I left a teaser photo on the blog the other day to buy some time while I fully digested my first food foray in Hobart. It was the roasted squash with toasted walnuts and pumpkin puree that I ate at Ethos restaurant on my culinary tour with Gourmania. Those walnuts left an impression on me. I bought a kilo at the farmers market yesterday so that I can recreate that dish. I’ll probably substitute beets for the squash because it is early spring and the cold storage root vegetables are plentiful and cheap, albeit a bit drab compared to the tomatoes I left behind in California.
The Tea and Tapas Tour that Mary McNeil invited me on was the perfect introduction into the Tasmanian food scene. I’m still in awe of the generosity Mary demonstrated by including me on her tour. We met at Jackman & McRoss– regarded by articles I read prior to the move as a Hobart institution. The bakery has a similar vibe to Tartine in San Francisco. While we sipped a glass of Tasmanian sparkling wine and nibbled on a bing cherry pastry, Mary told us about her background as a professional baker at a few cafes in town. I could have surmised that she was a staple to the Hobart scene because everywhere we went Mary was greeted fondly.
After checking out a local bookshop where Mary pointed out some important Tasmanian cookbooks, we moved to Yellow Bernard for an espresso. I was a little disappointed to turn my champagne buzz into a caffeine kick but the guys at Yellow Bernard assured me it would be worth it. I trusted them. They had tats. Australians like coffee but they don’t do drip. It’s all about the espresso. I ordered a skinny flat white (a latte with nonfat milk a la Australian lingo that I am still picking up) and we shared a melting moment. Doesn’t that sound nice? Meeting new friends and sharing a melting moment? Actually, that refers to a sweet biscuit sandwich filled with passion fruit puree. I’ll be back for more of those.
Next up was an assortment of cheese at Bottega Rotolo which is a divine speciality food shop in town that also hosts cooking classes. We sampled a stilton, tripple cream and hard cheddar accompanied by fig walnut bread from Pigeon Hole Cafe (a bakery that happens to be dangerously close to our apartment). I usually prefer hard cheese to the uber creamy varieties but this experience turned me around. I wish I could remember the names of each cheese so I can bring some home for Carlos. I like the idea of a splurge on cheese every once in a while and we’ll have to start soon so I can start the education. Nice to know there’s a shop nearby with such a comprehensive assortment.
Like any well planned menu, Mary throws in a tea break after the cheese course to help aid digestion before indulging on more dishes. We stopped at Chado Tea House to taste some fine Japanese and Chinese teas. Though I drink tea daily, I am far from a connoisseur. My tea drinking status is akin to boxed wine. And I plan to keep it that way. I can’t afford another foodie obsession.
As we walked through the Ethos Cafe courtyard, my first impression was s that it would fit in well in Mill Valley or better yet, stylistically recreated in my hypothetical Northern California home some day. Succulents lined the courtyard walls and orange tables brightened up the brick alleyway that leads back to the restaurant. We were there before dining services commenced so the chefs were busy prepping, jamming to Matt Nathanson and chowing down sandwiches before the first patrons arrived. The bread was fresh which was hard to believe because the kitchen was tiny and I don’t know how they have room in the oven for bread baking. Mary said that this is becoming common in local restaurants and it just means the kitchens are using their space around the clock. Sure enough at our next stop, Garagistes, the bread was house-baked as well.
I was familiar with Garagistes because a few people I contacted about Tassie food recommended it as the leader of the pack and a good place to become familiar with. It was also awarded best restaurant in the state in this article so I was excited to have the opportunity to eat there on only my second day in Hobart. We walked in and for a moment I felt like I could have been in San Francisco or Portland. The staff was dressed in black short sleeved T’s (to show off their full sleeved tattoos) and black aprons. The menu was short and highlighted rare cuts of meat and local produce such as fried pig ears and caramelized salsify (a root vegetable that I needed Mary to identify because I’d never heard of it before). I ordered a Bruny Island oyster with vinegar emulsion and the Wagyu beef tongue. The oyster was silky and appropriately presented on a bed of sea rocks but I have to say the vinegar emulsion, though delicious, was a little too strong for the oyster. But the beef tongue was incredible. And I mean that. Not just because it was tongue and you might think, lad-de-da she likes tongue. No it really was delectable. The texture was so succulent my mouth is watering just remembering it. It had a sweet shungiku glaze that I could have lapped up if no one was watching. Carlos and I can’t afford to eat a full dinner at Garagistes regularly but I plan to pop in for a tongue skewer and glass of wine as a budgetary compromise. And when I do, I know I’ll feel at home.
After three hours of dining about town, Mary and I parted ways here. As a final taste of Tasmanian goodness, she sent me home with a chocolate disc filled with local blue gum honey caramel chocolate (and one for Carlos) from a Tasmanian chocolatier called “The Cat’s Tongue Chocolatiers.” With all the eating I plan to do here, it’s a good thing we brought those bikes with us after all.