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

Olive - - CONTENTS - Words LUCY GILLMORE

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

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