My week in Tasmania began with a very long wait at Melbourne Airport on Christmas Night. Due to severe, almost apocalyptical storms, the airport closed and reopened throughout the course of the night. Mr R., his 14-year-old nephew, Max, and I sat in what I called the ‘bargain basement’ terminal, crammed full of eager holidaymakers, screaming kids and Christmas paraphernalia. Boredom, perhaps mild insanity, took hold of me, as I decided to become the sitting fashion police, watching a parade of ‘eclectic’ fashion before me. I educated young Max about the unrelenting fashion tragedy that is ‘leggings as pants’. They are not pants people!
Anyway, as this is a food and not fashion blog, I will get back to the subject of my week of feasting in Tasmania. We made it to Hobart, almost on Boxing Day, and to our relief were met at the other end by Mr R’s sister, Serena. I will add here that I always have a little giggle at a road sign at the airport’s exit on the way out to the city, which depicts Hobart’s Wrest Point Casino, equal to the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty, as a world ‘icon’. Not sure about that!
The next day was spent having a lovely Boxing Day barbecue with Mr R. and his family, which included the very tasty and allergy-friendly lentil and coriander burgers and a delicious bean and pistachio nut salad. One of the highlights for me and my tastebuds was a day spent at Bruny Island, a treasure trove of beautiful Tasmanian produce. I have so much to say about my day at Bruny, that I will save it for a separate post.
The Taste Festival was next, after watching Serena’s husband, Raul, compete in the Taste swim. I cannot praise this festival enough. I have been to the Melbourne version a few times and while the concepts are a little different and therefore some may say, difficult to compare, the Tassie version stole my heart. Firstly, entry is free. That’s right… free! Cooking masterclasses are held by leading Australian chefs. There’s music, a twilight cinema and designated tents that showcase Tasmania’s large array of word-class wine, beers and ciders. And then there’s the food. Unlike the Taste of Melbourne, in which Melbourne’s leading restaurants are the feature, the Tassie version is all about the amazing produce this isle has to offer. Almost all of my favourite foods were on display, notably cheese and seafood. The oysters were reliably plump and creamy, the rosé crisp and fruity, and a scallop souvlaki stood no chance when I got my hands on it!
It was hard to leave The Taste, but thankfully our next stop was Cygnet, a once bustling little town south of Hobart in the Huon Valley, now firmly on the map thanks to one Gourmet Farmer, Matthew Evans, as well as its famed folk festival. The road to Cygnet was a scenic feast for our eyes with symmetrical rows of apple and berry orchards and vineyards criss-crossing the hills.
Cygnet itself did not disappoint. Sadly we were too late to eat at the famed Red Velvet Lounge, but the quiet pub at the bottom end of town became a source of great happiness, as I tucked into my second scallop dish of the day, a curried scallop pie. By this late hour of 5pm, the town had indeed become very sleepy, but thankfully the Cygnet Butchery was still open, so we ducked in to scope it out and left with a rather large amount of local prosciutto and smoked ham. At the supermarket we bought some blue cheese, dates and rocket, and with our goods we set ourselves up rather nicely in the sitting room of our accommodation for a lovely night in.
The Old Bank B&B, which as the name suggests, is a 1909 bank converted into bed and breakfast accommodation, was luxurious and charming, with every possible detail covered in high style. I could have happily spent many hours in the sitting room, sitting on the Chesterfield in front of the fire, reading through the wonderful array of cookbooks and editions of Gourmet Traveller and Delicious, playing Cluedo and Scrabble and sampling the many wines, ports and liqueurs on offer. Handmade chocolates from the local chocolatier, Cygneture Chocolates, awaited us in our room also. Breakfast was an all-out gourmet affair, as we were treated to a hot breakfast of our choice, complete with locally-sourced goods that included bacon from the Butchery and honey from the ‘Frenchman up the road’ at the Miellerie. A beautifully-brewed coffee was enough to help me confirm that Cygnet was a definite food Mecca!
With Cygnet behind us, it was onto Grandvewe Cheeses, Tasmania’s only sheep milk cheesery. I was still full from breakfast, but weakened at the sight of cheese, up there in my trinity of sacred foods: seafood, anything ‘de canard’ (mousse, terrine, foie gras) and of course, cheese. Jamon, olives and avocado are up there too… may have to re-evaluate that trinity! Grandvewe had a gorgeous selection of cheeses, my favourites being Fleur, a Manchego-style cheese, and Sapphire Blue, a Roquefort-style blue that is delectable with Grandvewe’s Pinot Paste.
A stop at Peppermint Bay was next, to take in the views and check out their foodstore. With an impressive menu and rave reviews for The Stackings restaurant, this is definitely a place I want to try out next time.
Back in Hobart that night, another feast awaited us – a Tasmanian seafood barbecue! Mr R.s sister, Monica, treated us to large fillets of honey, soy and ginger salmon, chilli and lemon squid and some of the largest king prawns I’ve seen in a while. My own cocktail sauce and guacamole made an appearance also. A happy seafood night it was!
Our final day in Hobart saw us heading to the newest attraction on the block, MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art. The ferry ride across the Derwent was the lovely breath of fresh I needed before heading into the dark cavern of extremely provocative ‘art’. While I’m at it, I’d like to thank the little girl who had quite a serious nosebleed as we were boarding the ferry. She gave my stomach a good dose of things to come! MONA did all of the things to me that I expected it to. It shocked me, momentarily made me consider vegetarianism and momentarily made me consider not eating for a long time. However, the ability of MONA’s founder, David Walsh, to poke a whole lot of fun at the art world is evident throughout the guided tour of the gallery, and this, along with the fact that he has created a superb cultural venue for Hobartians, was something I very much admired.
I also greatly admired the museum Wine Bar, where a nice glass of rosé and a charcuterie platter complete with ‘canard’ goods, fixed me up good and proper. My stomach and I were friends again, after a blissful week of mangiare bene and lovely company.