Sunday, January 30, 2005

The Axis of Evil

Lipscombe Larder, Hill St Grocer, Salad Bowl … it’s about time a comparison was made between these, Hobart’s dens of iniquity!

Lipscombe Larder, Sandy Bay Road, Sandy Bay.
The reputed mothership of suburban gourmet food stores (aside, of course, from the Wursthaus, which is in a league of its own).
Pretty good basil pesto, although I’m newly addicted to their spinach pesto … I’m hoping not to eat the whole jar in sneaked spoonfuls!
Excellent bread, possibly the best on offer in the foodstore mould. Love their Olive Toscano … could eat it all day.
Fabulous range of cheeses and Tassie wines.
Excellent cakes and chocolates and all that evil stuff.

The Hill St Grocer, Hill St, West Hobart.
Very often in the news, it seems.
Best range of produce this side of heaven. (Just watch me go berserk when the sacks of fresh broad beans or peas are in!) … Great deli section, with excellent variety of pre-prepared meals (try their couscous salad!).
Fabulous range of ‘international’ treats (mmmm, Dutch Breakfast Cake with coffee!).
“Not so squizzy” since their renovations a few years ago, but one still risks serious injury from basket rage at busy times. Such a shame (but what can they do?), as it means that I will avoid the place if it’s “that time of day”.

The Salad Bowl, Macquarie St, South Hobart.
Also undergone some sexy renovations.
Produce is good, good deli section, good bread … but what hooks me every time is their specials in the grocery section … Three tins of crab meat for bugger all, tubs of mussels for next to nothing. Cheeses discounted by the bucket load.
I love a bargain, and if it’s nibblies I’m after … it’s the Salad Bowl for me!

So, in a nutshell each of the triumvirate is unique in its own way. At Lipscombe you risk losing an eye from the proliferation of upturned collars. At Hill St you could be run down by a fleet of Subaru Foresters as you jostle for a park, or you could lose a kidney as you manoeuvre past me in the rush for the peas. As for the Salad Bowl, you’re more likely to be blinded by bare midriffs or rendered olfactorily senseless by the unique aroma of the Tarkine perfume. BUT … If it’s bread and pesto your after, head for Lipscombe. If it’s the full gamut of fresh produce you need (or indeed food advice), go to Hill St Grocer. And if you want a nibbly bargain, scoot to the Salad Bowl.

Don’t listen to the cries of “Oh, but it’s so expensive” to shop at our gourmet stores. This is a myth. No-one is suggesting you regularly buy your kitty litter or eau de cologne here, but in the case of fresh delicacies … if you want to prioritise price over flavour, go to Woollies … your choice.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Launceston Scores Again ... Stillwater River Cafe

I wasn’t being a pig. Really I wasn’t, honest. It’s just that the menu was so exciting AND they had a degustation menu. Actually they had TWO specialised menus … one with six courses, the other with eight. You know which one I had. I agonise over spending sixty bucks on a skirt or a couple of hundred bucks on a much needed new vacuum cleaner, but put me in front of a scintillating menu and I go crazy. I need help.

Stillwater River Café is in Launceston’s idyllic Richie’s Mill, hugging the riverbank (just try to pretend Penny Royal World isn’t across the road). I’d had breakfast there (excellent eggs) and coffee (great coffee), but this was my first outing for dinner. It was a beautiful evening. Typical colourful Launceston sunset. Quacking ducks. Smelly rubbish stuck in the reeds just outside the restaurant (mental note: pretend not to notice the rubbish next time).

Course 1. - Saltwater Sashimi Plate - Calamari with Lime/Palm Sugar/Chilli and Scallop with Mushroom Essence/Truffle Oil.
Very subtle. I scribbled a note to myself – “bland but stunning”. Wonder what that means?
Course 2. - Lime/Sugar Cured Tasmanian Salmon with Green Mango, Laksa Leaf Salsa, Dressed Cucumber Egg Noodles, Lime/Pepper Paste.
Cute little “sandwiches”: two thin squares of salmon with shredded green mango in between, unfortunately the taste of fine-ground black pepper dominated the egg noodles. Go easy fellas!
Course 3. - Beetroot Tapioca & Shredded Basil with Saint Agur Blue Cheese.
This was divine, interesting, weird. Yummy too. We also thought that this could make an interesting half-dessert/half-cheese platter option. But in hindsight that was probably the wine talking.
Course 4. - Seared Scallops with Double Mushroom Custard on Roasted Portobello Mushrooms with Tomato Beurre Blanc.
Ever had mushroom custard? Mmmm. Big flavours.
Course 5. - Slow Cooked Octopus with Lightly Spiced Asian Salad with Vietnamese Mint.
We loved this dish, it was excellently placed to freshen the palate after the Scallops and Mushrooms. BUT we had difficulty differentiating it from the appetisers freely found in Vietnamese restaurants (big iceberg lettuce, sprouts, Vietnamese mint, dipping sauce). All this dish needed was an iceberg lettuce to be the real deal. As for the octopus, its only purpose really was to add a lovely texture to the meal, but that’s octopuses for you. I sound negative, but this dish was lovely (just try not to think of Victoria St, Richmond).
Course 6. - Chinese Duckling Consommé with Coriander/Chilli Tortellini.
STANDOUT DISH. Simple, simple, simple. Broth with a tortellini button floating in the middle. But oh my god, it was beautiful. The broth was rich but not overpowering, the tortellini was a joyous burst of coriander and sweet chilli.
Course 7. - Tasmanian Prime Eye Fillet of Beef in Soy and Sake with Roasted Portobello Mushroom, Buttered Parsnip Puree, Ponzu Sauce and Wasabi Fine Noodles.
Simply a beef stack on top of a mushroom with parsnip mash (puree … so that’s what we’re calling it now?). But oh my goodness me, what an example of how this type of dish works when done well. The beef was rare and thinly sliced. Best preparation of a steak I’ve come across in a long while. The parsnip mash (I mean puree) was really yummy. Top marks.
Course 8. - Assiette of Sweets.
Now, my friend Beryl (who is fluent in Kitchenese) tells me that an Assiette means: the Ass-you-get if you eat too many of these sweets!
a) Strawberry and Basil Pannacotta
A little baby pannacotta pretending to be gnocchi, with a strip of honey something and a strip of diced strawberry and basil. Drooooool.
b) Apple and Lychee Salad
Grated apple and rough cut lychees. Didn’t interest me at all. Once again, really overdid it with the fine-ground black pepper.
c) Chocolate and Mandarin
Was it a fudge, was it a truffle, who cares, it was chocolate! I think I may have moaned aloud.

And the wine! I am head over hills in love with Lalla Gully Sauvignon Blanc (1998, $35/$7), from the Pipers River region. Give me a wine whiffing of capsicum and I know I’m half-way there! We also had a glass of a yummy red with the Tasmanian beef … but by that stage I had no idea what my name was let alone the wine’s!

I was too full to order coffee (goodness!). Next time we’ll try the six-course degustation (with wines matched by the glass), which would have worked out much cheaper (and perhaps easier on my full belly). Our indulgence was ridiculously financially reckless ($300!!!). But don’t let our wantonness put you off. Go … even if it’s just to have a coffee or a glass of wine while you soak up the fabulous ambience. They won’t mind … Whatever suits your budget (or in our case, whatever blows ours completely out of the water!!). For my money, chef Don Cameron (surely “Don” as in Corleone!) is a masterful designer of a wonderful food indulgence. However, perhaps call first to check if The Don is having a night off, our replacement chef was in a wee hurry to get home it seemed.

Sad postscript … Have since discovered (courtesy of knowledgeable bloke at Hobart Gasworks) that the Lalla Gully Sauvignon Blanc is rather hard to come by. It seems to be available only in restaurants (and the vineyard I suppose). Sigh.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Has the HRB Gone Soft???

Currently I’m spoiled for choice … and it’s all good. Recently I’ve had good things to say about Steam Packet, I’ve had good things to say about Navaro’s (in Launceston), and I’ve had good things to say about a few other places too. And yet I’m still not finished … I still have more good things to say! But I’m in need of some thinking music before I deliver this new gospel according to the HRB … so please bear with me.

See ... contrary to the Tas Tourism Board's paranoia, I am capable of giving credit when it's due!

In the meantime …

I had a conversation with a friend today. In 36 degree heat we were stumped trying to identify a good place for a bevvie. Not that there aren’t good places to drink, but we were looking for something other than the usual suspects (T42 … or … T42?). We thought of sitting on the domain and just getting a little bit tipsy in the park … but in 36 degrees? In the end I gave up, stayed home, and sipped refreshing tea in the shade.

Much more sensible really!

Sunday, January 23, 2005


Snippet #1
As if to erase a bad dream from my memory banks, as if to make me feel as though I’m a crazy lady in some kind of delusional state, Jean-Pascal in West Hobart has pulled the God-damned goods!

Some of you may have seen my terrified comment about milk heated in a microwave. Well the good news is you needn’t be quite so afraid. As with all teething problems, this has been overcome.

Jean-Pascal will never be a coffee palace (they use a domestic-style machine), BUT the coffee is serviceable, AND not being a sweet-tooth I was astounded to feel myself pulled inexplicably towards the display cabinet and finding myself wanting three of everything. There are real chocolate éclairs, real house cakes with pert raspberries on top, real profiteroles, and real cakes. There are other real things that I don’t know the name of. And there are very sexy pies. Oh, and the bread rocks.

Snippet #2
Like a mirage I saw it, an ad in yesterday’s Merc. And just to reassure me that I hadn’t dreamt it, there it was again today. A proclamation. Athena’s has been sold. Not wanting to be harsh but, ATHENA’S IS DEAD, LONG LIVE ATHENA’S. To the new owners … please listen very closely to the saddened whispers of diners gone by. We were so excited by the thought of Greek by the river, we were so saddened by the service and the food. Not to mention the bills (some very nasty rumours flying around about those). Please, take Athena’s bull by its mangy horns and show us what you’re made of. And this time, make it worth our dreams.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Could this be The One?

I took the plunge and dived straight into the refreshing waters of the Steam Packet at Henry Jones last night. In a word: excellent. The service was incredible, the food was exciting, I was even inspired to order pork. I NEVER order pork!

Our waiter for the evening was the delightful Chris. He’s a funny guy. Talks you through the menu with a cheeky grin, you half expect a crash of cymbals at the end of his little presentation to signify that he’s a ham. He is. Chris is a ham. When it’s appropriate. And here is the secret talent of the truly talented wait staff. I watched him operate. To each table he presented a different face. To the two cranky pants behind us he was serious and unobtrusive. To the young couple by the Atrium door he was attentive and helpful. We were obviously up for it and so he gave us a floorshow.

Being a funny guy isn’t everything. That’s why I still haven’t been to Gondwana (because of the “funny guy” who used to work at Rockerfellers and is now at Gondwana … dude, you’re not that funny). Chris is not a mere comic in waiter’s clothing, he is passionate and knowledgeable about the Steam Packet menu. This is the other secret talent of the truly talented host (notice I’ve given him a promotion? … Please do likewise Mr Crawford). Chris had sampled each dish on the menu (damned sensible when you think about it). Better yet, he was EXCITED by everything on the menu. He was bursting out of his skin to be asked a question about a dish, any dish, just ask him a question, go on! AND he’s clearly inspired to be working with the chef. He said so.

All good news.

The food? Oysters – six natural and six topped with cucumber pickled in chilli and star anise with frozen olive oil. Gorgeous, and forget fresh, these things were alive and charging me by the hour. Smoked Crocodile. Oh yes, Smoked Crocodile. Looks like bacon only lighter, doesn’t taste like chicken (don’t let anyone tell you otherwise), basically “yum scrum pig’s bum”, except it was Crocodile’s bum. Served with a dazzling beetroot reduction, stir fried baby spinach and tomato, and red onion marmalade (would be so ace on toast!). Mains: Pork Belly (now how’s that pig gonna eat without a belly!) with crispy noodles and shitake broth. The pork was from Winnaleah. It was sweet and moist, as all pigs should be (just ask Porky). Longford Eye Fillet of Beef (perfectly medium rare, tender, yum). Rocket and parmesan salad. Pink eyes with sea salt and rosemary.

Wine? Yes please.

The only real problem I have with Steam Packet is the atmosphere. Henry Jones is a beautifully designed complex. I really like it. But I don’t like sitting to dinner with hotel guests staring absently at me while they check in. Some privacy screens would seem to be the way to go here. Let’s face it, there’s no view to lose. This is the other difficulty Steam Packet faces. We know there are lots of stunning boats and watery-pretty things to look at just outside, but because of the nature of the building’s heritage listing (I assume) it’s not possible for diners to have a view. That’s why the interior design and the menu and the service are so important … and thank goodness they work well here. In fact, it’s kind of refreshing to have a waterfront restaurant whose focus is the food, not the view. But did I mention privacy screens … that guy’s picking his nose while I’m trying to eat my oysters!

On the whole we finally have a Hobart restaurant that provides an exciting menu, has talented and well trained staff (who surely deserve a pay rise), and food to match the anticipation. A big fat furry thumbs-up to Steam Packet, and big sloppy HRB kisses to your chef and your staff.

About bloody time!

Saturday, January 15, 2005

The Church of Taste

There is no single altar, there are no gently flickering candles and no cloying incense. But I worship none-the-less. I don’t love the shed, I don’t love the rubbish, and I certainly don’t love the ‘street performers’ who want to hassle me when I’m trying to get drunk, fat, and sun-struck in one fell swoop. But God I love Taste.

Not enough tables, too few toilets, too many smelly bins. Too much noise, too many sea critters fried to death. Too many lame pinots. Too many loud wankers on mobiles bitching about real estate, yachts, or “the ex-pat lifestyle”. Pathetic hecklers hassling the buskers in snickered whispers, too scared to get up front and say something worth hearing. Too much money pissed up a rope or vomited later down a toilet bowl.

But God I love Taste.

Having spent the last few summers inconveniently pretending to enjoy Christmases elsewhere, this year was bound to be big. I went three times. The first evening I arrived to join a bundle of friends at a table indoors. Friends now living interstate, who I was so excited to spend a bit of time with in a noisy smelly shed. The second time I popped in for half an hour to say g’day to some family as they sat on tiered seats watching the water and eating mussels.

On the third day we sat at a table flanked by elderly ladies and gents who were enjoying their berries and ice cream. We ate scallops and wallaby from Waji, and drank Stefano Lubiano’s pinto gris (or was it a grigio?). As the afternoon progressed we moved along the table to make room for friends who had joined us. Sitting beside the timber railing, looking over the water, sipping a Meadowbank cleanskin (around 15 bucks). It was a gorgeous day.

I have read what many of you have had to say about Taste and how it could be better. I don’t really disagree. But going to Taste is an art, it takes patience and planning and a bit of saved up pocket money. My gripe with Taste is a more fundamental one … What the hell are The Fish Café, Little India, Sush, and other establishments doing there? Stick to running restaurants/cafes/whatever, and leave Taste to the producers and their talented chefs-for-hire … But back to worshipping at the Church of Taste.

Here’s how I do it:
1. Go in a group and hunt for somewhere to sit
2. Send scouts out to find extra chairs
3. Send blokes to hunt for food
4. Send other blokes to hunt for wine
5. Sit on your arse and enjoy yourself

I don’t think of Taste as an opportunity for dining excellence. It is an opportunity for lazy gluttony in the sun. And somehow I always manage to succeed.

GW the HRB ;-)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

At Last!

And when I awoke I rubbed my little eyes and whispered, “Surely it’s not morning yet?” I lumped into the shower and then dragged on enough clothes to greet the day. Made it into the car with barely minutes left to get myself to work on time. The car knows its way and rolled me along the usual path.

And then like a surprise birthday present I saw it … the wrapping had come off … the newspapers had come down. Hallelujah!

Jean-Pascal … bread, coffee, GATEAUX!

It’s open, it’s open, it’s really truly finally open.

After what has seemed like an age, the tauntingly sweet looking little patisserie at the bottom of the hill is finally open. I’ve been waiting for months to see what was inside, to see what I could smell and taste. Jean-Pascal … with rumoured links to Jackman & McRoss and possibly even Zum. Jean-Pascal with the sweet little window promising GATEAUX. Jean-Pascal whose window doesn’t promise coffee, but now that the newspapers are down I can see the shining machine. Jean-Pascal who promises little walks down the road to eat little treats and sips of lovely coffee.

Suddenly getting out of bed a little earlier each day seems like such a good idea!

p.s. In case your car doesn’t know the way, Jean-Pascal is on Goulburn Street, next to the fish n chip shop on the corner of Goulburn and Molle.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Tsunami Postscript

With apologies to those generous souls whose activities I am not aware of …

The staff and management of Sisco’s are donating their time and ALL TAKINGS from a special opening on Sunday 9 January in order to support the Tsunami Appeal.

Prospect Wines (purveyors of rather scrummy cleanskins in town) are donating ALL THIS WEEK’S PROFITS to the Tsunami Appeal.

There is a benefit gig at onetwelve (112 Liverpool St – from 4pm onwards on Sunday 9 January with ALL PROCEEDS going to the Tsunami Appeal.

Maybe I’m not so naïve after all … your generosity of spirit proves that business isn’t always about profits, but can indeed be founded on good will and word of mouth.

Thank you.

Monday, January 03, 2005


I attended a dinner party the other night. Small, intimate, nice company. Conversation turned as it would to the Indian Ocean tsunami. We sat looking out over the river and imagined the equivalent damage here. Sandy Bay, gone. Howrah, gone. Before long people began to explore possible explanations for such a disaster: God’s wrath, fault lines, nature’s attrition of over-population, and so on. As I listened I felt a sense of urgency and frustration, without really knowing how to express it. The conversation took a middle class western turn for the worse as members of the party began to discuss how some people would find ways to profit from the devastation in Aceh and other areas. That’s how business works, I was informed.

Maybe I’m more naïve than even I thought.

I don’t want to preach or get all soap-boxy … I would certainly be the last in line to throw the first stone … but can we just put things in perspective for a minute? We are wrapped in the cotton wool of western wealth. We belly ache (well I belly ache) about food and wine and not being offered a cup of coffee. I’ll continue to do this, because my life, your lives, won’t really be changed by this disaster. But in the background I would hope that if not our lives, at least our attitudes will change.

Donate. Time, money, services, best wishes, whatever you can offer. Put it in a kindness cup and offer it freely, without a sense of guilt or a sense of duty. Our lives will go on. I’m off to the Taste today and soon I will celebrate my birthday. My life will go on. But if nothing else, I hope I will never become so complacent as to forget the images of devastation and my own sense of desperation to do what I can to help. Be it ever so small.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year's Eve at Prosser's

In the past I have lumped Prosser’s and Mure’s in the same basket … murderers of good seafood, in my humble opinion of course. But then friends from interstate arranged a New Years Eve event to share with us. They had never been to Prosser’s before. I had (hence previous comments on this site about fish drowning in sauces, and the nineteen-eighties being well and truly over). But it had been quite some time and I was gagging for another opportunity to sample Prosser’s fare, as I love the location and I love the idea of Prosser’s. So our dear friend arranged the dinner, booked the table, paid the deposit (!!) and off we went.

New Year’s Eve in Hobart … avoiding the waterfront at all costs has extra-special costs of its own. I’ll give you the heads up … info that I was not privy to before taking my seat at the neatly starched table … Dinner was a set menu at $75 per head, not including wine. Phew, that hurts.

Course 1: Air Freighted Fresh Crystal Bay Prawn Salad with Avocado, Asparagus and Warm Citrus Dressing. I can cope with a prawn cocktail … I’m a big girl, really I can cope. But if I’m going to be served a prawn cocktail, it really should come in a parfait glass and not pretend to be something else just because it comes flat on a plate. Alright, maybe I’m being a bit harsh. The prawns were AIR FREIGHTED. Obviously not a prawn cocktail, silly me.

The second course was MAGNIFICENT. Fresh Local Chilli Salt Calamari with Green Paw Paw Salad and Lime, Palm Sugar and Coriander Dressing. Fresh, zingy, and I could have eaten it all night. Bloody fine gear.

Course 3: East Coast Scallops Lightly Poached in Japanese Dashi Stock and Served in a Mushroom, Lemon Butter (winner best dish tas.). The scallop melange was presented on the half shell. One half shell. Touted on the menu as being the winner of “Best Dish Tas.” … Sorry, it was dull and the sauce was far too reminiscent of the sauce drowning the prawns.

Did I tell you the prawns were AIR FREIGHTED? Ok, whatever.

Then came the trevalla. Blue Eye Grilled with Gremolata Crust On Potato Mousseline and Caper Butter. It was a thick fillet pretending to be a chicken breast, only less dry. The fish was sweet and fresh and not overdone, it was crusted in herbs and served on a mash in a bowl with a bit of buttery sauce. If you’ve read my piece on Tasmanian Times ( about Novaro’s in Launceston, you will know how impressed I can be by a good butter sauce. This wasn’t one of those. Just as I was complaining to my companions about the lack of vegetables with the meal so far, along came a little plate of salad. For all four of us to share. We had to request bread to fill us up a bit more.

Desert … Toffed [toffeed?] Almond and Lindt Chocolate Nougatine Parfait with Seasonal Berries. Translation: Ice cream and raspberries (after extra-large, extra-hot coffees at Hudsons with Fantasia, ice cream is my next favourite indulgence). Just beautiful. Loved it, loved it. And am still wishing I could have had seconds. Mainly because I was still hungry.

Major complaint number 1: After $75 I went home feeling hungry … never a good sign.
Major complaint number 2: Diners at another table were hoeing into crayfish. How did they get to have crayfish? We were not given the option – set menu or nothing. As you know, I do have a tendency to sulk over such things.
Major complaint number 3: We weren’t offered coffee. I was hungry, a coffee would have helped fill my wee belly, but no. No coffee for you, you naughty Georgie Weston. Perhaps I’ll accept responsibility for not being assertive, but before I knew it the bill was paid and I was being ushered out the door coffeeless.

Oh well.

Prosser’s on New Year’s Eve was SO much better than the last 80’s retro cuisine experience I’d had there. But crikey they still have a little bit of work to do. The food was good on the whole. The service was efficient and courteous, despite some clumsiness (our table had not been fully set, but I’ll get over it), but not to the standards of Henry Jones for example. I would have appreciated being taken through the night’s menu and suggestions for wines with each dish would have been dandy. The wine list was pretty average and abbreviated (my companions complained that there were too few wines available by the glass), but reasonably priced. A clever option would have been to match wines by the glass to each dish. But who can fault the ambience? No-one. Oh alright, I’ll have a stab at it: We paid $75 for a New Years Eve dinner. Prosser’s is a lovely restaurant ambience-wise, BUT it could have been any night of the year. A little more effort (no need to be chintzy) to acknowledge that we were celebrating the dying embers of 2004 wouldn’t have gone astray.

Despite the stupidly exorbitant price, it’s nice to see that Prosser’s standards have improved since my last sojourn. Even the décor is a touch more modern. I was impressed enough to be keen to return to Prosser’s to try their a la carte menu, but I can’t recommend Prosser’s for a special occasion set menu. Prosser’s New Years Eve On The Beach? Over-priced and under-special by a very long shot.