Once you set your foot in Tasmania, it is very likely that you will never want to leave this gorgeous little island for many reasons. Whether it’s the scenery, the food (it’s always about the food for me), or the people, this humble island doesn’t seem to be short of reasons to stay. Wherever you go is always picture perfect, locals will welcome you with a smile, and your tummy will always be full and contented. Even though I had a great time checking out the Festivale in Launceston, enjoying the food and wine that Tasmania has to offer, it was simply not quite the same as taking myself on a road trip, visiting the farm gate, mingling with the locals and getting behind the scenery.
And I did exactly that.
This time I also travelled with a film crew to capture all the actions on the road trip. I know I keep saying how awesome Tasmania is, but don’t my word for it, check out the video and see for yourself.
Red Feather Inn – Hadspen
Most people who visit Launceston would never realised that some of the best hidden gems around this area are actually only a short drive away. Before leaving Launceston, we were very lucky to spend a night at Red Feather Inn in Hadspen, just a short 13 minutes drive from the city. The Red Feather is a luxury retreat nestled in a small sleepy historic town with a population of around 2,000. It is rich in history at every corner. Each sandstone building was designed by colonial Georgian architect John Sprunt and built with convict labour circa 1842. Once a coaching inn, proprietor Lydia Nettlefold has transformed this charming place into an oasis where luxury, history and food combined harmoniously.
The Red Feather is a lot more than just accommodation, it is also a popular wedding venue where the beautiful garden is perfect for ceremonies and the horse stables have also been converted into gorgeous function rooms for receptions. Lydia mentioned that she will only take 20 weddings a year at the Red Feather and no doubt the calendar is already almost fully booked. She can only fit a certain number of weddings here at the retreat simply because not only is she busy with the accommodation bookings but there is also a cooking school she has to look after.
I had kitchen envy as soon as I stepped inside the cooking school space. The spacious room is equipped with a commercial kitchen, old cookbooks and crockery stacked high on the shelves; you simply feel like putting the apron on and cooking up a storm. Lydia said that many of her guests don’t just always come here to relax; they want to do something and the cooking class works like a charm.
Something you should know about Lydia is that this former Cordon Bleu chef was trained in France and has been running cooking classes since the 1980s! She is also no stranger to the Sydney food scene and used to run a reputable restaurant called Miss Betty’s in Paddington with her husband back in the ’90s. You can take the girl out of Tasmania, but you can’t take the Tasmania out of the girl; Lydia eventually moved back to Tasmania in the early 2000s and Red Feather Inn was born.
There are 5 inn rooms and suites in total and 2 cottages. All are uniquely decorated with a touch of French Provincial. We felt rather spoiled in our Watchhouse Cottage, which was the originally the Georgian officers’ quarters to watch over the historic jail house where they kept the convicts. I told you this place is full of history.
The Red Feather Inn restaurant is petite and personal, with only four tables inside the tiny, cosy space, which was once the servants’ quarter and main kitchen where they would prepared the meals at the fireplace. The restaurant is only open to houseguests during weeknights but is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays. There is no fixed menu per se, chefs Felicity and Lewis will design a “plat du jour” (literally means plate of the day in French) menu each day based on the freshest ingredients that they have sourced locally and also whatever is growing in their kitchen garden.
All guests were welcomed to the restaurant with a glass of Tasmanian cool climate sparkling riesling and a small plate of flatbread and spiced butternut squash dip to open up our appetites.
The menu offers two choices each for entree, main and dessert. I had the ham hock, rabbit and quail terrine for starter. The sweet meat was studded with pistachio and served with homemade spicy chutney that really elevated the sweetness of the pork and rabbit. Between lamb and salmon, I went for the Wild Clover lamb rump for main. The lamb was perfectly cooked, the blushing pink meat was juicy and tender; served on a bed of quinoa, capsicum and zucchini salad with a feisty Romesco sauce on the side. The dessert was a simple choice between house made ice cream or a cheese platter; my inner cheesy-instinct went for the latter one. It was the right choice and I was presented with five different varieties of Elgaar cheeses, from ash goat cheese and swiss to aged cheddar and meadow cheese; a nice way to finish off the night.Red Feather Inn 42 Main St, Hadspen TAS 7290 Phone:(03) 6393 6506
Holm Oak Vineyards – Tamar Valley
We set off and headed north to Tamar Valley the very next morning. Tamar Valley has always been one of the regions in Tasmania that I was dying to explore. With fresh spring waters of the North and South Esk Rivers flowing through the valley, the Tamar is filled with picturesque orchards, forests and fertile pastures. And with its cool climate, Tamar Valley provides the perfect conditions for high-yielding vineyards, renowned for producing wine like chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris and sparkling. There are over 30 wineries within driving distance of each other in the valley, sadly we only had enough time to visit one vineyard and made it Holm Oak Vineyards.
Rated a 5 star winery by James Halliday, Holm Oak is one of the older vineyards here in Tasmania. It was planted in 1983 which means some of the vines here are 30 years old. Everything here at Holm Oak is produced on site, from the planting of the vines, and making of the wine to the bottling. For husband and wife team, Rebecca Duffy, the winemaker and Tim Duffy, the viticulturist, it is a labour of love as they only produce enough high quality wine to sell within Tasmania and supply to a few restaurants on the mainland.
They might be a small Tasmanian producer, but there are a total of nine varieties in their wine range. Pinot noir takes up about 40% of their planting, which is also one of the best wines they produce here at Holm Oak, receiving 92 points from James Halliday’s wine guide for their 2011 Pinot Noir, and 94 points for the 2010 “The Wizard” Pinot Noir.
A trip to Holm Oak vineyard will never be complete without saying hi to the four-legged friends. “Pinot” the pig who thought he was a dog, is rather famous as he was the only pig featured in the Wine Dogs Australia book. Visitors are welcome to give Pinot an apple and if you are lucky, you might be able to get him to “sit”. Then there is Bella, a friendly chocolate labrador who always likes a scratch on the belly. These two adorable animals even have their own wine label, the Pig & d’ Pooch Moscato is actually a very refreshing premium sweet wine that won a Gold Medal at the Australian Small Winemakers Show.Holm Oak Vineyards 11 West Bay Road (Highway C724) Rowella, Tasmania 7270 P: 03 6394 7577 Opening hours: The cellar door is open 7 days a week September to May, 11am – 5pm June – August, 11am – 4pm
Hillwood Berry Farm – Tamar Valley
Next, we stopped for strawberries. Still within the Tamar Valley, we found ourselves at the Hillwood Berry Farm. As soon as we pulled in at the visitor carpark and stepped outside of the car, we could immediately smell the sweet scent in the air like strawberry Chapstick.
You know how disappointing it can be when you buy a punnet of strawberries at the supermarket only to find them sour and half mouldy at the bottom? Well, you don’t need to worry about that here at Hillwood Berry Farm because you get to choose and pick the freshest, biggest and sweetest strawberries off the ground yourself!
Visitors can roam free in the 40-acre property and pick their own sweet success of strawberries, raspberries, loganberries, blackberries and currants, depending on the season. It was late February when we were there, so most of the loganberries and red currants were close to the end of season and looking sad, raspberries season was long gone, but strawberries were bountiful still.
Husband and wife, Stacy and Simon File took over The Hillwood Berry Farm in December 2010 and have been constantly improving the business since. Now there is a cafe that offers a huge variety of devilishly delightful desserts, where you can also pick up a few products made from the fruit picked from the farm of course.
However, after running the farm for over 4 years while juggling 3 kids under five, they have decided to pack up the family in a caravan and go on a road trip around Australia. Now the berry farm is on the market and ready for a new owner. Ever thought about a tree change and move to Tasmania?Hillwood Berry Farm 105 Hillwood Rd, Hillwood TAS 7252
p. 03 6394 8180 Opening hours: Late October-Feb – Open 7 days 9am-5pm
March – Open Wednesday – Sunday 10am-5pm
April- September- **Group Bookings and Private Function bookings only
Henry Jones Art Hotel – Hobart
After a two and a half hours drive later, we finally arrived in Hobart and quickly checked ourselves into Henry Jones Art Hotel. Located on Hobart’s waterfront, the Henry Jones Art Hotel is Australia’s first dedicated art hotel, with over 300 artworks on display throughout the whole building. This significant site was once the IXL jam factory back in 1861. It has now been transformed into an enthralling first class hotel with 56 rooms and suites all uniquely designed and furnished.
The service at this award-winning hotel was impeccable; a minor mistake of giving us the wrong room was rectified almost immediately by offering us an extra room to accommodate the three of us.
My deluxe spa harbour view room is truly a work of art, original contemporary artwork and modern furniture blended in harmoniously with the historic thick sandstone walls and timber trusses, columns and beams. The spacious bathroom is equipped with a large Kohler elliptical spa. But most importantly, complimentary Wi-Fi was simply the icing on the cake. Other hotels, take note!
We quickly dropped off our bags in our rooms and headed straight to the restaurant where a table had been reserved for us that evening.
At the far end of the lobby past the reception is the Henry’s Harbourside restaurant. Henry’s is the signature restaurant for the hotel, headed by executive chef Andre Kropp from South Africa. He has designed two menus that offer classic signature dishes and also contemporary modern evolutions both showcasing local produce. I was so excited that freshly baked house bread was offered to us together with burnt butter that spread like caramel. The crimson red beet cured salmon wrapped around pickled radish was a great amuse-bouche to give a glimpse of what to expect that evening.
We shared a platter of local oysters prepared in three ways. One of us who was not so into oysters managed to scoff down two oysters gratinated with bacon and liked them; but I was happily enjoying the rest of the oysters au naturel with a squeeze of lemon. Nothing beats the fresh taste of the sea.
We deliberately ordered different dishes from the menu (as you do) so that we got to sample as many dishes as possible. For entree, the quail was done two ways with succulent roasted breast and leg croustillant wrapped in crispy noodle; served with burnt onion sauce, candied walnut and caramelised cauliflower puree that was silky smooth. My steamed St Helens clams and Spring Bay mussels simply couldn’t get any fresher; coated in a luscious smoked hay butter sauce and lemon oil, and served with charred kale that added some crunch. The best entree dish was definitely the pork cheek. The little chunk of pork cheek was fork-tender, served with refreshing ginger tapioca pearls, cucumber and radish salad, whilst the ponzu dressing cut through the richness.
You simply can’t come to Tasmania without trying the Cape Grim grass fed beef. Despite my order request for medium-rare, mine was more of a medium when served, the beef was still superbly tender, and accompanied by the classic combo of salad green and crispy hand-cut chips. The Cape Grim short rib was the smallest portion among the three, a single 18-hour slow cooked short rib was fall-off-the-bone tender, served with smooth potato mash. Cheese and onion crumbs added texture whilst green peas offered some green relief from the heavy meat dish. But our favourite was the duck dish, it consisted of crown roasted duck breast that was perfectly cooked and not dry, a clump of confit leg meat with the most intense rich jus that was simply out of this world, all rounded up nicely with a mix of roasted, pureed and sou-vide beetroots, goat’s cheese, and puffed amaranth.
We were offered a palate cleanser of caramelised pineapple with coconut snow before dessert. The modern presentation of the old classic desserts were simply stunning. The creme brûlée got a makeover, the creamy vanilla custard is topped with blueberry gin and lime, pine nut and malt butter shortbread, then covered with a pink blanket of strawberry foam. My pistachio ice cream was possibly the best among them all; served inside a glass with apple compote, candied pistachio, crunchy meringue, mulled wine jelly and apple snow granita. The only let down was the apricot pannacott. A wedge of local apricot was poached then caramelised, served on a bed of pannacotta that was unfortunately not set. The simple vanilla pannacotta was enhanced by the rich flavours of rice pudding and apricot gel, and also the scoop of apricot sorbet.
Nevertheless we polished them all off and called it a night. By the time we finished our meal, we were well exhausted and ready for bed as it had been a long day.Henry’s Restaurant 25 Hunter St, Hobart TAS 7000 (inside Henry Jones Art Hotel) P: (03) 6210 7700 Opening hours: Open daily for breakfast from 7am and dinner from 6pm.
We finally got a glimpse of Hobart the next morning. As much as I would have liked to stay here a little longer to check out the food scene and maybe spend some time at MONA, it wasn’t to be this time. However, we still managed to squeeze in a quick breakfast at Machine Laundry Cafe before we hit the road again.
Machine Laundry Cafe
Combining a laundromat with a cafe is one of the coolest concepts ever. I am sure the yanks have been doing it for years, but my first experience of a similar concept was actually in Cape Town, South Africa. So it was nice to see Hobart has also caught on with such a cool idea.
Machine Laundry Cafe sits right at the far corner in Salamanca Square. You simply can’t miss it with its neon signage and the colourful psychedelic plastic chairs. Just follow the deep humming sound of the tumbling washing machines and you will be rewarded with a hearty breakfast and aromatic coffee.
The menu was extensive and playful, and it was a nice change to see that “big breakfast” wasn’t listed on the menu. The word ‘roti’ immediately caught this Malaysian’s attention. It came out like a fat parcel. The machine packed roti bread was filled with herbed scrambled egg and served with chilli jam and was a satisfying breakfast to kick start the day.
I opted for the Old New Egg Dish, simple scrambled egg with feta on top of sourdough with beet relish, and with extra chorizo. The portion was huge, the egg was fluffy, the chorizo was surprisingly spicy, and I struggled to finish it even though I tried. I got tipped off on instagram that I should try their peanut butter hotcakes, but that will have to wait till my next visit to Hobart.
We hit the road once again and this time we would be driving south to look for something that is truly unique to Tasmania.Machine Laundry Cafe
12 Salamanca Square, Battery Point TAS 7004 Phone:(03) 6224 9922 opening hours: Daily, breakfast and lunch Laundry opens from 7.30am – 5am
Fleurtys Cafe and Diemen Pepper – Birchs Bay
After a cruisy 40 minutes from Hobart, we finally reached Fleurty Cafe in the scenic Birchs Bay. Here we met up with Chris Read and chatted about what he is doing that is uniquely special to Tasmania. We were talking about pepper, not just any pepper, but native Tasmanian pepper berry.
Chris set up Diemen Pepper here in Birchs Bay and started cultivating this native plant. Believed to only be found in Tasmania, these native pepper berries were used as bush food and ‘native medicines’ by indigenous peoples during the 19th century. This lovely rainforest shrub can grow up to 5 metres tall and can be found from sea level to the mountain tops in Tasmania, but a similar variety can also be found in South Australia.
Both the leaves and berries from the tree can be used as natural spices in cooking. The leaves are gathered by hand, dried then ground into powder form, which then can be used as seasoning to coat game meat or fish. The berries are sustainably harvested from March until late May on the Diemen Pepper property, but since they grow everywhere around Tasmania, many of the locals will forage the berries in the wild and then deliver them to Chris to process. Apart from native pepper berries, Chris also cultivates Dutch Iris at the farm. Visitors are encouraged to have a stroll around the farm and the sculpture art trail to work up an appetite. It is truly a paddock to plate experience.
And I bet you’re wondering what they taste like – it is nothing like your normal black pepper. I was warned by Chris to be careful as soon as I popped a couple of the dried berries in my mouth. I felt a slow burning sensation, then my mouth started tingling and went numb like chewing on Sichuan peppercorn. Seriously, my tastebuds went haywire and I couldn’t taste food properly for the next few hours.
Good thing I tried it so you don’t have to, and the pepper berry was a lot more palatable when it was used properly in the lunch prepared for us at the cafe.
Here at Fleurtys Cafe, you can indulge in a gourmet lunch prepared with the freshest ingredients picked from the farm directly below the cafe, and of course see how native pepper berries can be used in food. Our salmon fillet crumbed with pistachio and pepper berry was sensational; the pepper wasn’t too spicy but definitely added a heat profile to the dish without overpowering or making you want to reach for the water. We also got to try the homemade pepper berry ice cream made and it was surprisingly good; it wasn’t hot at all but a lovely mild blackberry flavour.
As my tongue was still numb, we set off to our final destination which was just up the road from Fleurtys Cafe, in the hope of tasting some cheeses to help to soothe my palate. Well, any excuse for some tasty cheese, really.Fleutys Cafe 3866 Channel Highway Birchs Bay Tasmania
P: 03 62674078 Opening hours: Thur – Sun, 11am – 4pm
You have had cow cheese and you have had goat cheese, but have you ever tasted sheep cheese? I don’t blame you if you haven’t because they are scarce with only about six sheep dairies in Australia, and the only one in Tasmania is Grandvewe Cheeses. A perfect name for a perfect spot, Grandvewe Cheeses sits right on top of the hill overlooking the crystal clear water of Great Bay. The sheep in the paddock seem relaxed and chilled, which is reflected in the quality of the cheeses here at Grandvewe.
Grandvewe Cheeses is a family run business producing some of the best award-winning sheep cheeses in Australia. It is a small business that makes a small quantity of cheeses, not only because cheese making is labour intensive, but also because it takes about thirty-five sheep to produce the same amount of milk from one cow. Good thing is, it allows Grandvewe to control the quality of their craft and it has paid off, business taking home Champion Cheese of the Show title at Sydney Royal Easter Show in 2012.
Grandvewe Cheeses make about 11 varieties of sheep cheeses, and today we got to try three of their best. The first one I tried was the Birch Bay Blonde, which is similar to a Camembert, a soft cheese that is extremely creamy on the inside. The cheese can be eaten at various steps of maturation from 2 to 5 weeks, it will continue to mature as the robust taste increases gradually. Then we tried a traditional Manchego style called Primavera. Only use spring milk is used to make this cheese in order to achieve a smooth buttery flavour with a creamy finish on the palate. And the last cheese was the one I was most looking forward to trying, the Sapphire Blue. It is their signature cheese, a sheep blue cheese ripened in caves, with Roquefort’s marbled blue veins running through it. The cheese was soft yet crumbly. It had a distinctive flavour of ewe’s milk with a hint of sea-salty flavour. This award-winning cheese was truly remarkable and unique.Grandvewe Cheeses 59 Devlyns Rd, Birchs Bay TAS 7162 Phone: (03) 62674099 opening hours: 10am – 5pm (sept – may) 1oam – 4pm (june – aug) Milking demonstrations daily from 3pm (oct – mar)
Sadly, our time in Tasmania had finally come to an end. We packed up our car and headed back to the airport. Despite our road trip in Tasmania being short but sweet, I was fulfilled and satisfied as I hopped on to the plane, clutching a carry-on bag stuffed with wine, cheese and pepper, bringing home a little piece of Tasmania with me.
Until next time, Tasmania.
[A Table For Two and film crew travelled to Tasmania as guests of Tourism Tasmania]