1. The courtyard at The Union Bank
    Photograph: The Union Bank
  2. Pumpkin dish at The Schoolhouse Restaurant
    Photograph: Avril Treasure for Time Out Sydney
  3. Dishes at The Union Bank
    Photograph: The Union Bank
  4. The outside of The Schoolhouse Restaurant
    Photograph: Avril Treasure for Time Out Sydney
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The Schoolhouse Restaurant at The Union Bank

5 out of 5 stars

Timeless, comforting and delicious, The Schoolhouse Restaurant at Orange’s beloved Union Bank will charm your socks off

Avril Treasure

Time Out says

If the name doesn’t give it away, The Union Bank was a money palace in its former life (as well as a school and a gallery). These days, the heritage-listed space is one of Orange’s most-beloved dining and drinking destinations, home to a casual bar, a sun-dappled courtyard and an upmarket restaurant, The Schoolhouse. Though locals don’t really call it that, my Taxi driver tells me on my way there. It’s the UB. (In fact, if you type ‘The Schoolhouse Restaurant’ into Google, The Union Bank comes up first.) He tells me it’s his favourite place in town. I’m excited.

There’s already a line. Ahead I can see mates catching up for after-work beers and date nights in full throttle in the open-air courtyard that’s lit up with hundreds of fairy lights draped throughout the leafy trees. (I can picture what it would be like on a bluebird day – it would go off.) To my right, the brick facade of The Schoolhouse is wearing a magnificent cloak of trailing vines the colour of toffee apple. Orange really is beautiful at this time of year. And fresh, too.

I’m taken to my table. The Victorian building has a towering ceiling which makes the room feel grand, and the light bulbs hanging down give off a warm glow. Striking artworks of native Australian flowers hang from the walls, and walnut floorboards are offset by royal-blue velvet seats. It’s a smart dining room with character.

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It’s also packed – because it’s dinner time, and also because I’m here during Orange Food Week, Australia’s longest-running regional food festival. (If you haven't been before, chuck it in your diary for next year and thank me later.) I can only see two waitresses holding the floor, and while they are visibly under the pump, they’re walking swiftly and handling it with grace.

It’s a sparkling kind of night, so I begin with a glass of prosecco from See Saw Wine, a family-owned Orange winery. It’s crisp and bursts with bubbles and it also costs $13, which nearly makes my Sydney eyes pop out and roll onto the table. It’s the ideal match to a golden potato scallop made from local Farmer Doug’s spuds. The audible crunch, dusting of chicken salt and oily fingers take me back to primary school and afternoon adventures to my local fish ‘n’ chipper – but this is better.

A dish of anchovies is beautifully presented with care and restraint. The salty, meaty fish are resting on a bed of citrus and fennel jam that’s more soft than sticky, with a lovely, mellow fruity flavour. Flecks of aleppo pepper add interest and give a warm tickle of heat, and there’s dainty fennel fronds on top. It’s a delight, with umami, sweet and salty flavours. And while it does call for crusty bread to soak up the glorious oils, I am in for the long haul.

Sirloin lands on the table charred with a miso bagna cauda sauce on top. My waitress tells me it’s traditionally made with anchovies but the chefs have swapped it for a locally made Japanese seasoning, beef fat and garlic. I’m salivating. The steak is rosy on the inside with the perfect amount of fat and flavour. It’s incredible with the gutsy, concentrated miso bagna cauda. And it’s $25, too. Note to self: look up jobs in Orange.

A side of pumpkins is also a stand-out. Cut into hunks, the orange vegetable is roasted and paired with smooth and tart crème fraiche, toasted, nutty sunflower seeds and pepitas and a chimichurri dressing that has enough garlic to repel all Hinge dates for the near future. I don’t mind.

I can take or leave the leeks, served with a white bean puree, a bright romesco sauce, fresh mint and slivered almonds which feel retro. The leeks need a bit longer so they are more tender than stringy, and I’d like more romesco, less beans.

I’m about to burst like, well, an orange, but I want something sweet. My waitress lets me know they can do a half-serve dessert. I go for the chocolate option. Rich, velvety chocolate and Frangelico mouse comes with thin shades of meringue standing tall like the Opera House sails. There’s also a sweet blood plum compote, hazelnut sponge and creamy mascarpone to bring everything together. It’s a classic flavour pairing, made even better alongside a glass of medium-bodied pinot noir with a hit of cherry from Orange’s ChaLou winery.

With comforting, delicious plates, stellar service and a charming atmosphere, it’s easy to see why The Union Bank is so loved by locals and weekend dwellers wishing they lived here. Book a well-deserved getaway to Orange and come splash some cash at the bank. Or should I say, at the UB.

Time Out Sydney never writes starred reviews from hosted experiences – Time Out covers restaurant and bar bills for reviews so that readers can trust our critique.

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84 Byng St
Opening hours:
Mon-Fri noon-3pm, 5.30-11pm; Sat noon-4pm, 5.30-11.30pm; Sun noon-4pm, 5.30-11pm
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