Friends for din­ner

On a win­try night Matthew Denholm gets a warm wel­come at a Ho­bart home away from home

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

RRIV­ING at Monty’s on Mont­pe­lier is like arriving at a friend’s place for a din­ner party. For a start, this rel­a­tively new ad­di­tion to the Ho­bart restau­rant scene is in an old house. ‘‘ Our restau­rant is our home: wel­come,’’ Monty’s web­site pro­claims, and we soon dis­cover this is more than an empty mar­ket­ing mantra.

Rather than be­ing ush­ered straight to our ta­ble, we are en­cour­aged to warm our­selves by the open fire in a lounge­room bar while en­joy­ing pre-din­ner drinks. Only when we feel suf­fi­ciently thawed and primed are we led to an ad­ja­cent room, where our ta­ble basks in front of an­other fire.

It is not long be­fore the restau­rant’s co-owner, Nat Starkey, in­tro­duces her­self; we dis­cover she was an air­line cabin at­ten­dant for 11 years and it shows in her at­ten­tive ser­vice. We have heard of a cou­ple who one night called to can­cel a book­ing at Monty’s af­ter their chil­dren fell ill, only to have Nat of­fer to have a staff mem­ber home-de­liver a meal. The anec­dote — con­firmed by Nat — un­der­lines her com­mit­ment to go­ing the ex­tra yards in cus­tomer ser­vice.

The restau­rant in­te­rior is in­for­mal and, just like most homes, filled with an eclec­tic col­lec­tion of art and fur­ni­ture. I’m not sure the main din­ing room’s fur-lined win­dows would work at my place, but ev­ery home is al­lowed its idio­syn­cra­sies.

Our ta­ble is in this main room; how­ever, from it we can see through an open door­way to the li­brary, where fel­low din­ers sit be­neath book-lined shelves, warmed by yet an­other log fire. You’d have to plant an en­tire for­est to off­set all this car­bon-belch­ing heat­ing, but as icy rain is fall­ing tonight no one is com­plain­ing.

The menu, too, is warm­ing and packed with hearty fare. Menus are changed monthly by Nat’s chef hus­band, Matt; ours is per­fectly suited to the tail end of win­ter.

I open my ac­count with new-sea­son scal­lop pie over fon­dant po­tato, with sun­flower greens, chive oil and a bal­samic re­duc­tion ($22). Scal­lop pies are a Tassie treat of long stand­ing. Usu­ally pur­chased from a take-away es­tab­lish­ment and some­times laced with curry pow­der, they are the state’s stodgy em­blem in the way that pie floaters are South Aus­tralia’s. The pe­tite par­cel be­fore me is noth­ing like the pop­u­lar ver­sion. I feel at first dis­ap­pointed by its small­ness, but when the thin, crisp pas­try is bro­ken with the tap of a fork, an as­ton­ish­ing num­ber of scal­lops ex­plode on to the plate, ac­com­pa­nied by an ooz­ing sauce. The scal­lops are suc­cu­lent and ten­der, and still taste of the sea.

My com­pan­ion, Fran­coise, takes the pan-fried po­tato gnoc­chi, tum­bled through a Bruny Is­land 1792 cream sauce with toasted wal­nuts and charred pear ($17). She finds the gnoc­chi per­fectly cooked and is pleased by the com­bi­na­tion of tex­tures, from the crunchy wal­nuts to the soft pear and gooey­ness of the Bruny Is­land cheese.

Cheese is a re­cur­ring theme at Monty’s, which claims to have ‘‘ the best cheese se­lec­tion of any restau­rant in the coun­try’’. Whether this is true is dif­fi­cult to es­tab­lish, but with 29 cheeses listed I’m not game to ar­gue. We learn that it was cheese that first led Matt (and even­tu­ally Nat) to Tas­ma­nia. He vis­ited the state while work­ing for a West­ern Aus­tralia-based cheese dis­trib­u­tor, fell in love with the place and, says Nat, nagged her into aban­don­ing their life in WA for a new chal­lenge. Monty’s on Mont­pe­lier opened about 18 months ago, with Matt — for­merly at Perth’s West­ern Aus­tralian Club — as head chef. Ini­tially, the cou­ple

A win­ter’s tale: A log fire and shelves stacked with books cre­ate a cosy at­mos­phere for din­ing at Monty’s on Mont­pe­lier in Ho­bart

Slow-braised Crofton Lea pork belly with mar­i­nated scal­lops, sweet corn puree and a port re­duc­tion ($18)

Pan-fried po­tato gnoc­chi in an or­ganic ro­que­fort cream with charred beurre bosc pear and wild rocket ($20)

Char-grilled Long­ford eye fil­let over lo­cal pota­toes served with a fag­got of spring veg­eta­bles, york­shire pud­ding and beef cheek jus ($34)

Soft-baked Ital­ian meringue in a chilled rasp­berry and vanilla bean soup ($12)

Choice of 25 to 30 cheeses, $11 a cheese or six cheeses for $55 (40g por­tion) lived in the rooms above the restau­rant. They have since moved out and have plans to ex­tend the restau­rant up­stairs.

But back to cheese: Nat has po­litely sug­gested we con­sider or­der­ing our cheese­board now so that it has time to ad­just to room tem­per­a­ture. I se­lect two, more about which later.

We are also by now en­joy­ing the wine, a fullflavoured 2004 Bass Block 1 Pinot Noir ($53) from the Ta­mar Val­ley. The wine list is mod­est in size but in­tel­li­gently con­structed, fea­tur­ing favourites as well as a few lesser-known wines from Tas­ma­nia, main­land Aus­tralia, Europe and New Zealand.

For my main, I choose one of tonight’s spe­cials, a seafood, chorizo and Riven­dale capretto paella ($32). The capretto (I sup­pose the words baby goat or kid on a menu may of­fend some) is beau­ti­fully ten­der, fall­ing off the bone. The house-made and crisply cooked chorizo pro­vides an in­ter­est­ing coun­ter­point to the moist rice and seafood (chiefly mus­sels, which I find a lit­tle on the small side, and prawns). Uni­fy­ing all of th­ese is a tra­di­tional paella base and the sum of th­ese parts is an enor­mously sat­is­fy­ing dish.

Fran­coise has opted for the less creative ‘‘ surf and turf’’ ($34). While lack­ing orig­i­nal­ity, the 300g char­grilled Long­ford year­ling scotch fil­let is per­fectly ten­der and the Queens­land tiger prawns large and suc­cu­lent (al­though still in their shells, much to Fran­coise’s an­noy­ance). The pro­tein fix is well ac­com­pa­nied by pur­ple congo pota­toes and blanched broc­col­ini.

Aware that I have cheese to come, I de­cide against dessert. Fran­coise has a sep­a­rate di­ges­tive sys­tem re­served ex­clu­sively for sweet food, how­ever, and or­ders the soft-cen­tred chocolate pud­ding with house-made blue cheese ice cream and a port re­duc­tion ($12). Matt seems to spe­cialise in booby-trapped cui­sine and the pud­ding re­leases its sauce with a gush at the first prod. It is, Fran­coise in­forms me, a per­fect pud­ding: soft, moist and de­li­cious.

We had been scep­ti­cal about the blue cheese ice cream and on first taste there is a con­fu­sion of sig­nals be­tween taste buds and brain: is it savoury or sweet? We de­cide it doesn’t mat­ter; in con­cert with the pud­ding, it works a treat.

I have cho­sen two very dif­fer­ent lo­cal cheeses ($11 each). One is the Bruny Is­land 1792 al­ready en­coun­tered by Fran­coise. It is a stun­ning, washed-rind cheese named for the year French ex­plor­ers ar­rived in Tas­ma­nia. Ma­tured on Huon pine boards and with a yel­low­ing rind, it has an earthy taste of mush­rooms or truf­fles and melts in the mouth. The sec­ond is Ton­gola Billy, an aged goat cheese. Hard on the out­side, it is moister and mel­lower than many com­pa­ra­ble cow cheeses. Both are an ex­cel­lent ac­com­pa­ni­ment to a last glass of the Bass Block 1. All Ta­bles vis­its are unan­nounced and meals paid for.

Check­list

Monty’s on Mont­pe­lier 37 Mont­pe­lier Re­treat, Bat­tery Point, Ho­bart. (03) 6223 2511; www.mon­tys.com.au. Open: Din­ner only, Tues­day-Satur­day, 6pm to late. Cost: Three-course din­ner for two with pre-din­ner drinks, bot­tle of wine and cof­fees: about $200. Rea­sons to re­turn: Fault­less ser­vice; in­ti­mate, homely at­mos­phere; for­mi­da­ble cheese se­lec­tion.

Pic­ture: Peter Mathew

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