Food trail at the Apple Isle continues...
Our food trail in Tasmania was off to a good start in Hobart city. It was very exciting to see a new wave of younger generation redefining the food scene in this city that is full of amazing produce. Oh, and the cheese! Yes, cheese does deserves its own glory mention! But of course, good foods come from good sources, the rest of our journey in Tasmania was to meet with local farmers, artisan bakers, cheese-makers, producers to learn and find out more about their works, their passions and their produce.
We left the capital city of Tasmania and headed north to Launceston, with few food stops in between.
Coal River Valley
First stop was at the Coal River Valley wine region. It is only 20 minute drive from Hobart, this region has the largest concentration of vineyards in Southern Tasmania. It is a beautiful time of the year to visit this region as the vineyards are now turning into magical fields of golden autumn leaves. We also found most vineyards were lot quieter during winter season, so you can explore and taste as many wine as you like at your own leisure without the crowd.
Coal River Valley was once renowned for its quality produce, but sadly the farming community struggled with the drought and ceased to grow. We found a few orchards here and there in the region, but not many. Apples were blushed in bright red, dangling on the trees everywhere. I simply couldn't help and picked one and gave it a big bite right there and then.
Further north, is the historic town of Richmond, nestled in the rolling hills of the valley. Here you will find the iconic Richmond Bridge, Australia's oldest stone arch bridge built back convicts back in 1825. As we walking through bridge, an old lady sighed in dismay as she found it morbid to think how many convicts died and being thrown into the river while building this bridge. We also spent fair bit of time in Richmond checking out art galleries, antique stores and bakery. I fell in love with Tasmanian artist Tom Samek's work since I saw a few of his paintings hanging at Pipers in Penola restaurant in South Australia. I was 'this' close to purchase one of his paintings while in Richmond, so tempting...
Callington Mill - Oatlands
You have seen it on MasterChef, and here we were at the Callington Mill in Oatlands. An hour drive from Hobart, Oatlands has the largest collection of sandstones building in Australia, we found many of the old cottages and Georgian terraces are now converted into cafes and restaurants. But first, we must check out the famous landmark of Oatlands - the Callington Mill.
Built in 1837, the Callington Mill is Australia's third oldest windmill, but it is also the only working example of its type in the Southern hemisphere. The mill has been through significant reconstruction in the old days, it was even once used by blacksmith and inside was burned and blackened to beyond recognition. The windmill is fully restored in 2010 to its original working condition, and I believe it is the only windmill that produces stone-ground flour in Australia.
The mill is also open to public and you can join "Millers Way" tour which you will be led by knowledgeable tour guide all the way to the top of the mill tower. The view from 50ft high above ground on top of the mill was pretty spectacular I must admit.
Before entering the mill, we were given hair nets and hard helmets, and been warned that flour is highly flammable, so any electronic devices including cameras are usually not allowed inside. There are 5 levels in total inside the mill, the tour started from the top and worked our way down. Each floor has its own purposes throughout the milling process. The mill is a 19th century Lincolnshire tower design, so they had to hire windmill experts and carpenters from England to rebuild every single parts of the mill from scratch, including the white cap on top.
On the 5th floor is the engineer room of the windmill; unfortunately the windmill wasn't in operation due to strong gale force wind. But it is a very simple but extremely effective design to wind-power all the machinery on different levels inside the mill without electricity.
On the 3rd floor is where the grinding process takes place. They have two grinding stones installed in the mill which sometimes run simultaneously, one for wheat while the other one is spelt.
Then all the ground flour will be stored on 2nd level. The flour will be unsifted coarse flour, also known to us as wholemeal wheat flour.
And on the ground floor is the final stage of the milling process where flour will be sifted and sorted.
As the wholemeal flour comes down through the shaft, it will be wind-sifted (and sometimes powered with a motor if need be) through a graded mesh sieve or Dresser into four different chambers according to their weights from heaviest to the lightest - bran, semolina, medium sifted flour (or brown flour) and light sifted flour. Brown flour is partially refined flour and was considered second grade flour only good enough for convicts in the old days. We've been told most of the brown flour in the market these days are just normal white flour with brown food colouring. The brown flour should contain bran and wheatgerm with only 20% of the white flour mix through from the wind-sifting.
Callington Mill not just only produces wheat flour, but also spelt flour, rye flour and rolled oats. All the grains supplied to the mill are locally grown and harvested around Tasmania. Their flours are now distributed to bakeries and restaurants in Tasmania and they are in the process of bringing the flour to the mainland.
We finished the tour with sample of hot scones made with flour from the mill, it might not be as smooth as normal flour, but definitely had a stronger nutty flavour. But we couldn't wait to sample more baked goods using Callington Mill flour and crossed over the street to Companion Bakery for lunch.
Callington Mill 1 Mill Lane,
Oatlands, Tasmania 7120
Opening hours: 9am - 5pm everyday
Guided tours available daily from 9.30am - 4pm
An ex-Sydneysider, Graham Prichard and his son started Sourdough Companion, an active online community of passionate sourdough bakers from around the world that eventually formed the Artisan Baker Association in 2006. The association aims to provide bakers and the public a better understanding on identifying genuine artisan produce and practices. Graham and his family has now settled in Oatlands, and Companion Bakery is his new venture, providing artisan breads using Callington Mill flour.
Companion Bakery has recently expanded by setting up a second shop/cafe two doors from their original site where the bakery is. Graham took us on a tour of the bakery where they also run baking classes on last Sunday of each month. All the breads here are baked in a large wood-fired oven. Graham's son, Maedi is a tech whiz and had even set up a webcam in the bakery so you can watch the wood fired oven in action!
Our lunch at the bakery accompanied with fresh sourdough made with Callington Mill wholegrain flour. Graham was also experimenting with rye flour and making his first batch of pumpernickel which had been in the oven for over 16 hours at 120C. The result is a moist, heavy sweet rye bread, tasted like Guinness to me!
We bidded Oatlands farewell and headed north, aiming to arrive at Launceston before sunset.
Companion Bakery 106 High Street
Oatlands, Tasmania 7120
Opening hours: Wed - Sat 9am - 5pm; Sun 9am - 4pm
Cataract Gorge Reserve - Launceston
Launceston, we made it! Even though I've visited Launceston from previous trips, but somehow I didn't seem to remember much of this city. So it was nice to rediscover this part of northern Tasmania. First stop was the Cataract Gorge Reserve.
No Masterchef contestants to be spotted when I was there, no cooking, no drama; but peaceful and serene bushland, Victorian gardens and crystal clear spring water swiftly flowing down South Esk River. I did get on the world's longest single-span chairlift during my last visit here, but not this time as it wasn't operating close to closing time.
Launceston city slowly bathed in warm glowing sunset was truly mesmerising. Is it just me or the hilly streetscapes looked rather like San Francisco?
Black Cow Bistro
Launceston's food scene is not as exciting as Hobart, but it still has its own hidden gems nevertheless. Our dinner was booked at Black Cow Bistro, an up market steakhouse owned and run by the same team behind Launceston's acclaimed Stillwater Cafe. The steakhouse is located in the historic art deco Luck's Corner building, which formerly a butchery shop - how appropriate.
We stepped into a half-empty restaurant; a formal dining area with dark wooden chairs and double-linen tables, yet casual with the black cow murals painted on orange and red walls, inspired by ancient parietal art found in Lascaux Caves in France. A special menu on chalkboard above head that can only be reached via a vintage sliding wooden ladder along one wall was a nice touch, except we were ushered to a table tucked in an alcove right under the ladder. I couldn't help but feeling claustrophobic whilst our voices bounced around the tight space and resonated out to the whole restaurant - we whispered from then onwards.
As the restaurant name suggests - premium Tassie beef is what you'll get here. Black Cow Bistro showcases some of the best premium Tasmanian beef sourced from Cape Grim, Smithton, Ulverstone, King Island, Longford plus full blood grass fed wagyu from Robbins Island.
The Pom went for the rib eye on the bone from Ulverstone; dry hung for 21 days and cooked to a perfect medium rare as requested, served with mixed peppercorn demi-glace for $3.50 extra. The beef was relatively tender but still had a bite to it, fatty bits on the side caramelised nicely on the grilled gave it an intense smoky flavour. I went for the modest 300g porterhouse from King Island that had been aged f0r 35 days, it was dead set melt in the mouth tender. I requested truffled bearnaise sauce to go with my meat, an extra $4 truly well spent.
Two sides were shared with our beef. The roast cauliflower sadly had the same fate as the little block of potato gratin that came with our meal; they could have definitely stayed in oven a little longer for that extra toasty crispy edges, but sauteed mixed mushroom in garlic was delicious and a perfect match with the meaty beef.
For desserts, The Pom ordered chocolate parfait which was a little on the firm side with the amount of gelatine used, I was also hoping for a rich, decadent chocolate indulgence packed with cocoa but sadly it wasn't the case but instead reminded me of Milo. The warm brambleberry frangipane tartlet was a pleasant treat, soft almond filling with shortcrust pastry, it had just the right amount of star anise flavour in the clotted cream to lift up the sour sweetness flavour of the brambleberries.
Black Cow Bistro Cnr George and Paterson Sts,
Launceston, Tasmania 7250
P: 03 6331 9333
Opening hours: Mon - Sun 5.30pm till late
Hatherley Birrell Collection - Hatherley House
"Woahhhh!" That's our reaction as soon as we walked into our room at Hatherley House. The suite we stayed in was once a ballroom hall of Hatherley House built in 1830s. Apart from keeping its original features including an Italianate marble fireplace and an ornate gilt mirror, the room has been transformed into a lavish boudoir with splashes of flaming red decor throughout including red chandelier hanging above our bed and a giant feature wall of a dramatic dance performance of Graeme Murphy's 'Heart Matters', photographed by Jenimaro. It was getting hot in here!
The next morning, I got to explore the Hatherley House a bit, it is actually quite a beautiful grand mansion which offers an expansive view of Ben Lomond national park, and there is also an English parkland garden at the back where you can relax and soak up the warmth of the morning sun.
Stillwater Cafe Restaurant
We had another full day of activities ahead of us, we wasted no time and headed straight to Stillwater Cafe Restaurant for breakfast. Stillwater is a well-acclaimed restaurant in Launceston, housed inside the former Ritchie Mill, built in the 1830s. Right next door to the restaurant is The Mill providore and art gallery which carries a great selection of Tasmanian produce. The restaurant is spacious, unpretentious and charmingly inviting, offering an unobstructed view of the Tamar River.
After a massive meal from last night, The Pom opted for a light breakfast of housemade toasted muesli. The Pom took his muesli very seriously, and declared it was one of the best muesli he had ever tasted with nuts, grains and seeds beautifully toasted to an earth shattering crunch, whilst poached summer berries were plump and juicy. He was well satisfied.
My eggs royale came in an impressive generous portion. Two scrambled eggs were heavily infused with specks of black truffles, nothing that I was complaining, the more the merrier I say! The earthy pungent smell of truffle was intoxicating, served with chunky flakes of ocean trout that had been nicely smoked in house but not overpowering. It was a damn good dish but I still seriously struggled to finish because of its portion size.
The breakfast at Stillwater were scrumptious with great coffee to match, it fueled us up nicely. We hopped back into the car and started heading west as Launceston slowly disappearing behind us...
[to be continued]
Stillwater cafe restaurant Ritchies Mill 2 Bridge Road
Launceston, Tasmania 7250
P: 03 6331 4153
Opening hours: Breakfast and Lunch open 7 days from 8:30am and 12pm to 3pm
[A Table For Two & The Pom visited Tasmania courtesy of Tourism Tasmania]