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Sound the bell. For a town known for its brisk weather, Hobart is one of the hottest places to eat in Australia. It used to be that visitors would hit Garagistes (RIP) and Franklin and tap out. But in the last 12 months a flush of fresh faces have turned a trickle of great dining into a roaring restaurant scene.
Maybe it's the fact that Dark Mofo, MONA's dynamic arts festival, has caused crazy FOMO. For good reason. The winter feast is like going to a gothic church-slash-disco filled with fire, whisky and meat. Even without David Walsh's weird and wonderful influence, there's an energy to Hobart right now unmatched by any other city in Australia.
The oysters are fresh, the whisky smooth and the skies are big. Get down, way down, for a good time.
Start easy at Willing Bros. on Elizabeth Street where you'll find wines with grip, snacks with legs and chat for days. This bare brick and marble wine bar unites interesting Tassie wines with the best of the Loire and is one of the easiest places in Hobart to pull in for a bottle of Radikon, chicken liver parfait and steak frites, sizzled behind the bar on a hot plate that works hard.
For dinner, you want Fico, one of the fresh young punks making Hobart so exciting. The plan was to open in Italy but owner-chefs Federica Andrisani and Oskar Rossi landed a little (a lot) further south for their pared-back bistro slinging contemporary Italo-Japanese dishes on Macquarie Street. Be grateful they did. There's a relaxed vibe to the 35-seater, where dark green walls and big sprays of flowers amount to decor. It's equal parts a party of technique-driven snacks and carbs. A soft cube of kingfish captured in a soy glaze gives way to supple goat's curd tortellini draped in bitter greens. From the squid-as-pasta diaries comes cuttlefish "gnocchi" doing a gingery, lemony dance with fermented Japanese turnips. All this and a pigeon is just $65. Mad, exciting times.
If you've got the energy, get excited for Ettie's which is finally giving Hobart drinkers an alternative to sinking pots in sticky pubs after midnight. Typically I'd tell you to come for lunch. Upstairs is a restaurant doing European bistro classics (quail and lentils, rustic terrines), with a similar forward-thinking wine list (they operate as a bottle-o, too), but the biggest perk is the candlelit piano bar in the sandstone basement. It's open on weekends for live music, cocktails and wines until 1am.
You're going to MONA. It's just Hobart law. No trip is complete without viewing David Walsh's incredible art collection starring the cloaca, a mechanical digestive system, and the Great Wall of Vaginas.
Before you catch the ferry, Vilicia Coffee in Murray Street, is a newish little cafe in the CBD roasting its own beans and doing a tight trade in bagels to go. But Saturday mornings are all about drifting around Salamanca Markets, which take over the waterfront with German sausages, handicrafts and gozleme.
Dining at Mona, meanwhile, has kicked up a notch, with the brand new Pharos wing and its restaurant Faro offering the winning combination of specially-designed installations by light artist James Turrell and some very decent tapas and cocktails. (For a bigger impact, you can book to dine here at night when you'll enter Mona via a separate access point, taking in some audio visual pieces that make for an arresting amuse.)
Hobart's greatest gift might be producing restaurants doing huge things in spaces smaller than a Sydney bedsit. At Templo, Chris Chapple and Matt Breen's backstreet Italian-ish diner, a walk-in table can mean both forks in one bowl of spaghetti. But what a spaghetti, lubricated by local olive oil and tangled with meaty, low-on-funk sardines. Gnocco fritto pillows are dressed with prosciutto or there might be nutty roasted pumpkin crescents cooled by burrata and crisped up by fried leeks. Minimal fuss meets maximum attention to detail here, from cloth hand towels in the bathrooms to a tight, progressive wine list favouring Australia and Italy. It's tiny, but mighty.
Also from the school of tiny greatness comes Dier Makr, a new restaurant-bar hybrid by chef Kobi Ruzicka and Sarah Fitzsimmons operating with little more than a hot plate. It's a stunning space, all dark panels, high ceilings and racks of all-natural wines which you drink in or take away. Behind that bar, Ruzicka is turning out bar snacks and six-course $65 tasting menus with a complexity rating that defies the space. One night it might involve grilled spring bay mussels with a creamy beer sauce and cobs of bread, and squid ribbons bouncing in a mushroom broth of incredible depths.
Then again, if you're having to choose between this and Franklin, where Bar Brose's Analiese Gregory has taken the reins of the industrial kitchen that revolves around a wood-fired oven, Dier Makr is just as appealing as a bar. Bartender Jakob Etzold, last at Melbourne's Everleigh, is slinging king hell cocktails playing with mead and local gins so you can feasibly do both.
It's freezing, but the view from the top of Mount Wellington (called Mount Lamington when it gets covered in snow) is worth getting up early for. Carb up first at Pigeon Whole Bakers, where chef Jay Patey, who used to own Pigeon Hole Cafe, is pumping out the best carbs in town. The bakery fronts Franklin, a sleek little space in white marble and glass where you can watch as the sourdough loaves are kneaded into existence. Get breakfast to go – milk buns stuffed with ham and pickles or a cream cheese and bacon bagel.
For lunch you'll be driving out to the Agrarian Kitchen Eatery & Store at New Norfolk where Rodney Dunn and Severine Demanet, stewards of Tasmania's most bucolic cooking school, have opened a restaurant at the old mental asylum. Chef Ali Currey-Voumard is at the helm of the most calming restaurant in the state. Light floods over an ex-ward that's now light and homewares filled. On plate, you're essentially getting a masterclass in slow food cooking techniques of the world without lifting a finger. Kennibek potatoes become starchy sweet tuck shop scallops with a mustardy tomato kasundi; ruffles of pig's head terrine come with salted cumquat relish of intense depth. At lunch, order the special and you don't even have to make a decision. It might be a joint of their own farm's wessex-saddleback pig, wood-roasted and served with big salads, pickles galore and wild greens turned to funky gratin with fermented turnips and foot-ripe local cheese. Backed by radius-conscious natural wines and cocktails packing house-made ferments by gun bartender Adi Ruiz, it's worth the flight, all on its own.
Agrarian Kitchen Eatery & Store 11 The Avenue, New Norfolk, 03 6262 0011
Dier Makr 123 Collins Street, Hobart, 03 6288 8910
Ettie's 100 Elizabeth Street, Hobart, 03 6231 1165
Fico 151A Macquarie Street, Hobart, 03 6245 3391
Franklin 28-30 Argyle Street, Hobart, 03 6234 3375
MONA 655 Main Road, Berriedale, no phone
Pigeon Whole Bakers 32 Argyle St, Hobart, no phone
Salamanca Markets Salamanca Place, Hobart
Templo 98 Patrick Street, Hobart, 03 6234 7659
Vilicia Coffee 39 Murray Street, Hobart, 03 6231 5688
Willing Bros. 390 Elizabeth Street, North Hobart, 03 6234 3053