Small steps for a fresh face

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - TASTE -

AF­TER serv­ing his ap­pren­tice­ship un­der Still­wa­ter’s Don Cameron, spend­ing 18 months with Rod­ney Dunn at The Agrar­ian Kitchen and two years at the ex­cel­lent Ginger Brown, Rhys Hannan turned Ho­bart’s small­est wine bar – Side­car – into the city’s new­est and small­est res­tau­rant a month ago.

Whether in for cof­fee and a dough­nut, a snack or a full meal, you sit on stools along a wide, pol­ished metal ta­ble watch­ing Hannan at work on the other side over bot­tles of sauces, condi­ments, as­sorted mise en place and a handy blow torch pre­par­ing your food, push­ing his var­i­ous pots and pans to the dif­fer­ent hot spots on his solid cook­top be­fore plat­ing and push­ing your order across to you. It’s all very in­ti­mate, chatty and dif­fer­ent. Printed on big wooden cubes along with the wine list, the break­fast and be­yond menu is an eclec­tic mix of Asian, Texan, French and Ital­ian in­flu­ences.

“I don’t see any rea­son to stick to just one par­tic­u­lar style of food,” Hannan says.

“I much pre­fer to sim­ply of­fer the sorts of dishes that I en­joy cook­ing and eat­ing.”

Our din­ner got off to a very en­joy­able start with a bowl of crisply fried and mildly spicy ikan bilis – small bait­fish – with crunchy peanuts, fol­lowed by crumbed and deep­fried chicken wings, a dish that, for rea­sons that are lost to me, has be­come a sig­na­ture of the new wave of re­cently opened US- in­spired eater­ies in town.

Then came an open sand­wich of thin slices of del­i­cately smoked sir­loin gen­er­ously folded on to slices of crusty Pi­geon Whole Bread ac­com­pa­nied by nicely dressed salad leaves, mus­tard and cor­ni­chons and a bowl of wellflavoured beef jus to pour over.

Next a risotto Mi­lanese, which, in his gen­eral pat­ter, Hannan er­ro­neously cred­ited El­iz­a­beth David with in­tro­duc­ing to Eng­land “in the 1920s”.

Beau­ti­fully cooked, the dish’s es­sen­tial saf­fron com­po­nent was hinted at more in the rice’s glossy, golden plump­ness than it was ap­par­ent in its aroma or taste.

Hannan says he uses TasSaf saf­fron, but he can’t af­ford to use it too lib­er­ally. Fair enough. But it begs the ques­tion – if you can’t af­ford to give a dish its full ex­pres­sion, why choose to do it at all? Es­pe­cially when there are so many more rea­son­ably priced – but not as vis­ually beau­ti­ful, I ad­mit – risotto op­tions avail­able. Or, if you in­sist on saf­fron, put your price up. Even more dis­ap­point­ing was the duck cas­soulet, the menu stat­ing the duck was “slow- cooked” while Hannan said it had been

SMALL- FRY

3/ 129 Bathurst St, Ho­bart CBD. Break­fast, lunch and din­ner. Mon­day to Satur­day. Li­censed. No book­ings. 6231 1388 con­fited and pre­served for a month, a cru­cial flavour and tex­tu­ral dif­fer­ence which I’ll leave for another time.

How­ever, like most old peas­ant dishes, there are prob­a­bly as many dif­fer­ent cas­soulets as there are duck farms in the dish’s tra­di­tional home re­gion of south- west France.

But I doubt any would con­tain so lit­tle duck and sausage meat as Hannan’s, or be made with so much tomato that the beans re­sem­bled Mr Heinz’s, or be so highly and sweetly spiced with nut­meg, cin­na­mon, cloves and mace as to smell and taste more dessert- like than savoury.

And a piece of toast rubbed with gar­lic was but a poor sub­sti­tute for a cas­soulet’s tra­di­tional dunked and crisped gar­lic and bread­crumb crust. As with the saf­fron risotto, the prob­lem might have to do with price. And, while keep­ing menu prices down is com­mend­able, com­pro­mis­ing qual­ity to do so sel­dom pays off in the long run. Price list: Toast $ 6; carafe of juice $ 8; wings $ 3 each; soup $ 14, risotto $ 16; cas­soulet $ 18; boeuf au jus $ 22.

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