TABLES Shine on, southern star
Michelle Rowe visits a lively North Hobart diner with a focus on keeping it local
E’RE comfortably settled at Hobart’s Restaurant 373 and our sommelier is in full flight. He’s extolling the virtues of a 2005 d’Meure Pinot Noir, a local drop we’ve not tried but with such an enthusiastic rap — ‘‘ it’s half the price of another bigname pinot but better; other winemakers are really talking about [winemaker Dirk Meure]’’ — how can we not take his advice and order a bottle?
The pinot more than lives up to expectations; a smooth and velvety drop produced by d’Meure Wines at a vineyard on the shores of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, about 50km from where we’re sitting.
Locally sourced wines and produce are a recurring theme at 373, a bustling eatery housed in the heritage Elizabeth Street, North Hobart site that was once occupied by Lickerish; the 373 part of the name comes from its street number.
We’re in pole position in our window seat, watching the comings and goings outside in the Tasmanian capital’s eat street, and are glad to finally put up our feet following a few days checking out some of the Apple Isle’s best producers.
There’s much to see on that front and the evidence is in the small but perfectly formed menu and wine list here, which read like a veritable who’s who of Tasmanian producers: Bruny Island oysters (‘‘delivered by the oyster farmer!’’ proclaims a line at the top of the menu), Spring Bay abalone and scallops, Huon Valley mushrooms, Flinders Island wallaby, East Coast salmon, Bruny Island cheeses. Local wines, meanwhile, are sourced from the excellent Stefano Lubiano, Apsley Gorge, Domaine A, Home Hill, Frogmore Creek, Kelvedon Estate vineyards and more. Even the beers are on home turf, with James Boag, Cascade and Moo Brew topping the list.
‘‘ We try to source locally . . . Tasmanians are proud of what they’re doing and want to see their own produce [on menus],’’ says our waiter as he slips a complimentary plate of herb and walnut bread with saltcod brandade and a patty of unsalted butter on to our table. Next follows an amuse bouche of Italian tomato and whitebean soup with Sicilian olive oil.
At this rate we risk having to let the belt out a notch before the starters have arrived, but we’re not complaining, and we’re enjoying the banter with the enthusiastic floor staff.
Around us the place is buzzing. A steady and goodnatured hum emanates from a big corporate table while couples and foursomes enjoy the laidback vibe in a room that’s all wooden floors, sexy red highlight walls, white-clothed tables, bentwood chairs and subdued lighting.
Our wine, served in Reidel glassware, is slipping down nicely as we skip the oysters section and go straight to starters.
Oyster fans, however, will find a wealth of opportunity here; if you don’t fancy your Bruny Island bivalves
Prime number: Bustling eatery Restaurant 373 is housed in a North Hobart heritage building served naturally with a squeeze of lime ($16 for five; $29 for 10) you can have them kilpatrick hollandaise; topped with vanilla fennel; drizzled with 373’s limoncello; gratinated with braised leek; or grilled with caramelised onion and Thorpe farm goat’s cheese.
For our starters, we pass on the appealing sounding roquefort and saffron risotto with basil and sweet and salty walnuts ($21) and choose Spring Bay abalone, double braised, fennel citrus salad and squid ink dust ($23), and Spring Bay scallops in their shells with chorizo and tomato salsa and basil ($23).
Our attentive waiter tells us the squid ink dust is something chef Fabian Christoph saw when in Europe and wanted to re-create himself, using a deeply confusing process of freeze drying, blitzing and other whizbangery. Melbourne boy Christoph’s pedigree includes a stint working at The Beach Cafe in Cornwall, England, and at Donovans in Melbourne before arriving in Tasmania with partner Narelle Monks, who works front of house at 373.
The resulting dust is sprinkled in a neat line on my plate, the abalone finely cubed and the accompanying fennel salad in a small pile. It’s an interesting combination; perhaps not something I’d rush back to have again — there are so many other appealing things to try on the starters list after all — but it’s an intriguing twist on a dish.
My husband’s four scallops come perched on their shells, a dash of chorizo salsa underneath each piece of seafood, and finished off with a scattering of basil. It’s a lovely combination, our favourite of the two dishes.
For mains, it’s surf and turf. In my case I’m having the surf; a slice of East Coast salmon with prawn cannelloni, zucchini and frothy bisque. Frothy is the right word, as this particular salmon looks like it’s riding the crest of a thoroughly wind-lashed wave. The fish, although beautifully flavoured, is a little on the underdone side even for one who likes most things pink to the point of ridiculous.
On the other hand, my husband’s Longford eye-fillet with beef cheek and shallot ravioli, spinach and shallot sauce is terrific. A tender, generously sized chunk of beef is enlivened with a delicate shallot sauce, the single piece of ravioli perched on the greens to one side. It’s simple but elegant and goes down a treat.
We’re defeated come dessert time. A few days of eating our way across Tasmania has taken its toll, which is a pity as the cheeses and desserts look a treat.
A note at the top of the extensive cheese list helpfully prompts diners to order their cheese with the rest of their meal to ensure that ‘‘ your cheese comes out to you at room temperature’’. The list covers Australian as well Simple but elegant: Longford Eye-fillet, beef cheek and shallot ravioli with spinach shallot sauce Restaurant 373 373 Elizabeth St, North Hobart; (03) 6231 9031; www.restaurant373.com.au. Open: Monday-Saturday, from 6pm; lunch by appointment. Cost: $200 for two. Drink: Top Tassie tipples and a healthy smattering from the rest of the world. Reason to return: To try one of those muchadmired desserts.