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.