Hobart, Australia’s smallest state capital, punches above its weight on the food and culture fronts, as a recent visit attests.
By Kendall Hill
Call it the Garagistes Effect. Or the MONA Effect. Either will do. Both are responsible for Hobart’s sudden rush of relevance to Australian and international tourists. Garagistes is the game- changing restaurant that closed in 2015 after five years of showcasing Tasmanian produce and ingenuity. MONA is the Museum of Old and New Art, philanthropist David Walsh’s wild wunderkammer that established the Tasmanian capital as a year-round, must-do cultural destination. Their combined legacy is a fresh confidence in Australia’s southernmost city and an unprecedented boom in restaurant and bar openings.
Visitors will want to make a beeline to Brooke Street Pier, a three- story floating building in Sullivans Cove that’s home to two of the city’s sharpest new addresses. The Glass House (61-4/3724-5540), so named for its glass walls and the crystal cabinets lining its entry, is a cocktail bar and restaurant with a 280-degree panorama, a penchant for Japanese and Scotch whiskies (there’s a whiskey locker for regulars), and an AU$50 cocktail called the Hobartian Sidecar. Upstairs is Aloft (61-3/ 6223-1619), a warm, Asian-accented dining room where the excellent produce can sometimes eclipse the Derwent River views. Expect innovative creations such as red braised lamb and the appetizer-size Water Egg, a savory custard with spanner crab and ginger.
Brooke Street Pier is also where you catch the Mona Roma fast ferry to MONA. While you wait, grab an espresso at Bright Eyes (61-3/6234-1999) and have a wander around Trade, a market space dedicated to local makers and producers.
Don’t get confused between Frank (1 Franklin Wharf; 61-3/6231-5005) and Franklin (30 Argyle St.; 61-3/6234-3375). Frank is an always-lively Latin restaurant that brings South American cuisine and a nightclub vibe to the ground floor of the old Marine Board Building. Start proceedings with a pisco sour, progress to empanadas and octopus, and end with dulce de leche, naturalmente. Franklin, meanwhile, is arguably the city’s top restaurant right now. It’s an austere space of concrete and cowhides within the Art Deco former printing hall of The Mercury newspaper, and the action centers on the open kitchen and its heart-warming Scotch oven. Chef David Moyle’s menu capitalizes on that oven and the island’s bounty to deliver the likes of wood-roasted abalone with seaweed foam and periwinkles presented simply in their shells with aioli and a lemon cheek.
There’s more scope for confusion with Pigeon Whole (24-32 Argyle St.), the downtown bakery, and Pigeon Hole (93 Goulburn St.; 61-3/6236-9306), the West Hobart café. Croissants are the headline act at the former—hence the queues daily at 7:30 a.m. sharp when they emerge hot from the oven—but the cardamom-and-pepper morning buns are worth a visit on their own, as is baker Jay Patey’s crusty, 48-hour fermented sourdough. As for Pigeon Hole, this is not a new place, but it has new owners in Richard and Belinda Weston. They’re the couple behind Weston Farms, provedore to the city’s best restaurants (Franklin and Aloft included) and, now, to their own café. About 90 percent of the produce on the menu—black radish, perhaps, or white asparagus or kohlrabi—is fresh out of the Tasmanian earth.
There are at least 130 compelling reasons to drop into Willing Bros. Wine Merchants (390 Elizabeth St.; 61-3/6234-3053) in North Hobart. That’s the length of the establishment’s wine list, which divides its loyalties between local and overseas labels. There’s an emphasis on the interesting, whether that means organic or orange or even a cult Sailor Seeks Horse pinot noir from the Huon Valley. “We serve whatever’s good,” says co-owner Carl Windsor. His neighborhood wine bar also serves a dozen perfectly pitched, drinks-friendly dishes. Try the smoked duck-breast “bacon”—Windsor makes it himself.
Another standout is The Black-Footed Pig (8 Brooke St.; 61-3/6224-2222), a tapas bar by the folks behind Hobart’s popular Daci & Daci bakery. Opened late last year on the ground floor of a restored 19th-century flour mill, it features such crowd-pleasing raciónes as spiced beef tartare, braised octopus salad, and jamón ibérico alongside memorable desserts like the blood-orange jelly with vanilla-and-Solerno panna cotta. Over at pint-size Templo (98 Patrick St.; 61-3/6234-7659), meanwhile, the mood is Italian, in terms of both the food—housemade gnocchetti, beef carpaccio—and the warmth of the hospitality.
It’s slightly out of the way, but you’d be mad to miss North Hobart’s Little Missy Patisserie (151 Argyle St.; 61-3/6231-8040), where Oonagh Murphy’s ovens toil all day long baking outra-geous sweets like sticky caramel–and-pear mille-feuille and French rhubarb teacake. And when a caffeine fix is in order, join the in-crowd at Pilgrim Coffee (48 Argyle St.; 61-3/6234-1999) for inventive brunches—cocoa waffles with peanut-butter cream, for example—and fantastic flat whites.
This article originally appeared in the June/July print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“A Little Wonder Down Under”).