to pressure so we’re just excited to give it a crack.”
So, what exactly is Acacia offering? It’s a dinner restaurant, sure, but it’s also a brunch spot, a place to grab a casual lunch, and an afternoon aperitivo venue.
“We’re really playing on beautiful flavours, bright colours, stuff that you can eat and thoroughly enjoy but it can go on your Instagram. Lunches are classic, simple, and delicious, then our dinner menu leans really heavily into our wine menu and pairing that with some beautiful share food.”
The nature of the Riverlink building means Acacia can transition seamlessly between each of these offerings – the big communal table downstairs makes a lovely breakfast spot, the outside tables are ideal for an afternoon Aperol and snack, and upstairs is made for date night dinners.
Regardless of the time of day you visit Acacia, you can expect food based around produce from local suppliers.
“All of our menus have an ode to our suppliers. Something that I’ve done at Cakeboi and Tori has always done wherever she’s worked is work with local producers. We get our sourdough from Lady Blackbird, we have Harvest Party jam, we’re using the Slow Food Markets, we’re using Lorn Butcher. We have The Tea Collective, Floozy Coffee, and a ton of local wine like Sabi Wabi, Usher Tinkler, and Tim Ward.”
Because working with local suppliers means frequently changing produce, the menus will regularly have minor tweaks. At the moment, Reece loves the deep dish hotcake and cheekily named Hipster’s Dream (a smashed avo dish, of course) while Tori can’t get enough of the Nashville chicken burger for lunch.
The focus on local encompasses the interior too, with the team enlisting Newcastle-based Something More Design to revamp the space.
“What we wanted to do was cut the styling back and play with the furniture pieces. We played with some really beautiful tones of wood, and leaned on natural colours.”
The result is a bright, calming space, with lots of earthy greens to complement the timber accents.
We dropped by Acacia on the first day of trade, when Reece and Tori opened but “didn’t tell anyone.”
The deliberate soft opening phase until New Year’s Eve means the team can get into the swing of things before opening up for dinner in the new year as well as breakfast and lunch. Plus, the team already has big plans for Acacia’s future.
“There’s so many things that we want to do and things that we’ve already started lining up. Most certainly a Cakeboi high tea. We also have been chatting with a few different winemakers about wine dinners.”
Watch this space – we can’t wait to see where Reece and Tori take this exciting new restaurant.