When Tasmania announced late last year that it was reopening its borders, the Spirit of Tasmania ferry sold $1 million worth of tickets within 24 hours.
Those lucky travellers were headed straight for Australia's newest heritage-listed culinary destination, Launceston, which was named a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy in mid-November 2021, putting it up there with Alba in Italy, Chengdu in China and, of course, Bendigo.
The northern Tasmanian city has a long history as the nation's breadbasket, says Kim Seagram, a Canadian who moved to Launceston in 1992, setting up the city's best-known restaurant, Stillwater, and founding the Harvest Launceston Community Farmers' Market.
Don't worry if you haven't booked a boat or a flight to the Apple Isle yet. "We produce four-and-a-half times more food than we can consume in this state, so we've got lots to share," Seagram says.
Here are some of the city's freshest hot spots.
In the year before opening his 20-seat laneway bar, Nate Cairns spent every weekend visiting a different Tasmanian producer. Although born in the state, he'd spent the previous decade working front of house from Kuala Lumpur to Texas. Four years in, Cairns is all caught up, which is good news because the "two" in Bar Two stands for "Tasmanian Wine Only". In fact, olives are the only item on the snack menu that aren't hyper-local. Wines, gins and whiskies come from across the state – look for small-batch bottles that don't usually make it past cellar doors.
47A Brisbane Street, Launceston, bartwo.com.au
Slow-cooked Robbins Island wagyu rump, sauerkraut and pepper sauce at Black Cow in Launceston. Photo: Supplied
It would be short-changing Black Cow to label it a steakhouse. Sure, the former butcher shop specialises in dry-aged, grass-fed steaks from the likes of Robbins Island and Cape Grim. But it's the flawless service (overseen by Stillwater co-owner Bianca Welsh and sommelier Ethan Han), and details such as a personalised magazine selections for solo diners, Opinel knives and French bistro vibes that make Black Cow one of Launceston's best restaurants. It also boasts one of the city's best wine lists, where locals such as Stargazer and Apogee mix with the best of Burgundy and beyond.
70 George Street, Launceston, blackcowbistro.com.au
Savoury danish at Bread + Butter, Launceston. Photo: Ness Vanderburgh
Bread + Butter
In 2018, after creating a cultured butter empire, Olivia Morrison decided the next logical step was to open a bakery. The bakery-cafe will move to temporary digs opposite historic Prince's Square later this month while its original site is being redeveloped. The cabinet will be stocked daily with some of Australia's best pastries: walnut croissants (like almond croissants, but with locally grown walnuts), savoury danishes and cakes, along with biscuits and made-to-order sandwiches. Bread + Butter is also the only place you can buy Tasmanian Butter Company's excellent cultured butter, so grab a pat or two to take home.
70 Elizabeth Street, Launceston, breadandbuttertasmania.com.au
Havilah wine bar and bottle shop in Launceston. Photo: Supplied
This cool 30-seat wine bar overlooking Prince's Square doubles as a bottle shop, with a couple of hundred bottles by mostly indie winemakers lining the walls, and exciting by-the-glass options listed on a roll of butcher's paper tacked up behind the bar. British expat chef Max Crawford joined the team in late 2021 after a two-year stint in Toronto. He's working on the short menu of Euro-leaning snacks (sage and anchovy fritters, mortadella pizzetta) and a rotating roster of larger plates.
178 Charles Street, Launceston, havilahwine.com.au
Owner-operators Jonny and Ally McCoy grew up in Launceston. After a lengthy stint overseas, they set up their "Japanese-ish" restaurant, Pachinko, in 2019. "We could see things were happening, and we were excited to hang around and be part of it," Jonny says. The 22-seater, named for Japan's deafeningly loud arcade games, kicked off Launceston's current wave of mod-casual dining. The wine list is stacked with minimal-intervention drops from Australia and natural sakes from Japan, and the menu centres around a tiny ceramic hibachi grill. Jonny chars up whatever he picks up from the butcher on the way to work – think pork scotch marinated in koji or Flinders Island rib-eye.
23 Quadrant Mall, Launceston, pachinko.net.au
Launceston's dedicated craft beer bar has 17 beer taps and more than 150 bottles and cans, which gives plenty of opportunity to showcase Tassie's growing roster of boutique breweries, plus tap takeovers from around the country. The menu features hot sauce-friendly dishes (fried chicken, tacos, burgers) at wallet-friendly prices. There's a meat raffle on Tuesday nights – grab an old-school paper ticket with every drink for a chance to win a tray full of snags, bacon and steaks. Sounds like a good reason for school-night beers to us.
133 St John Street, Launceston, saintjohncraftbeer.com.au
Where to stay
One floor above Stillwater, sharing the same uninterrupted view of the Tamar, is Stillwater Seven – exquisitely appointed rooms serviced with the attention to detail its namesake restaurant is famous for. That could be your favourite whisky in the mini-bar, your favourite magazine on the bedside table, or a private helicopter tour of the region's best wineries with sommelier James Welsh. That'll solve any designated-driver arguments. stillwater.com.au
Launceston's hottest new Airbnb is Wahroonga on Bourke, a stylish studio apartment in a 1901 Federation-style house. Hosts Leeroy and Anthony have hand-picked every detail, from the Alessi kettle and ceramics by Hobart-based artist Lindsey Wherrett in the kitchenette to the heated floors and Lentara Grove shampoo in the bathroom, making this loft the perfect choice for a lazy night in. instagram.com/wahroonga_on_bourke
Have kids? Peppers Silo, four 1960s grain silos imaginatively transformed into a nine-storey hotel, is located just metres from Riverbend Park, an all-abilities playground bursting with swings, diggers and sand pits. If that's not enough to keep the kids distracted, Archie the Silo Dog (an oaf-like black lab) is usually up for a walk. The hotel shoulders the Esk River, which makes for a nice wander into town, and Massimo Mele's Grain of the Silos restaurant is a destination on its own. peppers.com.au/silo/
Nola James was a guest of Stillwater Seven, Black Cow, Peppers Silo and Wahroonga on Bourke.