Tasmania has a well-deserved reputation for great produce. But in recent years, it’s also made its name by doing great stuff with said produce. The tiny island kicked off the Australian whisky industry, and is making waves with sparkling wine; the seafood from its cold, deep waters is shipped the world over, and its restaurants bring in diners from across the planet, too. No need to hire a car for this road trip - you can drive yours on to Spirit of Tasmania in Port Melbourne, and off the docks when you arrive at Devonport.
Cradle Country Truffles
As you move high into the mountain ranges, there’s a small truffiere. Just outside the little village of Lower Barrington, Cradle Country Farm specialises in French Black Perigord Truffles, which grow in the roots of a grove of English oak, hazelnuts and holly oak. Jennifer Hunter took over the truffiere 18 months ago, moving from Cairns with a border terrier named Chicken, who’s taken to his new job as chief truffle finder with panache.
From June to August, you can join Jennifer and Chicken as they rummage for truffles and dig the stinky black diamonds straight from the loamy soil. She’ll happily cook you lunch – a simple dish of linguine, pine nuts and shaved truffle, perhaps – and share a glass of home-made plum brandy as well. She’s in the final stages of building a French farmhouse-style kitchen, where she’ll soon offer cooking classes and a retail outlet for all sorts of truffle-related produce. Be sure to pick up a fresh truffle or two for the rest of your road trip.
From the heights of Lower Barrington, head overland across the island to the capital, Hobart. There you’ll find Franklin, a restaurant that justifies a trip on its own. Chef and restaurateur David Moyle is unquestionably one of Australia’s finest, and his unvarnished but hypersensitive skill with ultra-local produce has proved influential well beyond the bounds of Tasmania.
Housed in a former Ford Showroom in what used to be the Mercury Newspaper building, Franklin is a bar-slash-restaurant that revolves around a 10-tonne wood-fired Scotch oven. While the menu isn’t around long enough to pin down, you can guarantee it’ll feature the most prized items from the fishing boats that day. Some hits from previous playlists include local abalone, steamed and roasted in kelp, then served with dried oyster and egg white; King George whiting with lemon leaves and sea urchin butter; and smoked bone marrow over rice. The wine list is determinedly international, with gems from the Jura and the Rhone co-existing happily with bottles from McLaren Vale and Birch’s Bay.
Be warned, however: one trip to Franklin is extremely likely to necessitate a return visit.
Melshell Oysters Farm Gate
Once you’ve picked up a cream bun from Jackman and McRoss, jump in the car and head north, making for the east-coast town of Swansea. There you’ll find Melshell Oysters, a second-generation oyster farm run by the affable Ian and Cassie Melrose – and, of course, more than your fill of ocean-fresh oysters.
It’s not only the pristine waters that make Melshell’s Pacific Oysters so noteworthy. The Melroses have an unusually complicated process: first, the tiny spats are placed on racks in the Swan River, where they harden their shells and grow strong muscles that allow them to open and close. Then, they’re sewed by hand into lantern-shaped nets and transferred to the ocean waters in Great Oyster Bay. Finally, they’re returned to the farm where they’re hand-graded and served (with a little Tabasco, lemon and black pepper). The whole process takes about two-and-a-half years, but the results speak for themselves.
While Melshell Oysters are available at restaurants around Australia, there’s absolutely no comparing an oyster, opened by hand and served in the water it lived in, sitting under the shade of their caravan on the banks of the Swan River. But maybe remember to pick up some wine.
The twisting route up the Tasman Highway, with its sharp turnbacks and sudden mountain views, and glimpses of coastline and tracts of rainforest, are reason enough to make the drive to the Weldborough Hotel. As far as country pubs go this one’s hard to beat. Surrounded only by dense bushland, and with hardly another building in sight, you could be forgiven for thinking the woodsmoke from the chimney is only a mirage.
But unlike other isolated pubs, there’s a lot more than Boags Draught on tap. Weldborough has declared itself the capital of Tasmania’s microbrew republic, serving hard-to-find beers from Seven Sheds, Taverners, Ironhouse, Wineglass Bay, Morrison and Two Metre Tall. There’s also a huge range of local ciders, with boozy apple juice from Wilmot Hills, Pagan, Spreyton and Willie Smith Organic. The pub grub’s equally local-focused with the beef burger ground in-house, and coastal flathead fried in panko crumbs.
And, thankfully, you can stay overnight should the temptation to have more than a middy or two take over.
The Black Cow
Once you’ve slowly wound your way back to civilisation, the Black Cow Bistro will be waiting. This Parisian-style diner is housed in a former butcher’s shop on an Art Deco corner in central Launceston.
Occasionally referred to as the Tasmania Rockpool, The Black Cow is the sister venue to the Stillwater River Cafe. The focus here is, as the name might suggest, very beefy. The Robbins Island Wagyu has a marble score of 7+, and is served with lemon cheek. Attempting not to gnaw on the bone of a 40-day aged Cape Grim Rib-Eye, served with mustard and Cafe de Paris, is a physical impossibility.
But, it’s not all classic bistro at the Black Cow – in fact, there’s a prominent Japanese streak to the starters and the sides. The coarse-grained steak tartare is brined in soy and served with shallots and pickled daikon, while the tender belly of Atlantic salmon comes with yuzu ponzu and wood-ear mushrooms.
The wine list is itself a virtual tour of Tasmania, featuring an excellent 2007 Pipers Brook sparkling that’s disgorged late, giving it a full-bodied yeasty aroma. Or, you could dive straight into the whisky – we wholeheartedly recommend the Belgrove Rye, the only whisky of its kind made in Oz.
Finally, you’ll need a couple of bottles to take back to the mainland. First planted in 1966, the vineyard at Velo features varieties one wouldn’t immediately associate with Tasmania – cabernet sauvignon and shiraz – alongside the more familiar pinot noir and pinot gris.
Until recently, the winery was owned by Michael Wilson, a former Olympic cyclist and certified viticulturist. But, its new owners are currently in the throes of building a new cellar door and expanding the restaurant, while rehabilitating the old-growth vines.
On-site is Timbre Kitchen, which makes good use of wood and charcoal with a menu featuring roasted chicken with salsa verde, Brie with house-made pickles and soda bread, and miso semifreddo.
Once you’ve tasted a glass or two, pick up a few bottles to sample back at home – it’s not like you’ve got to pay for extra luggage.
Cruise Home on the Spirit
Full and happy, it’s time to take the ship home. Pack your truffles, wine, cheese and whisky and drive onto Spirit of Tasmania at Devonport to make the journey northward. And though you might have seen some of the highlights of Tasmanian food culture, you’ll know there’s plenty more to explore.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Spirit of Tasmania.