On the road: Tasmania
Tassie may once have been seen as a sleepy backwater, but the island’s creative food scene now attracts chefs and tourists keen to try charcoal and blackcurrant cordial, dived-to-order sea urchins and sheep-whey vodka
The Aussie island’s creative food scene attracts chefs and tourists keen to try charcoal and blackcurrant cordial, dived-to-order sea urchins and sheep-whey vodka
It might be the gateway to Antarctica, but Hobart is hotter than Hades. Not in meteorological terms, of course – Tasmania, Australia’s southernmost state, is closer to Shetland in temperature than Sicily, but its culinary scene is sizzling. Whispers of the island’s lotus-eater pace of life and bountiful natural larder – from oysters and abalone plucked straight from the sea to wagyu beef and Cape Grim rainwater so clean they bottle it – has caused a stampede of hotshot chefs moving over from the mainland. Among them is Instagram favourite Sarah Glover, who swapped life as a pastry chef in Sydney and New York to rediscover her culinary roots – and became a poster girl for outdoor cooking along the way – back in her home turf of Tasmania (her new cookbook, WILD, a collaboration with photographer Luisa Brimble, is part recipe collection, part adventure handbook; sarahglover.com.au).
There’s plenty of other homegrown talent, too. This is an island of innovators and oddballs who love nothing more than to shake things up a little. Got some sheep? Lets make vodka from the sheep’s cheese whey. Whisky? Why not knock up a still in the barn and use a tumble dryer as a malting machine?
Take the glamorous new design hotel MACq
01 on Hobart’s harbour, which has architectural pizzazz and an imaginative concept: each of the 114 rooms is named after an extraordinary character in Tasmania’s colourful history (from Jørgen Jørgensen, king of Iceland turned Tasmanian convict, to Ma Dwyer, legendary landlady and madam of the local brothel) and guests can join complimentary door-to-door storytelling tours (macq01.com.au). Wharf warehouse in style, this vision of slatted wood is in the same stable as the Henry Jones Art Hotel, also on the waterfront but set in an old jam-making factory (thehenryjones.com).
And then there’s Mona, the city’s Museum of Old and New Art (mona.net.au). Tasmania’s big-guns-blazing attraction is the creation of one man’s whimsy. David Walsh’s phenomenal art collection is wonderfully bonkers, irreverent and also home to one of the hottest tables in town, Faro (there’s a winery, Moorilla, next door for post-culture-vulture tastings; moorilla.com.au).
Hopping on the Mona boat from Hobart, I cram in a cluster of brain-tingling exhibits before »
lunch, from videos of lions mating and stone slabs from the station at Hiroshima to a reconstruction of artist Leo Kelly’s house. My favourite: a mesmerising waterfall of random words, vanishing as they hit the earth.
Faro, a tapas bar and restaurant, is all brushed concrete, black tiles and huge picture windows looking out over the water. I sip a Night is Day, a black mocktail made with active charcoal, tonic water and homemade blackcurrant cordial, before a lunch of tender chargrilled octopus on a bed of deliciously smoky aubergine purée and punchy, pungent pickles.
Over the past few years, Hobart has evolved into a hotbed of culinary innovation and the energy is palpable. A Gourmania food tour is a good way to get your gastronomic bearings (gourmaniafoodtours.com.au). Grazing my way around the Saturday Salamanca Market, I sample artisan leatherwood honey, Tasmanian truffle oil and salt (tastruffles.com.au) – and sheep-whey vodka. I knock back a thimble-sized measure of the 12-month oaked vodka and savour its beautiful butterscotch sweetness.
Ryan Hartshorn of Hartshorn Distillery, aka the Vodka Shepherd, has taken the family farm off on a top-knot-friendly tangent (grandvewe.com.au). Not content with making cheese, he bought a still and started experimenting. The result is an award-winning vodka, its distinctive black bottles all hand-painted. You can also visit the farm, Grandvewe Cheeses, 25 miles south of Hobart, for a cheese-tasting or cheese-making session. They make eight different types including Brebichon, a sheep’s-milk version of reblochon (nutty and sweet) and Sapphire Blue, which is salty and creamy, like roquefort.
Our next stop is the white marble-and-glass bakery, Pigeon Whole Bakers, for a sugary swirl of cardamom-laced carbs (pigeonwholebakers.com.au) before dipping into Institut Polaire (institutpolaire.com.au). With more cool white marble and grey leather, the bar has chilly class and shakes up icy Sud Polaire Antarctic dry martinis. Pulling up a bar stool, however, I’m swayed by its micro-batch Domaine Simha wines: the Rani riesling has notes of wildflower honey, the 2015 chardonnay citrus, white peaches, apricots and a hint of vanilla.
There’s now a slew of cool wine bars in Hobart, from bare-brick watering hole Willing Bros (@WillingBros) to Ettie’s, a basement piano bar and bistro, for late-night candlelit lounging (etties.com.au). And tiny hipster eateries are springing up all over town. I can’t vouch for Fico as it was closed for refurbishment, but enough people rolled their eyes when I mentioned the pared-back neo-bistro to make me believe the hype (ficofico.net).
Dier Makr, meanwhile, is downright alchemy. Kobi Ruzicka and Sarah Fitzsimmons wing it out front, performing culinary and mixological acrobatics in their hip hangout (diermakr.com). The six-course tasting menu showcases unusual flavour combos. Perched at the counter, I tuck into anchovies and lemon rind, a mouthful of intense oily saltiness with a sharp citrus edge. The mussels and turnip is extravagantly good, the baby turnips grilled, the larger turnips pickled and thinly sliced, and the fermented turnip paste giving the dish a pungent heat. All complemented by a tantalising, cloudy orange wine.
There’s more to Tasmanian wine these days than a cold-climate pinot. Along with cider (the island is known as the Apple Isle) and sheep-whey vodka, you can also down a dram or two on the Whisky Trail (taswhiskytrail.com). The world woke up to Tasmanian whisky when Sullivans Cove French Oak won World’s Best Single Malt in 2014.
On a sunny Sunday I head out on a whisky-tasting tour with Brett Steel of Drink Tasmania (drinktasmania.com.au), through rolling farmland to bucolic Nant (nant.com.au), pioneering Old Kempton (oldkemptondistillery.com.au), Belgrove, and grand Shene Estate (shene.com.au).
Shene, a crumbling 19th-century estate, has been restored and given a new lease of life by David and Anne Kernke. In their smart timber distillery the couple make Irish-style triple-distilled whiskey and an award-winning gin, Poltergeist, infused with 12 native Tasmanian botanicals. »
Belgrove is as rustic as Shene is polished. Whisky-making maverick, Peter Bignell, is, Brett tells me, a creative genius. A sheep and arable farmer with a surplus of rye, he built his own copper still and started distilling in the old stables (belgrovedistillery.com.au). An old tumble dryer in the yard is the malting machine. Black Rye, his take on Kahlúa, made with grappa, rye and coffee, is his biggest seller (for espresso martinis). Noma’s Rene Redzepi is a fan; when he created a pop-up in Sydney in 2016, he put Belgrove spirits on the menu. Surrounded by fields of barley, rye and wheat, it’s the ultimate paddockto-bottle set-up. “Or dirt to drink,” the whisky wizard says with a wry smile.
Tasmania’s first paddock-to-plate cookery school, meanwhile, is half an hour outside Hobart in the Derwent Valley. Rodney Dunn, one-time Sydney-based editor of Gourmet Traveller magazine, watched back-to-back box sets of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage before deciding to create an Tasmanian version. With his wife, Séverine, he founded The Agrarian Kitchen in 2008, a cookery school in a 19th-century schoolhouse on a farm in Lachlan (theagrariankitchen.com). In 2017, he opened a light, bright eatery in nearby New Norfolk, celebrating local, seasonal and sustainable produce.
I pitch up at the cookery school and wander around the garden with Séverine. The herb garden is brimming with lemon balm, Mexican tarragon, rosemary, thyme, chamomile and mint; the orchard’s branches are heavy with fruit; 100 types of tomatoes are growing in the polytunnels; and chickens and Wessex Saddleback pigs roam the fields.
Another Sydney stowaway is Analiese Gregory, who now heads up the kitchen at Hobart hotspot Franklin (franklinhobart.com.au). All polished concrete, cowhides and diaphanous drapes, it has an industrial vibe. I start with raw albacore tuna with tomatillo and soy-cured egg yolk, gossamerlight yet rich. Next I tuck into raw Bruny Island wallaby with pickled mulberry, mushroom and fresh horseradish. The combination is ridiculously moreish. For dessert there’s feather-light whipped brown butter and salted caramel, sandwiched between wafer-thin crispy potato rectangles. It looks brown and bland but tastes sweetly sensational.
Happy in her new home, Analiese admits: “I had real chef envy when I visited from Sydney. There’s such a great energy here.” And then there’s the produce – sweet sea urchins can be scooped from the seabed and be on the table by lunchtime.
I cut out the middleman on a Tasmanian Seafood Seduction tour (pennicottjourneys.com.au). The small boat chugs out of the harbour along the Derwent River to the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, separating Tasmania from Bruny Island. Freshly shucked oysters come thick and fast, followed by oysters poached in champagne on deck. Lee, our guide, scrambles into his wetsuit and dives off the boat. Clambering up the ladder, his bag bursting with spiny sea urchins and abalone, lunch is a smorgasbord of sweet, saltwater-laced seafood: sustainable, hyper-local, seafloor-to-fork dining. It’s devilishly good.
HOW TO DO IT
Return flights from London Heathrow to Melbourne via Abu Dhabi start at £696 (etihad.com). Flights from Melbourne to Hobart start from $118 one way (virginaustralia.com). Double rooms at MACq 01 start from $200, room only (macq01.com.au). For more info see discovertasmania.com.au. Follow Lucy on Instagram and Twitter @lucygillmore.
LEFT: OUTDOOR COOKING WITH SARAH GLOVER IN MARION BAY
ABOVE, FROM LEFT: MACQ 01 IN HOBART HARBOUR; GOAT’S CURD, SMOKED GREENS AND GREEN ALMONDS AT FARO. OPPOSITE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: RYAN HARTSHORN’S SHEEP-WHEY VODKA; A MORNING BUN AT PIGEON WHOLE BAKERS; A ROADSIDE STALL AT SHENE ESTATE; FRESHLY CAUGHT SEA URCHIN ON A SEAFOOD SEDUCTION TOUR; TASMANIA’S OWN RIVER COTTAGE – THE AGRARIAN KITCHEN; SMALL PLATES AT INSTITUT POLAIRE; FRANKLIN IN HOBART; PUMPKIN, SQUASH, EGG YOLK AND MISO AT DIER MAKR; SARAH GLOVER PREPPING FISH ON SATELLITE ISLAND
ABOVE, FROM LEFT: INSTITUT POLAIRE; POACHING OYSTERS IN CHAMPAGNE ON A SEAFOOD SEDUCTION TOUR