Friday, June 28, 2013

Tasmanian Travels Part 2

It's well over a week since we returned from our Tasmania trip and I thought I would share a few more snippets of food related highlights with you all,  before resuming standard post holiday transmissions.

One of the most exciting and pleasurable parts of the trip for us was heading to Longley, up in the mountains just out of Hobart to meet artisan knife maker and blacksmith John Hounslow-Robinson. We discovered John whilst watching a documentary on Chef Tetsuya Wakuda and were blown away by the beautiful handmade Damascus steel knives that he was making for the chef. My metal obsessed husband did some research and managed to track him down and we commissioned John to make us two knives - a chef's knife and a slightly bulkier Bushman's knife.

We were absolutely thrilled with the result, all handmade by John from found, local materials. The chef's knife has an almost luminous Huon Pine handle with beautiful striped grain - reminds me of  a Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) pelt. The Bushman's knife was made with a deer antler handle with a natural curve that makes the knife feel so great in your hand. John collects old metal, fallen wood and bones, antler and other material from road kill - which unfortunately you see so much of in Tasmania. I think it makes absolute sense not to waste these precious materials, and John turns them into objects of such practicality and great beauty.

Damascus steel, hand forged knives
made by John Hounslow-Robinson
When we arrived at John's house in the bush, he was in the process of smoking his own free range bacon and local salmon in a home made smokehouse he had constructed. We soon discovered that as well a passion and talent for metal work, he is also a cook who loves good food. We even left with a few recommendations for places to eat in Tasmania as well as a gift of 1.5kg of his raw bush honey - the bees had been particularly busy in his neck of the woods!
John's House in the bush
-The smoke on the right is from the smokehouse.
Andrew and I were both so grateful to have had the chance to meet John and spend some time with this remarkable person. As well as a talented artisan, he was a storyteller, and a warm, generous and gracious host. It makes me so happy that in a world of mass production and disposable everything, that John  is up in his mountain home creating such lasting beauty with what he finds around him. To own two examples of his amazing work is such a privilege.
John Hounslow - Robinson
Longley Tasmania
Back in town, walking around Salamanca Market in Hobart on Saturday morning, I loved seeing all of the fresh winter produce being sold direct from the farmer to the public. Everything was so vibrant and fresh, particularly the winter root crops. So many ideas for dishes were swimming around my head when I spied all of these beauties......

Winter Root Vegetables @Salamanca

Such beautiful jewel coloured produce
@ Salamanca
Any of you who are fans of the wonderful Gourmet Farmer on SBS will recognise A Common Ground - the tiny shop under the stairs in Salamanca that sells produce from Fat Pig Farm, as well as other small Tasmanian producers. It is the brainchild of Matthew Evans and Nick Haddow who wanted to showcase the very best of Tasmanian food in one place. They stock Bruny Island Cheese,(including Australia's only raw milk cheese -  C2 - made on Bruny) charcuterie, free range pork, small batch artisan wine, whiskey and ciders and all sorts of other gourmet treats made from Tasmanian ingredients, with a focus on sustainability. You can now order from them online, but it was great to be able to visit in person. Check out their website or on Facebook for more information - they really are something special.

The shop under the stairs
A Common Ground
I'm not much of a drinker these days, but there were a couple of alcoholic treasures that I discovered on our trip. The first was a bit of a fluke - a while ago I had tried to order a bottle of the small batch Sloe Gin that I had seen them make on Gourmet Farmer from the Common Ground website, but it sold out so fast that I missed out. Sloe Gin is made from ripe blackthorn fruit (related to plums) and this gives the gin an extra herbal and fruity character, as well as a lovely pinkish/purplish blush. I had forgotten about it until I got to the shop but the subject came up with the lovely Common Ground lady as she was putting together a dinner hamper for us. We really hit it off with her and the end result was that once the shop was empty and there was no one but us about, she revealed there had been a mix up with an order and because of this she had the very last bottle under the counter - would we like it? HELL YEAH! I am considering having a go at curing salmon with some of the Sloe Gin, as well as drinking it.
Another boozy highlight was the discovery of the delicious locally made Pagan Cider. I rather like ciders, and this one is a beauty. Made from a mixture of local apples and cherries I was initially concerned it might be too sweet for me - I'm not a fan of sweet alcohol - but it was perfectly balanced and not overly sweet at all. It comes in two varieties which have different amounts of cherry in it. The one pictured below has the most cherry, but I still didn't find it overly sweet, despite the rich colour. I brought home 4 bottles with me and think I will have to do some research to see if I can buy it online and have it shipped. It really is delicious. The label is pretty too.

Pagan Cider
Made from Tasmanian Apples & Cherries

Driving through the countryside around the Huon Valley and Cygnet, many of the apple trees had the last apples of the season still on the branches. They made for a pretty splash of red in the winter landscape. Apples and apple juice was for sale everywhere, at un-staffed roadside stands where you just take what you would like and leave the money in the tin. Love that.

 Winter Apple Fall
Cygnet, Tasmania

Dining out wise, here are some of the things I particularly enjoyed.

We visited The Source at MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) to experience Michelin starred chef Phillipe Leban's food. We chose a seven course degustation menu and loved the local ingredients served with technical flair and creativity. We really rated our meal there, particularly the Scallop Gnocchi which was knockout - such a beautiful texture and pure scallop flavour.

 Tasmanian Scallop Gnocchi with Yuzu Foam
@ The Source

The roasted duck course took those rich, robust winter flavours and gave them a light touch. All of the flavour was there, without the heaviness. I really enjoyed this one.

Roasted Duck with Daikon and Winter Cabbage
@ The Source
I love the flavour of green tea (yes, I know it can be a bit of an acquired taste) so the green tea dessert was right up my alley. An edible receptacle of green tea "glass" was filled with a creamy, punchy lime mousse that you had to crack open to get to. Great contrasting texture of the creamy mousse and the crackly green tea covering. Served with a Sencha green tea sponge and a sweet and sticky black sesame paste, this was a winner. Only thing I wasn't fussed about was the chocolate drizzle on the sponge - seemed a bit random and not really necessary. The rest of the flavours though were to die for.
 Green Tea Crust, Lime Mousse, Sencha Cake and Black Sesame
@ The Source

The following night we visited Smolt, a restaurant in Hobart that I had been reading very good things about and was keen to try. (If you are wondering about the name - a smolt is baby salmon)Unfortunately the place was quite dark so I can't share the photos of some of the best dishes - they just don't do the food justice. Although they have an A-La-Carte menu, we wanted to try lots of things - so we asked them if they could possibly do a degustation menu for us with smaller tasting serves. They were happy to oblige and the result was our best meal of the trip! Like The Source, they are very focused on Tasmanian produce but using them in a more rustic, free form way. The menu had a very Italian/Mediterranean influence and the flavours were robust and generous. We started the meal with ultra fresh Tasmanian oysters which I can't get enough of.

 Tassie Oysters @ Smolt
A simple salad of winter apples, locally produced prosciutto and salad leaves showed that the very best dishes are those that let the superior produce speak for themselves. We had 7 courses in all - all savoury (we asked them not to do desserts as we aren't huge dessert fans) The dishes were all generous and colourful and full of flavour. Slow cooked pork, dishes of richly roasted vegetables, local creamy goat cheese, perfectly cooked seafood - all delicious.
Rustic Winter Apple & Prosciutto Salad
@ Smolt
The Tassie Cheese Arancini  was decadent and rich, with a creamy, stretchy risotto and cheese centre, but a super crisp shell. Just heavenly. As well as a fantastic meal, the service was very good, relaxed and friendly but efficient. The other big plus was that it was moderately priced and brilliant value for a top notch menu, great service and lovely surroundings. If you are visiting Hobart it is really worth a visit. They apparently do fantastic breakfasts and are open for lunch too.

Tasmanian 3 Cheese Arancini
@ Smolt
For more information, opening hours and sample menus for these restaurants, visit their websites - I've posted the links below. I would recommend both of them. Completely different styles of food, but each do what they do brilliantly. 
As to my own cooking - well the weather is wintry and rainy and I have a rostered day off today so I am heading to the warmth of the kitchen in a moment to cook up a big batch of proper Bolognaise sauce (a mixture of half free range pork, half organic beef mince). I plan to freeze some but a lot of it will be destined for a tray of Lasagne for the weekend. This chilly weather makes me want comfort food and Lasagne is comfort personified I reckon. Also thinking that a batch of walnut muffins might be in order.
Until next time - stay warm and eat something delicious!


  1. I hope this isn't rude but I'm just curious as I'd love for John to make a knife for me. Would you mind saying how much they were?

  2. Not rude at all :) The prices vary of course depending on what size you would be after. Our knives were a reasonably large Chef's knife size, and they were around $600 each. It's a lot of money, but they will last a number of lifetimes - and they are made so beautifully! They take some getting used to if you are used to using lighter Japanese knives like we were. They are a lot heavier in your hand and the blades are denser and more robust.

  3. Thank you so much! I'd be happy to invest $600 on such beautiful craftsmanship. Just quietly, I've been doing a lot of reading on John lately and your post has absolutely been the most well written that I've come across. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  4. I'm so glad it was useful for you! If you are in the position to actually go to Tasmania to collect your knives, you will get to meet John in person - a real treat. He is a very special human :)