Sunday, June 1, 2014

Tasmania. Beautiful one day... a Devil the next.

So last September, yes you counted correctly it was 8 months ago, the other half and I took a bit of a leap across the bite for a decent gander around Tasmania - Australia's most southern state.  For those who know me, or follow my blog, you may have a clue as to why a lot of stuff in our world had to stop for a bit towards the end of last year... so.. unfortunately a report-back on poor Tassie was cast aside until we'd had some time to start to deal with what life had thrown our way - oh, and there was also my inaugural Kyoto winter Cuisine and Culture tours to host on top of  the same normal busy life stuff we all have to manage...  

I have only recently started to feel human.  And therefore had space, time and energy to drag the Tassie files out - so here are some highlights from a brief dancette around apple isle. Please forgive the lack of detail but if I don't get this out now it will sit neglected in an external hardrive where it may never see the light of day. So buckle up - this is a fly through! 

WHOAH!  hold up. before I go any further - I'd like to thank the delightful Ms Melissa Leong of Fooderati for her red hot Tassie (insider) tips (not all of which we made it to but we gave it a good shot!).
Day 1. First stop after an early arrival was breakfast at Southern Hobart's Ginger Brown.  A funky joint with a retro Australiana vibe serving hearty, contemporary grub with global influences. 
 Kimchee pancake, crisp fried eggs, pork relish, peanuts, daikon & mint salad $16
Sherry braised beef cheek, sweet & sour cabbage, fried brioche, poached egg, truffle, pecorino $17.
We took a drive on this particularly moody day around atmospheric (and very noicely preserved) Battery Point ...
and then way up to the tippy top of Mount Wellington. The incline was a little hairy to be honest ( we'd soon find road conditions from one end of the island to the next to generally follow suit) and the mist was so heavy we couldn't see a meter in front of us at times - hey, who needs to see where you are driving? Apparently not the guy who ploughed into us on a roundabout on Day soggy, foggy Day 4  - he'd forgotten to wear his glasses.  

* Hot tip - always take out full insurance then your replacement hire car will be ready and waiting when the first one gets crushed... well, once you have driven the hobbled beast back to the airport to collect it because the downtown service desk has run out of cars, it will be.. but I digress. As I'm inclined to do.
 In clearer moments it was eerily beautiful...almost like the surface of another planet - but I was quite keen to return to base.
 An afternoon nana nap had as ready for the most spectacular evening - starting with a drink and nibble at Sidecar - the fabulous baby brother to Hobart's starring restaurant - Garagistes.
Excellent wine selection, welcoming, friendly staff, great nibbles. 
While we instantly relaxed into it and wished we could sit there forever chatting with the crew - we were rather restrained on the booze n food front ( well at least the food front)  as we knew we were in for something very special around the corner at Garagistes if all reports were on the money (which they were).

The charming Luke Burgess working his magic. Thank you Luke for looking after us so very well - the meal was outstanding and your staff totally onto it.
Loved sitting up at the counter. Reminded me of Japan.  So the short of it is that EVERY dish was divine. Here's a peek.
        A delicate Scandi-inspired toastette to start        Raw Bonito, almond essence, lemon balm,                                            spring seaweed
Poached Southern Calamari and ink sauce, new season garlic, stinging nettles, black sourdough.
Venerupis clams, buckwheat noodles, chicken skin, golden garlic, biodynamic sesame oil.
Now this extra little dish MIGHT have been potato, creme fraiche, bottarga and saltbush but I can't remember... (Apologies Luke). Whatever, it was delish.
{Hey, no complaints from you there in the back row - no-one is paying me to write this. If they were I'd have been frantically scribbling  notes... but on this occasion I was simply relaxing (with friends going by the name of wine and sake!). In the wise words of a friend's 5 year old child  - 'you get what you get and you don't get upset' }
Lightly seared hapuka, sweet capers, pickled lemon, dune spinach, brown butter yoghurt.
Fried Wagyu oxtail, smoked cabbage, pine nut emulsion, sour burnt onion
Sundown apple sorbet, pine pollen curd, fennel granita, frozen meringue,
Sesame and Jersey milk ice cream, crisp gavottes, iced almond, Jerusalem artichoke, black garlic.
All pure gold.

 Now moving hastily along to the following morning.  
Day 2. Hobart's port area reminds me a little of Copenhagen and on this day the tall ships were in, providing a splendid photo opp.
We hopped on the MONA  (museum of old and new art) ferry for a day of cultural feasting.   Please enjoy the ride with us. 
Decent coffee and snacks on board. Very civilized. An imposing view of  local industry below....
Well hello Mona. I was able to measure my level of non-existent fitness by walking up those bloody stairs!
As we hadn't eaten brekkie our first port of call would be feed our faces.  As the restaurant was not yet open we had a quick wander around the externals of the museum and found some cool bits n pieces. A gorgeous area to sit in the sun with nooks n crannies and fun sitting areas. 
The formal restaurant itself (The Source) was situated in large & stylish, light-filled space but was sadly let down by the service and food. Neither of which was bad - but it was not at the level the stunning space and vista was suggesting it might be...   I'd recommend eating at one of the more casual dining areas. 
Moving right along via the nipple hedges, the tennis courts and additional scenic delights ....
And here we are admiring our own warped reflections at the front entrance.
I've got the power!
My favourite installation.  Open up each drawer to hear a different voice say the words 'I love you'. Some of which were particularly creepy and to this day have inspired my love and I to whisper into each other's ears those three little words in tones of evil child, monster from the deep and homicidal maniac.  Hey it keeps things fresh.

Mona. I love you.... 

Stopping for a coffee we met this stunning creature. Peacocks seem to roam wild around various parts of Tassie which was  most unexpected. This fella was strutting his stuff for the camera. 

The perfect spot for a relaxing cuppa before leaving Mona. 
Seriously - how beautiful!?
After a wander around Salamanca we opted for a decent enough fish and chip dinner at one of the many outlets around the port and avoided dive bombing seagulls and pigeons. 
Day 3. Fortunately you don't have to get up too early in Tasmania to experience a sunrise as glorious as this... 
We drove south for about 45 minutes through the beautiful Huon Valley to visit friends then on to brekkie in Cygnet - about another 15 -20 minutes.  We ate at The Lotus Eaters Cafe as recommended by several foodie friends - and enjoyed a look-see around the quaint town. To my mind - if you were going to move to Tassie - this area would be your best bet. Lushly green rolling hills, beautiful waterways, farming land, a bit more infrastructure and culture than other quiet areas. Friendly folk. 
Gorgeously presented, uber-fresh produce at a local store.
Breakfast enough for two! Fresh n tasty using excellent local produce.  Lovely hosts.
Couldn't resist a visit to Cygneture Chocolates and understandably purchases were made in the name of research. Deeelish. Original flavours/individual chocolates, bars etc. Go here. 
I also spied a couple of books on the counter which I may have had a hand in. Well one in particular. My first trip to Tassie was scouting around for shoot locations with Matthew Evans for his wonderful tome - Real Food which we lovingly published during my time at Murdoch Books. Now being a bit of a local celebrity his stuff is nicely supported by Cygnet-ites. Even before he moved to the area he was raving about the joint so I was happy to finally make the juant.   
We drove another 20 minutes to Peppermint Bay in Woodbridge, stopping off to breathe in more spectacular scenery before lunch at The Stackings. Sadly the fine dining restaurant recently shut but super chef David Moyle is about to open something new.... so keep an eye out as this guy is seriously talented. (see Fooderati above - she's got the goods on Tasmanian culinary updates and she's a mate of David's!) I'm gonna show you what we ate anyway because it deserves an encore!
It was hard to tear ourselves away from the view but had we not - we would have missed out on another spectacular meal...  
Grilled southern calamari, spring garlic, sorrel, wasabi flowers (senfrikkensational)
Gently poached hapuka, celeriac, bottarga
Very slowly poached pork neck, smoked pumpkin, mustard oil, grumelo
Wild Bolivian chocolate, anise, coconut, bay
Day 4. We got off to a literally bumpy start the following morning when the aforementioned accident occurred. Fortunately we were not injured but we were rather shaken up for the remaining half of the trip. 
After a pit stop so the driver could fuel his own rattled tank with scones and cream we continued on to Swansea for a very expensive and most unpleasant fish and chip lunch. It was the only place open in the sleepy village with the kickarse view. 
The second 2pm hit we were checking in to our cabin at Piermont and promptly fell into a deep, shock-induced sleep. 
We loved this gorgeous place. Cosy, comfortable: open fire, sunken spa bath, a minute's walk onto the beach - very romantic - especially in the mist and cold, perfect for snuggling. 
We'd previously elected to have dinner and matching wines included with our accommodation package and were very pleased to have made that decision - especially after the crap lunch up the road and without another restaurant in site!  
The  menu was delightfully old fashioned in places and a little ambitious in others but I say that with genuine affection. 
Flavoursome, hearty and for the most part very well executed. It turned out our waitperson was moonlighting from the kitchen as they were short staffed on the floor and the pride she expressed when describing the food and her fellow chefs was so very endearing. They all live in a small community and clearly there are some positives to that! She even sent the pastry chef out to proudly show us her own creation! It was just such a lovely experience and says a lot for promoting the old kitchen/floor swap when in training. 

For the record - the local wines were absolutely STUNNING! See the menu above for detail. 
It was so dark we needed a torch to find our way back to the cabin - much giggling ensued (and a little bit of squawking "what was that!?!?!?!?!?!" "did you hear that??") - the perfect full stop to a day that could certainly have had a more disastrous ending.
Day 5. So early morning was stunning (apparently). I slept in and let the boy take my camera. He returned with these little beauties (above  pic and the 5 beach shots below copyright of Gerard Kambeck.) 
Clever boy. 
 We drove a little further north to Coles Bay in Freycinet  for the view...
 Then inland towards the historic town of  Ross
The four corners of Ross's tiny town are named Temptation (near the old hotel), Salvation (near the church), Damnation (once the town Gaol) and Recreation (Town Hall).

There are some gorgeous old buildings here, a large antique/curiosities store, a few average bakeries which claim to sell the best pies and vanilla slices in the world, a handful of sheep, a pub that serves  up very average meals, convict female factory ruins (?!?!), a gorgeous sandstone church and... it was visually and historically interesting but I felt a little creeped out when we were up around the church and the  gaol/female factory area to be honest so I was happy to move on. I need to read up on more on the history of this place because the pockets of heavy energy were quite pronounced. But they were just pockets of an otherwise enjoyable visit.
 However, I must say - the view from the top of the hill, just beside and beyond the church was a highlight - breathtaking.
 Ok, so we ate at the Hotel, there wasn't a lot of choice in town, and the boy was after a parmie.

As a side note... to this day I cannot get over the amount of high priced, crap food in Tassie - it is on parr, if not more expensive than Sydney. The locals tell me that unless you are growing it yourself, the best produce gets flown immediately to restaurants in Sydney, Melbourne or Japan! And it is even difficult for Tassie chefs to access premium quality stuff. So, prices are driven up. I'm told that there is also such underdeveloped infrastructure in many areas that the local supermarkets/grocers/fresh food suppliers etc generally have very low quality goods at exorbitant prices because there is no competition for them - they don't even have to try and they can charge what they want. Such a shame.  Such wonderful bounty in Tassie and not accessible to Taswegians.  This was the story we heard over and over again. Anyway, once again I digress.  Slightly.

The pub and dining room were pleasant enough ( even if we were the only people there...)
The boy was happy with his parmie, I not so much with my schnitzel with mushroom sauce..  but, let's be honest,  I was never going to be was I?
Ok, buckle up again we are back on the road. 

So northwards then eastwards we went, driving through some lovely countryside and then through numerous dubious (derelict looking) towns  - which shall remain nameless (cue the duelling banjos - cruel perhaps but honestly... scary) 

We found out later there are some towns in Tassie you should not stop in.... I won't go into reasons why but you will know them if you come across them - believe me. 
By early evening we reached the fishing village of St Helens. We planned to look around but, well it was pretty teensy and we basically saw the seaside town by driving through it on the way to our B&B  - The French House - which I HIGHLY rate!  The hosts were the loveliest couple with a great sense of humour and the lady of the house is the most wonderful cook. So we stayed in, relaxed and read for a bit before we sat down to a bowl of excellent Spag Bol and individual Banoffee Pie (with homemade caramel... hello!). What a treat to have a home cooked meal and one cooked with love. They also have wine available so we sipped a nice bottle of red with our meal and hit the hay early.  There are only several options for accomodation in St Helen's and this would definitely be the top pick!  Please say hi from us. A highlight of our trip - even if we didn't really explore St Helens...
Day 6. And then we were off again.....making our way slowly to Launceston via Scottsdale
Which retains some cool deco buildings but not a huge amount of charm
 There was a bit too much of this look going on.... But this cafe did do a pretty decent old school burger and steak sandwich and the staff were friendly. If not so the people beside us - one of whom had just come out of prison....she was pretty intense to say the least.... We ate and quickly moved on, again.
We made a quick vista stop at Bridport below 
 before finally heading on to Launceston
 Again lots of gorgeous old buildings but the energy here was not good generally. There were some very bored and sus looking groups of kids just roaming the streets, angry, seemingly looking for trouble or entertainment - whichever came first. Every second shop on the main strip was empty and a staff member at our hotel told us their town was dying and they all feel it. It was so freakin' sad. Having said that there were a couple of cool bars/cafes and a pretty good chocolate shop so all was not lost... and perhaps some of those frustrated young things shook themselves out of their funk... or these guys have moved in from other states and are trying to start something up. And if you just happen to be a content Launceston-ite who naturally fell into doing something creative - then good on you and I hope you share whatever fountain of hope you are drinking with your townspeople. Whatever the case I really hope things picks up for these folk.
Before dinner we had a drink at Dicken's Ciderhouse   - a fabulous little Cider bar - one of those cool joints I was talking about earlier  - clearly all the groovers in town (I'm avoiding using the word hipster) are drawn to it like moths to a flame... It was pumping. Well for Launceston. OK it's a tiny place and there weren't so many people there in the scheme of things but those who were, were of the creative and curious ilk. Good range of ciders (and other stuff if you want it) and really friendly, hospitable staff - the kind of place everyone knows everyone else but in a good way.... Launceston needs more of this - in fact - we could all benefit from top spots like the Ciderhouse. I want one in my local hood please.
Then on to the Black Cow Bistro. I'd heard good things but was a little underwhelmed. The oysters were not bad and my rib eye was very good however the service let them down (knowledge of both food and wine was scarce on the ground with some of the crew, at least the 3 or 4 that served our table) - and undeservedly snobbish at times. The boy's steak was a disappointment but that will teach him for not taking my advice.... 
The whole experience was a bit disjointed (much like this blog post) however...
I did really dig the ambiance and would give it another go if I returned to Launceston. Perhaps just one of those nights. 
Day 7. So breakfast the next day at a recommended vegetarian cafe  - Fresh on Charles - was very pleasant  - both for its retro decor and nutritious food. 
We spent the morning wandering around the city checking out the architecture, visited the charming City park and gardens - complete with Japanese monkeys. Random. Take a peek. 

So here's that chocolate shop - CocoBean. We needed afternoon sustenance having skipped lunch. 
 The hot chocolate - in a variety of flavours and the modern take on the lamington were both very good -  so were the individual chocolates we ate over the next couple of days.
For dinner we thought we'd just go somewhere cheap and cheerful  - but perhaps we weren't really in the right place for either. Another average meal for considerable coin was had at a little Italian joint around the corner from the hotel. Ah well. The decor was worth it. Not even trying to be retro but somehow....
Day 8. Our final day in the land of Taz - saw us take another hairy drive through the rain to the Tamar Valley, dodging trucks and recklessly driving locals who were clearly used to the condition of the roads. And the weather.  Don't get me wrong - I love a rainy day but driving on less than fabulous roads with speed demons (available right across the island!) in utes, after you've  been been pushed off the road only days earlier - was not our idea of a good time but we wanted to make the most of things.
 An early stop off at Beaconsfield for a coffee and nibble at the popular Jubilee Bakery was not quite worth risking our lives for but better than you might have imagined. A happy little shop with a constant stream of locals. 
 Curiosity got the better of us and we decided to visit, what turned out to be the most bizarre Swiss village, 'Grindelwald' part of a Tamar Valley resort - we almost ran screaming from the joint...
Running out of places to go (no fun checking out wineries when the ex wine-maker driver can't taste) we started heading back towards Launceston's entrance way - just before which, we stumbled across Velo Wines and their cafe/restaurant The Barrel Room which had also been recommended.
 The place was pleasantly kitted out, with a view and friendly, onto it (for the most part) staff. The food was decent enough but I think we were so over eating out by that point, due to a distinct lack of fresh veg along the way (most small towns have only pies, fish and chips or burgers on offer and that is no exaggeration.... all expensive and mostly not great) that we weren't as appreciative as we might have been. 
With still a little free time before we headed to the airport for our evening flight we diverted our route to the charming historic town of Evandale and nearby Clarendon House.
The dead centre of town.. apologies - had to go there. 

Now,  I believe if you are into hiking /camping there are some great places to do so around the state (sadly not really my thing but I have friends who LOVE Tassie for it!) - so I do apologise for not including such things here....  but it IS a bloody food blog isn't it? 

My thoughts ( as a tourist in Tassie and for what it is worth) is that she is incredibly beautiful and blessed with an abundance of natural assets. She has plenty to offer but if they focussed more on tourism there could be a lot more money injected into the place and that might help local communities to grow. It is, I suppose, possible that the problems in some parts of Tassie's infrastructure and or culture run too deep?  I know there are some people doing  great stuff in Tasmania to try and move things forward and get communities engaged and on their feet but there is a real sense of defeat across many parts too. 

And no, I haven't included some places we visited in this post.  It was absolutely not my intention to run the place down and I hope I haven't come across too negatively in parts - I wanted to share how stunningly gorgeous Tasmania is - and I know there is so much more I haven't seen! so please share with me your favourite spots and if you are a business owner and want to talk about what you are doing /offering visitors to your state please feel free to comment here.

After 8 days of driving from one end of the state to the other we were ready to head home. And after a 4 or 5 hour flight delay we made it. 

I will definitely be back, but perhaps next time for a quiet wintry break in a gorgeous house with a view of the ocean, sitting by the fire reading about the fascinating history and taking the odd day trip. A total relax session. Yep that's sounding pretty good right about now... a girl can dream.

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