Friday, 26 September 2008

Hobart Highlights

Before we headed to Hobart a few weeks ago, capital of Tasmania, we were told by friends about it being haunted, cold and small. It was cold and small (population 200,000) but we never got to do the ghost tour because it was cancelled on the cold and quiet night we chose in September.

We did hear whispers of hauntings but to E’s disappointment, no sightings! However as one of the oldest cities in Australia (settled in 1803) and a former convict settlement, Hobart does seem to be a place of history and ghosts. We were even told there might be a ghost in our B&B but we never confirmed it. We stayed in the historic suburb of Battery Point which was conveniently central so we had a view of the harbour from our attic room and a short walk to the city and Salamanca where we spent most time.

Without ghosts bothering us we had a relaxing time strolling around cafes and museums with the occasional harbour cruise, bus tour and botanical gardens walk. E discovered his favourite music shop ever (Music without Frontiers) in Collins Street in the City. But you want to know about the food, right? Beforehand I checked out posts reflecting on AOF and Cindy and Michael’s recent visits. So I appreciated their recommendations for Jackman and McRoss, Sirens, and Machine. Our favourite discovery was Tricycle Café & Bar.

The first thing we had to check out was the famous Salamanca Market on Saturday morning. It does take some time to browse its long row of stalls selling handcrafts, knits, books, CDs, souvenirs, bric-a-brac, produce, fudge and jam etc etc. We left with some fine goodies including fortified raspberry wine, fudge, chilli jam, nougat and bread. (NB We saw many of the goods from the market in stores during our next few days in Hobart.)

It took long enough that we needed a few nourishing breaks. My favourite find at the market may well have been the Olliebollen. Just the name is lots of fun. They are dutch donuts with raisins (and no holes) which were delicious freshly fried and tossed in cinnamon sugar. I also couldn’t resist a little tub of fresh strawberries. But for lunch I was persuaded to try the eggplant kebabs at the award winning Taste of Persia. They were surprisingly superb. The eggplant is cut up small, cooked and tossed in a rich gravy. It is served in pita bread with hummus, lettuce and tomato. Highly recommended.

Although Cromwell Cottage B&B served a cooked breakfast each morning (see dining room photo at the bottom of the post) we took the opportunity to sleep in and go out for brunch on a few mornings. Of course we had to sample the wares at the Hobart institution, Jackman and McRoss (57-59 Hampden Rd, Battery Point, 03 6223 3186) and headed there one morning. I had a tasty risotto cake with eggplant, red capsicum and spinach on top. E enjoyed his pie but was black affronted by the staff when he asked for the name of the CD and was told that it was in a locked office and they didn’t have time to check it. Attitude was not a highlight but I loved the cheese berry tart that we shared. The pairing of smooth cream cheese filling and tart berries was sublime. I would return just for the sweet treats.

But I was taken aback when I asked for some toast with it. I was told they didn’t serve toast, only bread rolls. It seemed odd that we couldn’t sample the bread at a bakery café but many other cafes in Hobart seemed to serve their bread. Having said this, the rye bread roll was warm and soft inside and very pleasing. We even brought a bread roll to snack on in our room with excellent Bruny Island C2 cheese from the Wursthaus deli but unfortunately we only had a teaspoon to chop with - not conducive to slicing up a loaf of bread.

We thought that the Shipwrights Arms (29 Trumpeter Street, Battery Point , 03 6223 5551) was the pub some friends had recommend so we headed there for dinner one night. Unfortunately we didn’t get a seat in the older part of the pub. Maybe they spotted me as a vegetarian. The website boldly claims No Pokies, No TAB, No Tofu, No Keno, No Pool Table, No Live Music, No Bok Choy!!! So it wasn’t that surprising that there was no vegetarian dish on the menu but luckily the soup was vegetarian that day so I was saved from chips and salad. Upon checking the website later I found that I was unlucky we went on Sunday night as the menu on other nights seems to have a few vegetarian dishes.

I forgave these quirks because the soup I had was a wonderfully fresh tasting tomato and vegetable soup with a few noodles. I paired it with a focaccia with pesto and cheese which was so rich that I couldn’t finish it. My favourite thing about the Shipwrights Arms was the chaise lounge in the door which seemed just right to lie on and groan after a large meal. I think every restaurant should have one!

Another morning that we ventured out for brunch, E was keen to try Machine (12 Salamanca Square, Salamanca, 03 6224 9922). It is a funky laundrette-cum-café with washing machines in a little separate partition. The main area is the café which is decorated with bright blue and orange vinyl. The menu is vegetarian-friendly menu so I felt spoilt for choice.

I chose the parmesan, caramelised onion and spinach pancakes with tomato pickle oil and had a side serve of mushrooms. The pancakes were substantial and delicious. But the mushrooms were some of the best cooked ever with a salty crisp fried caps. If I could cook mushrooms like this I would eat them on toast 7 days a week! E was similarly delighted with his machine packed roti bread with scrambled eggs and chilli jam. He had a side of sausages but both of us felt our side serves were unnecessary because the portions were very generous.

On our last night we finally had dinner at the vegetarian restaurant, Sirens (6 Victoria Street, Hobart, 03 6234 2634), which I had been eager to visit since reading Cindy’s rave reviews. She was not exaggerating. The restaurant is divided into wholesome and decadent sections by beaded Moorish arches. Pine tables and chairs with potted plants are on one side and soft maroon chairs and drapes on the other. The menu was full of fascinating dishes.

We started by sharing a starter of fried haloumi with lemon. For the main, E had the sautéed smoked tofu with spicy cashew, coriander and lemon myrtle pesto and broccolini. I chose the saimono (broth) with taro and mushroom dumplings, marinated wakame, black and white rice balls, pickled walnuts, daikon, and dengaku tofu. When our orders arrived I was a little jealous of E’s pile of green broccolini and artfully arranged slabs of tofu. I thought maybe he would baulk at the bed of bean sprouts but his sauce was so tasty he happily lapped them up. Mine was arrayed like a tasting plate of small nibbles. It was full of intriguingly unusual tastes which I enjoyed immensely but it lacked vegetables and colour.

I wasn’t too concerned, however that my meal didn’t leave me stuffed to the gills as I had been intrigued by a dessert which I think I remembered Cindy swooning over. It was a vegan dark chocolate mousse cake with an orange and rose geranium sauce. I actually thought it more like a tart with a nutty base but it was indeed worthy of superlatives. The mousse was light and melting but not to rich. I usually avoid mousses because I am not keen on eggs but this was something I can’t wait to try making. I checked with the staff who told me it was made with tofu. E chose a vegan shortbread with rose scented cream. It was more cakey than short but he enjoyed it. I was happy to have a little help with the splendid mousse. Sirens was surely one of the gems of Hobart and we were very glad to have sampled its food and ambience.

It was on our final day that E made a fine discovery in one of the Salamanca alleyways - Tricycle Café & Bar (Salamanca Arts Centre, 77 Salamanca Place, Salamanca, (03) 6223 7228). The counter is a cosy red area with a few tables and chairs plus an interesting clutter of tricycles, mirrors, photos and shelves of vinyl records. The ‘foyer’ area of the arcade where we sat is blindingly light in comparison with large arty chandeliers and a piano. Quirky.

The staff were accommodating when I asked for a different sandwich filling to the menu. E chose the chilli beans with avocado while I had a vintage cheese, spinach, onion jam and avocado sandwich. What was fantastic about the meal was the superb sourdough bread. I would go as far as to say it was the best bread we encountered in Hobart. We also shared a piece of parsnip cake which was lovely but I would have preferred a cream cheese icing rather than butter icing. E was delighted with the icing so I guess you can’t please everyone.

As this post is already long enough, I will just briefly mention a few other places where we dined. Da Angelo Italian restaurant in Hampden Road, Battery Point had a standard Italian pasta and pizza menu but the food and serves was excellent. I loved my falafel at Zest, the cafe at the State Library of Tasmania, after being fascinated by the display of history rooms at the library. Ecohaven was a relaxed retreat in the city and provided a friendly quick bite. I mention the Botanic Gardens restaurant not because the food was good or bad but because it seemed inappropriate to have a proper restaurant as the only indoor option – most displeasing on a cold day when we just wanted a quick snack. And I had a rather nice pumpkin gnocchi at the Woolstore.Hotel in the city.

All in all, the finest experiences in Hobart were probably found in the cafes and restaurants. A perfect place for lazy days filled with good food.

Update July 2011 - I have heard the sad news that Sirens has closed!  What a shame!

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for the peek into your getaway. Sounds and looks lovely!
    Ah...the food:)

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  2. The foods all look and sound worth the trip. Love it when a change doesn't confuse a server or chef!

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  3. Wow--I'm overwhelmed by that amazing buffet of restaurants! Everything you mentioned sounds so delicious--and makes Hobart seem like a huge, booming city, with all those choices!

    I love the idea of those spinach pancakes and the parsnip cake. That's it--now I have to make a parsnip cake! The meal at Sirens also sounded superb.

    I'm amazed that you're able to recall all those details of so many meals--I can imagine myself taking notes at the restaurant table! Glad the trip yielded so many wonderful dishes.

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  4. So what do you think... is the place haunted???

    Gorgeous pics by the way.

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  5. It sounds as though you had an amazing time with some very tasty eating! The veggie cafe sounds really good and I'm glad you found a mousse which sidesteps the eggs. By the way, did you go for the wholesome or the decadent side of the restaurant?!

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  6. Looks like you were well fed during your entire stay in Hobart! I'm very pleased that Sirens stood up to my gushing - I've actually been thinking about chocolate-tofu mousse recently as well.

    Tricycle looks particularly cute - I will file that one away in case I return to Hobart.

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  7. Thanks Deb - happy for you to join me in armchair (deskchair?) travel

    thanks Tanna - being vegetarian means that sometimes I need to be a little creative with a menu and it is always lovely when it is no problem at all

    thanks Ricki - parsnip cake is on my to-do list - actually I have sort of had a go already (coming soon) but yes Hobart does well with its food for a small city (and I did take some notes though often after I left as I get a little self-conscious in a cafe)

    thanks Happy Vegetarian - it does feel like the sort of place to be haunted - especially because it was pretty quiet on the dark streets

    thanks Lysy - yes lots of good food - and at Sirens we were on the decadent side - which was where we were sat (obedient as ever) but I was glad to have the nice soft chairs except we bumped our knees under the low tables :-)

    thanks Cindy - most grateful for the Sirens recommendation - never would have heard of it otherwise as I never saw it advertised anywhere - must be a local treasure! I think that vegan chocolate mousse is looking good for summer :-)

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  8. Hi,
    Our holiday house in Middleton is available for "holiday lets" and I thought I should visit Hobart and find the latest foody places and I came across this blog. Tells the whole story and not sure how you manged to review so many places in such a short time. You must have quite an apetite. Woops, you said you were vegetarian so maybe you just tasted. The food all looks delicious and I will recommend your blog to my guests. You can look us up at www.wavestation.com.a on Twiiter at wavestationtas and My blooger blog on Visitwavestation.com Wendy

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