Tasmania’s second largest city, Launceston, was our Tasmanian point of entry and exit. Surprisingly close to my hometown of Sydney thanks to a short ninety minute flight. It’s a bit of a hub for the states northern food and wine region, but with this trip focussed on the north west, exploration of the northern and other regions will have to wait until a revisit takes place.
Our time in Launceston was brief, to say the least. A couple of dinners and a short walk around its compact business district. Nowhere near enough time to take in the city’s parks, galleries, museums and Boag’s Brewery. Not to mention any other eateries I wanted to sample. Next time, I kept saying.
There’s always time for a quick coffee, no matter how busy the schedule, so a speedy pit stop at inside café it was for this pair of caffeine addicts. Beans from Hobart based roaster Villino made for a couple of decent single origin piccolo’s. It’s a breezy little space that even has a gift and homewares store next door.
Equally speedy was our rather early dinner at Novaro’s, a place that’s somewhat of a Launceston institution that has been keeping the locals well fed with its stylish northern Italian cuisine for a decade. The setting couldn’t be more appropriate; cosily and stylishly tucked inside an Edwardian home that’s decorated in earthy colours and arted-up with paintings by local talent Junko Go.
Arriving as soon as they opened at 5.30pm gave us time to relax and eat before our flight left for Sydney two hours later. A civilised dinner at a classy restaurant beats eating a $10 sandwich at the airport!
With a menu that tempts its diners with a very decent array of choices, it wasn’t much of a challenge to find something my body was craving. And by the look of things, it’s all very much locally sourced. An intriguing starter of polpetta di carne (18.5); three tepid pork and veal meatballs served over cannelloni beans, a little chilli and matchsticks of red apple. It’s a combination of ingredients I’ve not tried before; simple flavours that could have done with a good glug of olive oil and more seasoning in the meatballs.
I almost went for the house signature of green-lip abalone in white truffle oil with Swiss browns, but was craving a little more seafood and decided on spaghettini ai frutti di mare (37.5). A delicious medley of tiger prawns, Tassie sand clams, local fin fish, Tassal smoked salmon and baked oysters. Olive oil, garlic, a bit of parsley and charred lemon helped bring out the natural sweetness of the beautiful fruits of the sea. As did a little parmesan cheese. Something that was offered and something I can’t help but resist in adding to any pasta I eat. Even if I am breaking Italian rules by combining parmesan and seafood pasta.
Opposite me is a beautifully golden and crispy skinned quaglia arrosto con limone risotto (21.5). Juicy quail from Rannoch Farm all the way from the south east near Port Arthur, served with a fresh thyme and lemon risotto. Nothing was overly complicated about this dish, which is exactly why it shined. Divine.
One thing I can confidently say is a visit to Launceston wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Stillwater. This, coming from a person that spent less than six collective hours in the city. I’m sure there are many fine eating houses across the city, inexpensive or top shelf, but this one seems to represent everything I love about Tasmania’s fine produce and the talent of its progressive chefs. Good thing I broke away from my itinerary and chose this one myself.
Located at the mouth of the Cataract Gorge, Stillwater calls the historic Ritchie’s Mill home. It’s the perfect venue for a restaurant of this calibre. Be it for breakfast, lunch, afternoon drinks overlooking the Tamar or the six course spring tasting menu (125) I was about to dive into.
The tastebuds jump to attention with an amuse of locally caught cuttlefish served over salmorejo, a delicious soup that originates in Córdoba. Nice to see it again, after my own rustic vInnoDBtion here.
The beetroot and crème fraîche mousse did nothing but leap off the plate with its vividly intense colour. Sourness of the crème married beautifully with the earthiness of the beet; initially chilled but rapidly melting on the tongue. A scraping of smoked goat curd, pickled beet on the side, black vanilla salt and toffee-flavoured beetroot paper crowning the entire ensemble made for some serious mouth pleasure.
A little zen artistry comes in the form of Tasmanian Atlantic salmon sashimi. It’s lightly crusted in a cucumber ash and kombu, splayed over a disc of fresh wasabi leaf, wasabi cream and dried wasabi leaf. Puréed beetroot, cucumber “noodles” and pickled clams are there as well; all working harmoniously.
Some wagyu scotch from Robbins Island in Tasmania’s northwest is presented carpaccio-style. It’s strewn with soy and sesame pickled cabbage, some smoked black sesame paste and micro herbs. The crowning glory is a slow-cooked egg yolk, topped with a tangle of crispy pork. The flavours are clean, a little intense and a perfect progression from the Japanese style of the salmon sashimi.
Next we have slow-cooked Flinders Island lamb belly, young carrots and a smear of carrot gelée. The unique flavour of the lamb comes from the saltgrass on which they graze; flavoured naturally by the Bass Strait winds that deposit sea salt all over the small island. A ball of carrot-coated labne, mint and whey jus add to the autumnal colours of the dish.
From Lenah Valley comes the wallaby porterhouse, marinated in baharat and cooked rare. In the centre is a stack of pressed potatoes, or pavé, to use the correct term; spiked with native lemon myrtle. Dabs of puréed red capsicum and black olive decorate the plate along with a few herbs. The meat is perfect but I found the lemon myrtle overpowered the delicate wallaby. That said, it’s still a great dish.
Onto the home run, a sorrel granita cools and refreshes the palate with its slightly sweet and grassy flavour. Some cream blankets the top.
Lemon myrtle shows its face again in the orange panna cotta; much more subtle in strength than what went into the pavé. A snowy mound of white chocolate and almond soil adds a touch of drama, along with a shard of vanilla vacherin and sticky orange syrup. Nothing is overly sweet, which makes for a perfect end to a fantastic degustation.
And take a look at my short video below.
hnf & co travelled to Tasmania & ate at Stillwater courtesy of Tourism Tasmania. Novaro’s & Inside Cafe paid for personally.