Saturday, May 12, 2012

[Angie Travels] Eating our way through Tasmania (Part 1) - Launceston, Tamar Valley

     In the first week of March, Ryan and I went on a short holiday to Tasmania, taking advantage of sale fares and also Ryan's birthday. I spent the few months leading up to our trip doing a lot of research online for things to see and do (and eat of course). We were down there for 7 days and 6 nights, spending half the time in Launceston and half in Hobart. This was Ryan's first trip to Tasmania and even though I had previously been to Tasmania before with family, I don't remember much from that trip at all.

     Just before we were due to fly out, I discovered that Brasserie Bread had opened up a cafe at the Sydney Domestic Terminal. It made an early morning flight more bearable and I had always wanted to visit their cafe in Banksmeadow so being able to visit them at the airport was a convenient alternative.
Ryan starts with his morning caffeine hit, an espresso which hits the spot nicely.

     Ryan had the 'Soft Mushroom Omelette with Goats Cheese and Basil served with toast'. I had breakfast envy here, it looks deceivingly plain but this omelette was quite tasty. The goats cheese added a nice creamy texture to the omelette.

     I had read many great things about their signature 'Sourdough Pancakes with Berries and Honeycomb cream' so just had to try them. They are made with a sourdough starter which gives them a doughy bread like consistency. I can't say that I fell in love with them, perhaps I like my pancakes the traditional way, thick, soft and fluffy. The berry compote and honeycomb cream were a great pairing with the pancakes.

     We landed in Launceston to a grey and wet sky. Being Sunday, Ryan didn't want to miss out on attending Mass so we hopped into our little hire car and high tailed it to the Catholic church in the city centre. It was quite a beautiful big church and was full to capacity when Mass started.
     After Mass, we did a quick drive around the (very small) city centre, scoping out places to go for lunch. I knew that Sunday was a quiet day in Launceston, but little did I realise how quiet. Most shops in the city were shut, there were not many places open at all. There was one place on my hit list that I wanted to try and was glad that they were open.

     Tant Pour Tant is Launcestons best little patisserie. They actually have two outlets, the original patisserie is in the outskirts of the city and they also have a cafe located in the city centre which was unfortunately closed on Sundays. I would have liked to visit the cafe too but we just never really had the time to, I actually forgot about it by the time we left because we loved their patisserie so much.

     When I saw the basket of golden crescents I asked Ryan 'are you going to try a croissant?'. He looked at me like I had asked the dumbest question ever. How can Ryan say no to a flaky buttery croissant? I only found out the extent of his obsession with croissants after spending a week with him in Paris where he was eating them like there was no tomorrow. There aren't many back home in Sydney that are as good as the ones we had in Paris. This one rated highly on his score board, golden crispy flaky exterior, layers and layers of buttery goodness inside.

     I chose to have a 'Filled Baguette with Roast chicken, sun dried tomato, Camembert and rocket'. The baguette was nice and crusty with a soft fluffy interior. I couldn't finish it so Ryan had to help me out. I'm not usually a fan of Camembert so not sure why I ordered this but it wasn't too strong and went well with the roast chicken.

     Ryan decided to have the 'Chorizo Sausage Roll', it comes with a serve of home made tomato relish. Ryan was actually expecting an actual chorizo sausage wrapped up in pastry but this was pork mince seasoned with the same spices you would find in a chorizo sausage. The meat was tasty and well seasoned and the puff pastry was so crispy and flaky, just how a good pastry should be.

     On the way back to the car we spot a cute little second hand bookshop which was open so take a sticky beak inside. We instantly fall in love with it and the surrounding area that it's in. It's a very quaint and quiet little area of Launceston with so much history which you can see from the styles of all the old houses in the area. And it wasn't too far from where we were staying at all which was great.
     After lunch we do a quick grocery run for basic neccesities and dinner ingredients as Ryan wanted to stay in and cook. Coles seemed to be our only option though as most of the providores I wanted to visit were closed. It's then time to check in to our apartment and freshen up a bit before we make the most of what time we have left of our afternoon.

     The wet weather plan was that if we couldn't do any outdoor activities we would head indoors and check out the National Automobile Museum of Tasmania. This was more for Ryan's benefit than for mine. I'm a bit clueless when it comes to cars.

     Vintage cars galore inside spanning decades and a whole heap of memorabilia too. They actually have a rotating main feature at the front of the museum and this month was Alfa Romeo. There's also a small section upstairs for motorcycle enthusiasts.

Aston Martin DBSZ.
     We both agree this is the hottest car in the collection. After a couple of hours in the museum we finally decide to call it a day and head home to cook dinner (in response to our grumbly tummies).

     Ryan spotted some Tasmanian purple carrots on the shelf at the supermarket. I've seen purple carrots on the odd occasion back home (never had them though) but this was the first time he's seen them so he's keen to try them out. We ended up just roasting them. I was hoping we would get some nice Tassie meat but it was a bit on the pricey side and we weren't 100% sure of it's origin so we settled for some Basa fish fillets instead. Seasoned simply with some mixed herbs, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon they were really tasty allowing the fish to shine through. Ryan also grabbed a couple of parsnips which he also roasted and fried a few thin pieces for some texture, and he knows how much I love my mash potato.

     We had to take a bit of a break after dinner as a result of being absolutely stuffed but I was certainly looking forward to the eating the little cakes I had bought from Tant Pour Tant for dessert! I can't remember exactly what this was but I know that it had chocolate and coconut. So many different layers and textures, it was kind of like eating a Bounty bar, a very fancy one ;)

     This one was a raspberry mousse type cake, the tartness from the raspberries was a nice contrast to the rich chocolate and coconut of the other cake. The raspberry mouse was smooth, light and airy. Ryan asked me which one was my favourite but I couldn't choose as they were two very different cakes and I loved them both.

     The next day we wake up to a gorgeous blue sunny sky. This is the view from our top floor penthouse apartment, we can see the Tamar River from our balcony.

     The lovely baguette we bought from Tant Pour Tant from our visit the day before. Ryan and I fell in love with the baguettes in Paris and it's not quite the same eating them back home. This one however was one damn good baguette. It looked good, it smelled great, and it tasted awesome. Crusty on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. It's quite hard to put into words just what makes a great baguette, you really have to taste it yourself.

     Our breakfast spread. I toasted up the baguette in the oven and Ryan cooked some garlic mushrooms. We sliced up some triple cream Brie we bought and finished off the remainder of our roasted purple carrots.

     Just three ingredients but it was such a scrumptious sandwich. The brie went all soft and creamy with the heat from the mushrooms.

     After breakfast Ryan goes to buy a few things from the shops that we forgot to grab the day before. I also asked if he could drop by Tant Pour Tant and grab me a couple of their macarons as they had sold out when we visited. I was a bit disappointed when I bit into them though. They didn't have the crispy delicate thin shell on the outside and were a little too chewy on the inside. And the ratio of buttercream to biscuit was a bit heavy. And they look a little ugly to be honest.
     We finally make a start to our day and head to the Cataract Gorge Reserve which is just on the outskirts of the city. We follow a few of the short tracks around the reserve to some stunning views of the gorge.

Picture perfect.

     After the gorge we head north on the Tamar Valley Wine Route following the west bank of the Tamar River. It is an absolutely beautiful drive and Ryan loves every moment of it.

     We stopped at the Rosevears Vineyard to sample some wine - some reds, some whites and even a sparkling. The vineyard was on a gorgeous sloping hill overlooking the Tamar River. After some tasting Ryan left with a bottle of red and I left with a bottle of sparkling wine ;) We decided that one stop was more than enough wine tasting for the both of us for one day so continued our journey north.

     Our stomachs were grumbling so we decided to make a pitt stop at the town of Exeter to visit the bakery for lunch (I had read online that this was a must visit along the wine route). Looks like we weren't the only ones that were hungry as it was buzzing with activity.

     Our very first Scallop Pie. Scallop pies are something unique to Tasmania only. I was adamant on trying at least one scallop pie while we were down there. This pie was baked to golden perfection with a crispy and flaky pastry. The top gave way to a thick yellow curry gravy hiding the gems. It was a pretty damn tasty scallop pie. I did find the gravy a little too strong on the curry but Ryan thought it was perfect. This pie now becomes the standard for every other scallop pie that we have on the trip. Sorry but it was just too hard to take any innards shots.

     Ryan wanted a Beef and Mushroom Pie but they were sold out so we settled for a Chunky Steak Pie instead. This one came out looking a little anaemic. The pastry wasn't as crispy as the scallop pie but the filling was good. As the namesake says, there were chunky bits of beef in a nice rich gravy. We both agree that our favourite was the scallop pie though.

     When I saw Devonshire Tea on the blackboard I couldn't resist. What's better than trying some scones from a country bakery? One serving consists of a giant scone split into two halves, each one dolloped with some strawberry jam and then smothered in a very high dome of whipped cream. There was enough cream there to give you a blocked artery but it was just so scrumptious! I shared this with Ryan of course.
     Ryan comments on how friendly the staff are and it reminds me of all the stories I had heard about Tasmanians - and it's true, they really are friendly down here.

     Next on the itinerary we decided to visit Beaconsfield, I thought a bit of a history lesson would do us some good. The heritage centre is a two level building, you enter through the gift shop which takes you into a bit of a museum of old machinery and even an old telephone exchange centre. The you walk into an area that is dedicated to the mining accident which documents all the events surrounding it. The top level showcases historic events that have contributed to the formation of the towns around the Tamar Valley and Launceston.

     We then walk outside to where all the remaining foundations of the old mine are. This is an old miner's shack and a contraption they used to use to sift through all the sediment the find the gold nuggets.

Just love the character in this old sign.

The current mine site.

     Cascade Sarsparilla! I don't know why we don't get the Cascade brand up here in Sydney but it was my favourite. And Sarsparilla is so widely available in many many brands on the island of Tasmania. (For those who don't know what it is, it's another name for root beer).

We then head over the Tamar River to the eastern side. This is the Batman Bridge.

     We head up north to George Town which is supposed to be a historical town from what I've read. We were a little disappointed driving through the main street as none of the original façade had been preserved on any of the buildings and it looked like it was an ordinary modern day town. We found the old original Pier Hotel which looked like the one and only oldest building in the place.

     There was a maritime museum but as it was close to closing time we though it might be a waste so decided to skip it. We drove around a bit to see if there were any beautiful old houses left and found this. Ned Kelly's residence? Having had enough we headed back home to Launceston.

     On the way back to our apartment we pass by The Mill Providore and Gallery which was one of the places I was hoping to visit and see that it is still open so stop by to have a look inside.

     The upstairs gallery is home to some of the smallest art we have ever seen. Some of them are worth hundreds and some even go up to the thousands range. From afar they don't look like much but if you look closely, some of the fine detail is just astonishing.

     Downstairs is the providore and combined gift shop. One one side you have a refridgerated display cabinet full of great cheeses and a variety of deli products and small goods. In the middle are shelves full of jams, spreads, syrups, wines, chocolates and biscuits, and all sorts of edible goodies. On the far side of the store  is where all your giftware is. Satisfying our curiosity we finally head home to have a little rest before dinner.

Our two bottles from Rosevears.

     My little stash of goodies from The Mill Providore. Bridestow Estate lavender syrup (totally bummed we didn't have time to visit the lavender farm), hand made dark chocolate truffles, chocolate dipped lemon myrtle shortbreads and a couple of pieces of turkish delight.

     Once we're all rested and refreshed it's time to head out to The Mill again where the restaurant is for Ryan's special belated birthday dinner. Stillwater is voted as one of Launceston's best restaurants so I knew exactly where I wanted to take Ryan.

     Loved their customised glasswear, however I ordered a glass of sparkling wine. We had the option of having either the degustation menu or order from the a la carte menu. We were very tempted to try the degustation as it showcased a great variety of Tasmanian produce but there were a couple of items on the a la carte we really wanted to try too. In the end we went a la carte.

     The very tired looking birthday boy and me. We were in a little corner of the restaurant where it was just too hard to try and take a photo of us together.

     Slow braised Harris Farm Rabbit raviolo, brown butter, sage and lemon sauce, button mushroom and pancetta.
     The braised rabbit filling inside the raviolo was just absolutely mouth watering. It was soft and tender and just dissolved in your mouth. The pasta was not too thin and not too thick, and cooked perfectly. And that sage and lemon sauce, Ryan used his bread to mop the plate clean!

Southern rock lobster, mandarin peel puree, celery jelly, creme fraiche and celery salt.
     I somehow talk the birthday boy into letting me have the lobster. I do share with him and let him have half the dish in exchange for half of his entree ;) The lobster meat was firm and tasted quite lovely paired with the mandarin peel puree. The celery jelly added a fantastic flavour and texture to the dish. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Roasted magret duck breast, parsnip and tonka bean purée, spiced blood plums and duck liver paté cigar.
     The duck was cooked to perfect medium and the spicy sweet plums were a great pairing with it. Ryan let me have half of the duck liver pate cigar, the crisp wafer shell gave way to a rich creamy filling, I loved it. The tonka bean puree was interesting, like vanilla, it's something we're used to expecting in desserts and sweet dishes.

Cape Grim Natural Beef Eye Fillet (220g), mushroom marrow, coffee glaze, potato pavé and beetroot hollandaise.
     I really wanted to taste some Cape Grim beef which is why this dish on the a la carte menu caught my eye. The fillet was cooked perfectly, charred on the outside but still pink and juicey on the inside. The beef fillet itself was tasted quite amazing. Coffee glaze, beetroot hollandaise, mushroom marrow, not things I'd ever thought about eating but they complimented the beef so well.

Crispy Potatoes with Rosemary Salt.
     I let my love of potatoes take over and ordered an extra side. I should have known better because I tried to finish them (they were just too good to waste) which tipped me over and I had absolutely no room for dessert. My dessert stomach seemed to have been out of action that night, or it had absorbed all the overflow from my main stomach.

Petit fours.
     Some truffles and shortbread comes with our bill. We struggled to finish one of each. We absolutely loved everything about our experience at Stillwater and if we were ever going to be in town again, a return visit would be a must. It was a great way to celebrate Ryan's birthday and end our second day in Tasmania.


Helen (Grab Your Fork) said...

I heart a good baguette. I could quite happily eat a crusty baguette with loads of butter for dinner! Looks like you guys had an awesome time in Tassie :)

gaby @ lateraleating said...

Hey Angie, you're always on the road! Some great eats down there, I have to schedule a visit to Tasmania soon. Love those purple carrots and the idea of the scallop pie.

SarahKate (Mi Casa-Su Casa) said...

WOW! Looks like you had a seriously delicious trip! And you ate some amazing food. But, the thing in this post that made me the most hungry was that mushroom and brie breakfast sandwich that you made yourself! YUM!!

Tina @ bitemeshowme said...

You really did eat your heart out. I am such a sucker for baguettes....

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

It's hard to find a bad meal there isn't it? I like what you've chosen! :)

Iron Chef Shellie said...

Oh man what I would give for a chorizo sausage roll right about now!

Marcellina said...

It's been quite a few years since we spent a couple of weeks in Tasmania. Your post brought back wonderful memories. The food, oh, the food! We had devonshire teas every day! Luckily I was a lot younger and was able to work it all off! Thanks for the nostalgia. I love to go back!

TravelJunkie said...

the food! oh wow. it looks like a satisfying trip! ;) i'm so jealous right now, the food is just so appetizing! wow! you do live to eat!

Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said...

I'd love to visit King Island one day to sample the produce but have heard it's quite windy so need to pick the time of year carefully!

That croissant looks so puffy and flaky! The cakes look great too but agree that the macarons look a little unsmooth.

I'm intrigued by the lily pad-looking things on the lobster dish - is that the celery jelly?