Ju­dith Elen un­cov­ers un­ex­pected treats tucked away in Tas­ma­nia’s north­west

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Indulgence -

THE small city of Devon­port is not at the cross­roads of any­where. Wash up here — as I have, ar­riv­ing on the cruise ship Sil­ver Whis­per for a day in port — and you’ll find a sleepy spot. But it is Tas­ma­nia’s north­ern port, and many wash up here, in­clud­ing pass­ing cruise ships and the Bass Strait ferry, Spirit of Tas­ma­nia, which makes the cross­ing from Melbourne and docks here.

Devon­port is the set­ting-off point for pas­sen­gers ar­riv­ing at the ship­ping ter­mi­nal or the city’s air­port, and ven­tur­ing into north­west­ern Tas­ma­nia’s won­der­ful wilder­ness ar­eas of Cra­dle Moun­tain and the Franklin River be­yond.

As Sil­ver Whis­per slips qui­etly down the Mersey River from the strait, head­ing for the ter­mi­nal, it tow­ers above the sub­ur­ban streets of red-roofed houses cloth­ing the banks, and the tin-roofed, weath­er­board build­ings at the dock­side.

The ter­mi­nal is about 3km from the cen­tre of the city and there are some worth­while sights close at hand, in­clud­ing the Ti­a­garra Abo­rig­i­nal Cen­tre, on the head­land at Mersey Bluff, where the pris­tine light­house stands sen­tinel, and the mar­itime mu­seum in town.

But Devon­port has food and wine treats as well, and one is a se­cret the lo­cals keep very quiet about. To find a kitchen cre­at­ing good French pro­vin­cial food in this rel­a­tively re­mote place is a sur­prise. But then, Tas­ma­nia of­fers some of the world’s best and purest pro­duce so, on closer con­sid­er­a­tion, it’s a nat­u­ral mar­riage.

Glen­coe Rural Re­treat is a bou­tique B & B (read small, el­e­gant and easy to sink into) about 20km south of Devon­port at Bar­ring­ton. When we ar­rive for lunch and step inside, we dis­cern the sub­tle warmth of coun­try France in this Aus­tralian farm­house. It’s in the paint­ings (lo­cal), the flow­ers (home­grown) and the pre­serves (house­made) lined up on a dresser.

A her­itage, cream-painted weath­er­board house, Glen­coe of­fers com­pact, com­fort­able ac­com­mo­da­tion in four gue­strooms, and a true taste of the French south for any­one with the good sense to book a ta­ble. The cafe is li­censed and is open for lunch Wed­nes­day to Sun­day, 11am to 4pm (it’s best to book). Non-res­i­dent guests can also dine here in the evenings, but only with a pre­vi­ous book­ing; a three-course ta­ble d’hote menu, ex­clud­ing drinks, is $50 a per­son.

Ginette and Remi Bancal imag­ined they’d settle in a busier spot when they planned their move from France in 1987, but once lured to this re­gion by a friend, and find­ing this at­mo­spheric house, they could see the pos­si­bil­i­ties for a real re­treat with the feel of home.

Orig­i­nally a som­me­lier at the Ritz in Paris, Remi has worked with Mi­et­tas in Melbourne and as head som­me­lier at Syd­ney’s Banc restau­rant. Hav­ing grown up in France’s Cotes du Rhone wine re­gion, he car­ries with him a life­time’s knowl­edge of wine, a back­ground of good French coun­try cook­ing and a long com­mit­ment to slow food. What bet­ter spot for it?

The Ban­cals grow their own veg­eta­bles and herbs at Glen­coe and source or­ganic lo­cal prod­ucts from dairy, farm and lake. Remi makes sour­dough bread and brioche in a wood-fired stove, and deep, dense con­fi­tures (only the French word will do). Down among the trees and shrub­bery, there’s a wire pen hous­ing a clutch of hens and a big black rooster.

We ad­mire the in­te­rior of the house and then settle around a ta­ble on the veranda look­ing over the gar­den. Remi brings out plat­ters of pork ril­lettes and two va­ri­eties of ter­rine, one larded with chunks of turkey meat, the other dark with prunes. (The ril­lettes are less sat­u­rated in de­li­cious goose fat than they would be in a French coun­try kitchen, but Remi says that’s how cus­tomers pre­fer them here.)

Then come large bowls of salad, a kind of ni­coise but with smoked salmon in­stead of tuna and sump­tu­ous with kipfler pota­toes, green beans and herbs from the gar­den, and hard-boiled eggs with dark yel­low yolks (no doubt from the Rhode Is­land Reds be­yond the shrub­bery).

We re­fill our plates, but still have space for a slice of Remi’s blue­berry tart, a big, square, homey af­fair served with freshly made vanilla ice-cream. If I lived nearby you wouldn’t be able to keep me away; I be­gin to imag­ine a brief get­away here, and leave with a big pot of caramelised blood orange mar­malade to keep me go­ing.

An­other north­ern hemi­sphere blow-in, al­beit of long stand­ing, hav­ing set up busi­ness here in 1989, is Igor Van Ger­wen at the choco­late-mak­ing em­po­rium, House of An­vers, at La­trobe, back in Devon­port.

Rig­or­ously trained as a pas­try chef and cho­co­latier in Bel­gium, Ger­wen is a com­mit­ted man. He loves his craft and lives and breathes its his­tory. To the Aztecs, choco­late was the food of the gods, he says. ‘‘ It has be­come a cheap, greasy com­mod­ity’’ on su­per­mar­ket shelves and Ger­wen is on a mis­sion to re­turn this sump­tu­ous, healthy food to its proper sta­tus.

The An­vers choco­late fac­tory is in the back sec­tion of an el­e­gant white-painted 1930s bun­ga­low, with curved banks of lead­light win­dows and wood pan­elling. We pass through the front cafe rooms and en­ter a sunny cor­ri­dor that is a min­imu­seum of choco­late-mak­ing. Among a wide range of cu­riosi­ties, there is a fas­ci­nat­ing col­lec­tion of choco­late moulds on dis­play, some from the 1830s, oth­ers from the 1920s to the ’ 70s; they are a re­veal­ing in­di­ca­tion of the crafts­man­ship of the past. A new build­ing to be opened next month will pro­vide dis­play space for Ger­wen’s far more ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion, he tells us.

We pass through a door and watch the choco­late-mak­ing go­ing on be­yond a glass­pan­elled wall. There are eight choco­latiers, plus trainees; 40 staff here in all. Ger­wen makes his choco­lates with the fresh cream, pure but­ter and nat­u­ral flavours of Tas­ma­nia, plus liqueurs and a spe­cial blend of im­ported choco­late (with 64 per cent ca­cao con­tent for dark and 35 per cent for milk).

At the cafe ta­bles in the front rooms and out un­der the trees, there’s a menu of hot co­coa in many flavours, choco­lates and choco­late desserts, plus light meals us­ing Tas­ma­nian pro­duce.

There is, of course, a shop and with so much to taste and choose from, I ask the staff to make up a small box of langue du chat , the ‘‘ cats’ tongues’’ of tast­ing choco­late the choco­latiers use for blend­ing their cre­ations: they’re dark, 64 per cent ca­cao, thin and nar­row, with a lit­tle cat’s face im­pressed into each tongue.

There are other vis­its to make be­fore we head back to the ship. Bar­ring­wood Park Vine­yard’s glass-wrapped cel­lar door at Lower Bar­ring­ton, about 20km south of Devon­port, sits above the thick canopies in 4ha of cool-cli­mate vines that slope away into a lush val­ley. The grapes in­clude schon­burger, which pro­duces a de­li­cious Alsatian-style white sim­i­lar to a Ger­man mus­cat and with a dis­tinct hint of rose­wa­ter Turk­ish de­light.

Owner Judy Robin­son (with her hus­band, Ian) is qui­etly ar­tic­u­late and knowl­edgable. She ex­plains that pinot gris and pinot gri­gio are not sim­ply French and Ital­ian ver­sions of the same grape but dif­fer­ent meth­ods are used in their pro­cess­ing: the Ital­ian variety is picked ear­lier, be­fore the sug­ars de­velop, while the gris is left to ma­ture longer, re­sult­ing in quite dif­fer­ent wines.

Ev­ery­thing here speaks of care and de­vo­tion. Vines and grapes are hand­tended and hand-picked. Robin­son tells us about the per­pet­ual bat­tle to out­wit the black jays (cur­ra­wongs) and sil­ver eyes that love the grapes as much as we do the end prod­uct (Bar­ring­wood Park IJ is their sparkling wine la­bel, named for the sil­ver eyes and jays as well as for Ian and Judy).

We also make a quick visit to Ghost Rock Vine­yard at Port Sorell, a short drive east of Devon­port and one of the first plant­ings in this re­gion. Three hectares have re­cently been added to the orig­i­nal 1ha of vines. The cel­lar door here is also glass-wrapped but with wide, sweep­ing views across pas­ture land to the sea. On the walls are the equally eye-catch­ing works of lo­cal artists.

Ev­ery­thing is gleam­ingly new, in­clud­ing a well-equipped kitchen and din­ing area. Ghost Rock pro­duces a bot­tle-fer­mented pinot noir-chardon­nay sparkler (Catherine Sparkling), chardon­nay, sauvi­gnon blanc, pinot gris, rose and pinot noir.

There are other cel­lar doors, too, within a short ra­dius of Devon­port, and a rasp­berry plan­ta­tion and Ash­grove Cheese farm and fac­tory close by. I must re­turn. Ju­dith Elen was a guest of Sil­versea and Vir­gin Blue. www.glen­coeru­ral­re­treat.com www.an­vers-choco­late.com.au www.bar­ring­wood­park.com.au. www.ghostrock.com.au www.sil­versea.com www.vir­gin­blue.com.au

Se­cret har­vest: Clock­wise from main pic­ture, Remi Bancal serves his blue­berry tart; Glen­coe’s gar­dens; cafe counter at An­vers

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