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!