the waterfront at Hobart, the capital of Tasmania and the home to what I was
reliably informed is the best-preserved collection of Georgian buildings
outside the UK, is a large noticeboard. On it is a plethora of useful civic
information such as the times of the church services and local taxi numbers as
well as a number of business cards from local restaurants that gives the
mistaken impression that the local cuisine is predominantly Indian.
In true understated Australian fashion, the tone of all this is also rather low
key because within immediate walking distance of this noticeboard are four very
different, exciting and distinctive places to eat.
The first two, the Tricycle Café and Smolt, are tucked away just off Salamanca
Avenue, where the major farmers’ market takes place every Saturday morning.
The former, close to the entrance to the Peacock Theatre, is run by Adam Jones
and Megan Quill with an obvious and heartfelt passion for top quality
ingredients. We had two excellent meals here, a lunch of chickpea fritters and
salad and a toasted sourdough sandwich stuffed with ham and cheese, and a
breakfast in the sunshine where the star of the show was Tricycle trifle, a tall glass layered with fresh
local apricots, granola and yoghurt, pictured above by Chris Crerar. Their coffee is excellent, too.
Smolt is only a few hundred yards away but very different. It is set in a
modern building with a low ceiling, that, combined with an open kitchen and
some obviously very happy customers when we walked in at 7.30pm, meant that the
place was as noisy as anywhere in London or New York.
But Smolt’s team, ably led by Kif Weber, are highly professional and handle not
just their boisterous clientele with charm but also a wide ranging menu that
takes in pizzas, pasta and a wide range of main courses. Particularly impressive
were a dish of grilled tuna; a creamy risotto topped with juicy scallops; and a
series of vegetable small plates.
Both Smolt and Fish Frenzy, right on the waterfront and specialising in
Tasmania’s popular food and wine combination of fish and chips with a glass of
the local Pinot Noir, would be fun for anyone travelling in a group.
Only a few hundred yards from the water, and close to an outpost of Lark’s
Distillery that makes the island’s excellent whisky, is The Mill on Morrison
which was so full of 25-35 year olds having a good time on a busy Wednesday
evening that it reminded me of a bustling restaurant in London’s Shoreditch.
The interior, once the ground floor of the city’s flour mill built in the
1850’s, combines cast iron columns and thick wooden beams with an ultra-modern
menu: a large paper table mat that encompasses a whole range of small, medium
and large plates all at different prices. Excellent oysters from Bruny and
Woody Islands; fried squid with lemon jam and octopus with celeriac remoulade
($10 each); plates of ham and a dish of crisp slices of Spring bay abalone with
vanilla fennel ($15); and for the more adventurous, a grilled wallaby
The following day I was to get an inkling of why menu prices in Australia seem so
high to anyone visiting with weak sterling or euros in their pockets during a
conversation with Joseph Burton, manager of The Source, the restaurant at MONA,
the extraordinary museum created by David Walsh, a half an hour’s boat ride
from the city.
While the Australian dollar is pervasively strong, the country’s restaurateurs
are also having to cope not just with rising food and labour costs but also the
long established practice of BYO, that allows customers to bring their own wine
for free or only a minimal charge, but simultaneously deprives them of what is
in every other part of the world, any restaurateur’s biggest source of profit.
At The Source, set in the Moorilla vineyard that Walsh also owns, Burton does
not allow BYO and he and chef Philippe Leban run a restaurant of great
distinction. Their own, excellent beer-fermented bread and stunning first
courses of a shrimp consommé with onion ravioli and warm jack mackerel with a
wasabi cream were the culinary highlights. But the most memorable moment came
when a young Australian at the next table, wearing shorts, thongs and
sunglasses perched on his head, took his first sip of the excellent Grosset
Polish Hill Riesling Burton had just poured, nodded his approval and then
nonchalantly added, ‘Come back soon and we can talk about the red burgundies.’
Restaurateurs in the rest of the world would love lunchtime customers like
The architecture of another restaurant set in a winery, Meadowbank close to the
airport, makes such effective use of glass and wood that it reminded me of the
seminal design of the initial Robert Mondavi winery in Napa, California. But
that aside, everything else is pure Tasmania: uninterrupted views of the
bucolic countryside that are the lure for the rapidly growing number of
visitors from Asia; crisp red and white wines; a tartare of ocean trout; plump
Spring Bay mussels with cream and herbs; and, the shock for anyone from the
Northern Hemisphere, fresh apricots in February.
Tricycle Café, 77 Salamanca Place, 03 6223 7228
Smolt, 2 Salamanca Square, www.smolt.com.au
Fish Frenzy, www.fishfrenzy.com.au
The Mill on Morrison, 11 Morrison Street,
The Source, www.mona.net.au
See also Jancis on the Tasmanian wine scene.