A Mediterranean-inspired menu and interiors that never grow old
It was August 23rd, 2011 when the doors first opened to the now Newcastle dining institution, Rustica. A game changer for the local hospitality industry at the time, it’s fair to say Rustica continues to deliver that same sense of wow as you enter today.
With windows displaying 180 degree views of Newcastle beach, it was this outlook that had hospitality legends, Mark and Jacqui Hosie, signing the papers when they were looking for a new restaurant space all those years ago.
The empty space required Rustica to be built from scratch, with the couple having a vision to transform the space into something truly special, as Jacqui explains,
“When Mark was contacted about taking on this lease, we still had Bistro Tartine in Hamilton, which we ran for a few years. It was a great little restaurant but we were wanting something bigger.”
Taking over 12 months to complete the fit out, Mark and Jacqui worked with local designer Dion Ackland to help bring their vision to life.
“Dion helped us source items from all over the world, as well as locally, we knew what we wanted, and that was for it to not date.”
"Dion was great, but we had to calm him down a little. He originally had the idea to use an image of a naked guy on a table, with his wife slitting his throat, and the mother-in-law standing behind him as one of the images on the wall, which we thought was a bit much [Mark laughs]."
"We wanted it to be playful and look old straight away."
Jacqui adds, ‘‘We all had input, but it was mainly Mark’s idea as he came up with the name Rustica, which led us down the rustic Mediterranean/ Middle Eastern cuisine. The interior, design, and decor came from what Mark wanted to do food wise.”
Wandering through the restaurant, there’s so much to take in. The handmade tiles which wrap around the bar were sourced from Quorrobolong in the Hunter Valley. The replica map was inspired from an original, sourced from an antique store in Amsterdam, which Mark and Jacqui had to get intellectual rights to prior to printing.
The most striking perhaps is the column which comes into view as soon as you enter, with Mark explaining the story:
“We flew a photographer in to capture the artwork that was in a Catholic citadel. Before we could do this we had to get special dispensation from the cardinal to take a photo with a flash, so we could get the correct mega pixels and enlarge it on the fabric. I said to Dion, ‘can’t we just pick another picture?’ [Mark laughs]."
"It started to get a little too formal so that’s when we added in the sea monsters and other pieces to keep it fun."
The other obvious interior highlight is the lighting, with the clusters of pendants whilst visually stunning, produces a small little sigh from Mark: "I wish I could go back in a time machine and change that."
Whilst the interiors are extraordinary, they are to be out done by the menu, and true to keeping things rustic and not on trend, Mark says their brief of covering any country that hits the Mediterranean basin is what they extend their menu to.
“The Kleftico lamb shoulder is the same as it was the first night we opened, to the one we served last night. It’s our signature dish and people just love it. It comes with crispy potatoes, greens and the lamb shoulder just falls off.”
Mark adds, "We actually get hate mail if we change anything."
When asked where Mark and Jacqui’s love the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern originates from, whilst there is no direct connection, Mark explains:
"I travelled around the Middle East in a Kombi for six months when I was a young bloke and cheffed in Pommy land. It’s just what we love to cook and eat."
Working for 40+ years in hospitality, Mark has seen some significant shifts in the industry.
“Gone are the days where you’ve got the same team each week, I’ve got chefs who want to work one night or at lunch only. Covid contributed to this, opening the idea that you don’t have to work in the one place, on your feet all day, there’s more options out there."
So what keeps the couple going?
“A lot of people think there’s a lot of glitz and glamour associated with owning your own restaurant, but you wouldn’t stay in hospitality if you were here to make money."
Jacqui continues, “It’s when you get those reviews and feedback about the service being attentive and engaging and the food is absolutely delicious, they name every dish they ordered, and the cocktail, and they talk about the fun atmosphere. Making people happy like that gives you a good feeling.”