Rustica’s décor is so over-the-top it’s practically a themepark (Quixoteworld, anyone?). From Spanish tiles and the bull’s head behind the bar to the reproduction medieval paintings depicting food and damnation, it’s like the interior of an Andalusian castle – all wrought iron, dark wood and Catholic guilt. An elaborate lighting scheme made up of hundreds of glass-cased prisms has been known to dazzle weary surfers coming in from the waves on Newcastle Beach.
The decoration may tilt at windmills but there’s a solid concept behind Mark Hosie and Will Creedon’s ambitious eatery: rustic Mediterranean and North African foods. That translates as a mixed bag of French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Tunisian, but if the uniting element is deliciousness then who’s to argue?
It’s hard to go wrong with a generous charcuterie board of sopressa casalinga, chorizo and Serrano jamon, with pickled veggies and crackers. But with char grilled prawn and squid on top of salty Catalan black rice and mussels in the shell, it’s apparently easy to go overboard with the char. A little less carbon next time, please.
On the French side of the border, a ballotine of juicy chicken and pancetta encases a meaty mushroom centre, served with mash, Brussels sprouts and Jerusalem artichokes. It’s beautifully presented and moreish: chef Hosie has solid technique behind his flourishes.
Time Out arrives on a Wednesday to find it’s paella night. Alas, you need to specify when booking ahead that you’re up for it. We steal a few envious glances at the milling crowd occupying the zoned-off section for aficionados of Valencia’s greatest rice-and-seafood invention, and drown our sorrows in sangria.
Smirk all you like at Rustica: it knows how to throw a fiesta – scary demon pictures and all.