Tasmania’s native bounty—bruny island oysters; sea lettuce straight from the shore—makes this southern Australian state the next great getaway for food-obsessed travelers.

By Jay Cheshes
April 04, 2012
Credit: Earl Carter

Australia’s southernmost state, known for its wild beauty, has long been a supplier of some of the country’s finest ingredients harvested from land and sea. But recently, the remote and rugged island has become a playground for young, food-mad chefs hailing from Sydney and Melbourne who are striving to keep the remarkable bounty closer to home by heading up restaurants, cafés, and pubs centered around its capital, Hobart. The result? This rough-around-the- edges city with a real pioneer vibe is suddenly brimming with good things to eat.

The Cultural Table

While the year-old subterranean Museum of Old & New Art—set in an industrial suburb—may be the big news around Hobart these days, chef Philippe Leban’s glass-wrapped pavilion restaurant upstairs has made plenty of headlines of its own. Leban, Brittany-born and Sydney-raised, left behind the brasserie Hamilton House in cosmopolitan Shanghai to open the Source Restaurant, where he creates the region’s most refined dishes. Views across the Derwent River provide the backdrop for Leban’s takes on local ingredients, such as tender and pink roast rabbit or miniature oysters from Adams Bay, served with picked spanner crab meat and Pedro Ximénez sherry gelée. Leban also grows his own herbs and lettuce (and soon, he hopes, fruit) in the restaurant’s garden. 655 Main Rd., Berriedale; 61-3/6277-9904; dinner for two $160.

T+L Tip: Before leaving, pick up a few bottles of Moorilla wine, made on site by young Canadian vintner Conor van der Reest. The winery, Tasmania’s oldest, now produces dynamic cuvées, with art-themed labels on every bottle.

The Suburban Lunch Spot

Thirty minutes down the coast from Hobart is a gastro-temple of soaring metal and glass called the Stackings at Peppermint Bay, where up-and-coming chef David Moyle—a recent arrival from Byron Bay’s Beach Hotel—enthusiastically embraces today’s foraging zeitgeist. His three- and five-course lunch menus are improvised daily, highlighting whatever is at its absolute peak. A meal might incorporate sea lettuce that Moyle himself plucked from the shoreline and wild garlic gathered from the side of the road. There’s pigeon—roasted whole on the bone—from one neighbor and tart Kentish Red cherries from the trees of another. 3435 Channel Hwy., Woodbridge; 61-3/6267-4088; lunch for two $140.

T+L Tip: Don’t bother renting a car. The restaurant can pick up guests in Hobart in a 75-foot catamaran, which gets you to Peppermint Bay in 50 minutes, in time for lunch.

The Urban Wine Bar

In an airy loft space with exposed beams and scuffed brick, a kitchen brigade in black T-shirts works behind a long dining bar. Looking around, you could be in New York or London—but Garagistes is pushing the envelope here in Hobart, which might explain why it’s been so steadily packed since its opening almost two years ago. A haunch of ham and other artisanal salumi hang in a showcase cooler; the international list of all-natural wines touts “wild reds” and “opulent whites”; and the modern wooden furniture is handmade by area craftsmen.

Chef Luke Burgess, a former food and travel photographer, prepares complex—and obsessively local—small plates. The miniature carrots, served skin-on with saffron cream and wild olives, are in the ground just hours before they show up on your plate. And the house-cured Wagyu brisket—which melts on the tongue—comes from cattle grass-fed on a small island off northwestern Tassie. “It’s not revolutionary. Chez Panisse did this stuff forty years ago,” Burgess says, a bit too modestly. But did they do it in a converted Volkswagen garage? 103 Murray St., Hobart; 61-3/6231-0558; dinner for two $118.

T+L Tip: If you can’t snag a seat, wait it out at Sidecar, a cozy annex bar that Burgess and his partners opened to help ease the nightly bottleneck at Garagistes.

The Gastropub

Klaa Clements was just 25 when he came back from a cooking stint in Melbourne and took charge of the kitchen at New Sydney Hotel. “He’d been drinking here since he was 18,” says Alistair Derham, the former barkeep who bought the working-class pub—which dates back to 1835—a few years ago. Today, the place is still crowded with regulars nursing pints of Guinness, but across from the beer signs and dinged license plates, a blackboard reveals a 21st-century menu. There’s Spanish-style blood sausage with red-onion aioli, crisp goat shoulder with chickpeas, pumpkin, and watercress, and lamb breast with almonds and mint. Sometimes you’ll find local game (opossum and wallaby) and, in winter, bowls of risotto with shaved Tasmanian truffles. 87 Bathurst St., Hobart; 61-3/6234-4516; dinner for two $90.

T+L Tip: Try one of the infused beers, such as the spiced porter with ginger and chiles. They’re made with the region’s first “hopinator,” an oddball brewing contraption.

The Sweet Shop

If there’s one vexing problem with Alistair Wise’s diminutive spot, Sweet Envy, it’s the “What do I order?” paralysis it inspires as you walk in the door. Before you can decide between the salted caramels, French nougat, chocolate bonbons, and tuiles, a young salesgirl may dare you to take the “cupcake challenge,” eyeing one of the peanut-butter-frosted and jelly-filled monsters. It’s free if you devour it in 60 seconds or less.

“This is so much more fun than fine dining,” says Wise, a Tasmanian native—and former pastry chef at Gordon Ramsay at the London, in New York—who returned home to raise a family (his three-year-old, Matilda, has the run of the store). He uses fresh fruit to concoct Willy Wonka–esque sorbet and ice cream flavors such as Guinness with blackberry and white beer with peach. 341 Elizabeth St., North Hobart; 61-3/6234-8805; dessert for two $32.

T+L Tip: Keep an eye out for Wise’s soon-to-launch ice cream truck, a 1964 Commer Karrier he restored himself.

The Commissary

If there’s a poster boy for Tasmania’s new food pilgrims, Matthew Evans is certainly it. In 2005, he retired from his position as a restaurant critic for the Sydney Morning Herald and moved to Tasmania, determined to learn farming. His Green Acres–styleexperiment, chronicled in books and on the Australian reality show Gourmet Farmer, gave rise last year to Evans’s tiny shop A Common Ground, near Hobart’s waterfront. Every square inch of shelf and floor space is devoted to made-in-Tasmania products—pickled walnuts, bespoke chocolate bars, truffled honey, and even local saffron and olive oil. Handmade sausages and rillettes (some from pigs Evans reared himself) sit alongside cheeses from Bruny Island Cheese Company, which is owned by Nick Haddow, a friend and partner in the store. Sample the Raw Milk C2, an intense variety of cheese that store manager Sheona McLetchie describes as a “French mountain cheese that made mad love to a cheddar.” Shop 3, Salamanca Arts Centre, 77 Salamanca Place, Hobart; 61-4/2937-0192; picnic provisions for two $108.

T+L Tip: The shop hosts long-table lunches in the countryside (from a paddock to a potato field), where diners are often joined by the very farmers who grew their food.

The All-Day Café

Breakfast at this adorable bolt-hole—stuffed with flea-market furniture, fresh-baked bread, and pristine produce—means crusty sourdough, baked eggs with jamón serrano, fresh spinach, and soused onions, and a macchiato as expertly made as any in Rome. Although set on a quiet residential stretch in West Hobart, Pigeon Hole Café attracts a young, rakish crowd, who spend long hours here lost in thick books and laptops, fueled on caffeine and sweet treats.

Jay Patey, a young transplant from Queens-land who founded the café with the barista Emma Choraziak, pops out of the tiny kitchen to examine a neighbor’s stash of fruit—peaches, lemons, and plums—which he might turn into jam or filling for the impossibly flaky crostate. 93 Goulburn St., West Hobart; 61-3/6236-9306; breakfast for two $32.

T+L Tip: Patey’s famous hazelnut meringues are only available on Saturdays. Arrive early—they sell out fast.

Jay Cheshes is a New York–based food writer.