TABLES Kids in a sweet shop
A youthful team is turning out exemplary fare in Hobart’s Battery Point, reports Matthew Denholm
SSIETTE is French for plate but behind the curved wooden door of an old sweet shop in Hobart it has acquired a new meaning. The young team at Piccalilly in Battery Point has hijacked the word to describe a form of dining that is closer to grazing.
The traditional entree-main-dessert menu is replaced with lists of savoury and sweet dishes, each served with a compatible wine, if desired. It might be described as a more structured and sophisticated version of tapas.
Each dish is small, but not tiny, allowing the diner to experience a wider range of flavours, textures and taste combinations. The menu offers a choice of four, five, six or eight-dish selections, with the option of matched wines or beers. (There is also a traditional three-course menu for unbending types.)
My dining companion, Coco, and I take the eight-dish degustation option ($120 a person) on the justification it is only $10 more than the six-dish selection and to properly experience the cuisine of Piccalilly’s young chef, Iain Todd.
Having taken the degustation route we shouldn’t be able to choose what dishes are included. However, Coco’s desire for the Bruny Island oysters is such that manager Elysia Mannix relents and we happily sacrifice a salad. Before our selected dishes arrive, we are delivered a small amuse-gueule: seared Longford beef with mustard emulsion and pickled shallots. A mere wisp of lean flesh and tang, it alerts our stomachs to the pleasures ahead. The eight Bruny Island Pacific oysters — four natural and four with a red wine and shallot vinaigrette — are large, fresh and succulent. They slide down, lubricated perfectly by a 2005 Kilikanoon Vouvray , a smooth and slightly fruity chenin blanc bubbly ($9 a glass).
Next is a sashimi of yellowtail kingfish with pickled cucumber and yuzu vinaigrette; it’s such a work of art that we are reluctant to spoil the canvas. The ingredients are arranged with the precision of a classical Japanese drawing, delicate baby beetroot shoots taking the place of willow trees. The rawness of the fresh fish contrasts nicely with the tangy vinaigrette.
With three of the eight dishes centred on seafood, we opt for white wine to follow the bubbles. I have a glass of Velo pinot gris ($10) from the Tamar Valley in Tasmania’s north; it has a pinkish hue and vibrant passionfruit and peach flavours. Coco enjoys a glass of Home Hill Kelly’s Reserve Chardonnay ($10) from the Huon Valley.
Our next dish is seared king george whiting fillet from South Australia with sauce vierge and citrus jellyfish. Wonderfully crisp, the fish is enlivened by the tomato and herbs in the vierge and the tartness of the yuzu juice used to marinate the rehydrated dried jellyfish. The interval between plates is sufficient to savour each dish and rest before the next but there is time to contemplate the surroundings, particularly if you are lucky enough to be seated by the largest window.
Piccalilly is on a street corner in Hampden Road, the high street of Hobart’s historic inner-city suburb of Battery Point. The building is interesting in itself, its wide front window and beautiful curved wooden front doors pointers to a past life. While a restaurant for many years preceding its incarnation as Piccalilly, it was once a sweet shop and the window by which we sit was no doubt stared into longingly by countless children.
Young guns: An imaginative approach to dining makes for a memorable meal at Piccalilly in Hobart’s pretty Battery Point
Work of art: Yellowtail kingfish sashimi
The culinary art of Todd continues to dazzle with the arrival of a pithivier of quail with walnut chutney and cauliflower puree. The pithivier, a type of shiny-crust pie, is superb; tender quail, puffy pastry and the savoury influence of the walnuts and cauliflower combine to great effect.
If chefs improve with age, Todd’s is a name worth watching. He trained in Melbourne at Mode in St Kilda and Fenix in Richmond as well as at Meadowbank Estate near Hobart. Before opening Piccalilly, he was sous chef at The Henry Jones Art Hotel on Hobart’s waterfront.
The entire team at Piccalilly is a potent advertisement for the youth of Tasmania. Mannix, Todd’s partner and restaurant manager, is 27, while the other staff members are even younger.
It’s certainly enough to make us feel old. Fortunately, revival is on hand courtesy of a palate-cleansing chunk of watermelon dowsed in balsamic gel.
Of our four remaining dishes, the first is roast Boer goat loin from Rivendale Goat Stud at Cradoc in the Huon Valley. Once again the choice of accompaniment — a chilled yoghurt and cucumber salad — is perfect. This is the carnivorous end of proceedings and our final savoury dish is dry-aged Longford eye fillet with creamed leek and sauteed mushrooms. The super-tender meat is almost gamey, the leeks fit for a Welshman and the combination of hearty flavours simple but effective.
Of our two sweet dishes, one in particular intrigues us. If some of Todd’s offerings are art on a china canvas, his mango eggs with candied brioche soldiers is installation art. Two chicken eggs have been hollowed and the contents used to make a rich custard. This serves as the replacement egg white’’, while an ultra-smooth mango puree serves as the yolk’’. The soldiers give the dish the appearance of an ordinary boiled-egg breakfast.
It’s hardly surprising that our last dish, blood orange and Pimms trifle, falls short of this sugar high, which surely exceeds anything offered at that original sweet shop. While not a patch on the trifle my nanna used to make, the Pimms evokes fond memories of English summers and backing the right horse at Royal Ascot. In Piccalilly, too, we have picked a winner. All Tables visits are unannounced and meals paid for.
Piccalilly Cnr Hampden Road and Francis Street, Battery Point, Hobart. (03) 6224 9900; www.piccalilly.com.au. Open: Lunch, Thursday and Friday from midday; dinner Tuesday-Saturday from 6pm. Cost: Four-dish dinner selection, $82 ($135 with matched wines or $127 with matched beers). Five, six and eight-dish selections also available. A traditional entree, main and dessert option is $82. Drink: Choose an assiette selection with matched wines or beers, or there is a modest but wellconceived selection of wines from home and overseas and a dedicated Tasmanian listing. Options by the glass. Reason to return: An unusual approach that allows diners to experience a greater range of texture and taste combinations.
(Selections from tasting menu)