Café Podnebi

Here’s the latest post on my new site – a look at a charming café in the middle of Brno.

Besserstein & Weingut Zum Sternen

I’ve decided to move my blog but please give my latest post a read here.

The Barn

The Barn – just near last week’s delightful Antipodes, on Auguststraße – means well, but makes you cringe at its earnestness. Part of a successful cafe or restaurant is a sense of effortlessness, an ease of manners and style, and this is one element that the Barn does not quite achieve.

The Barn aspires to be something great. A coffee-lovers haven where there’s no sugar, and only three choices for coffee served with milk – macchiato, flat white and latté. An impressive and decisively tasty array of small morsels adorn the wide bar from where the staff rarely seem to depart. It is in this pursuit of perfection that The Barn’s founder, Ralf Ruller, begins to diverge from what I consider to be a recipe for success, at least on a larger scale.

Firstly, having a printed, and poorly formatted and written, mission statement at the point where you part with your money might seem like a good idea, and perhaps if the tone was warm, inviting, and full of upbeat passion it would be, but here, it is just a bit too much. I didn’t know what to think at first – is this guy for real? Can this concept really succeed? I’m still not sure, a recent article in The Guardian makes me think other customers are also slightly confused. The Guardian reported that Ruller was ‘unapologetic’ and ‘disappointed’ that his brews were not receiving the reception he thought they deserved given they were prepared with the care of a ‘Japanese tea ceremony’. Now, don’t get me wrong, the space was inviting, the lighting designed with attention to detail and the smells would excite any lover of caffeine – and it was not intimidation at the seriousness of it all that put me on edge either. I am definitely in favour of local sourcing of produce, and the manifesto is rightly proud to declare where The Barn gets its milk. But there was a needless tension between the love of coffee and the love of cafés in this roasting house-deli-espresso bar.

There are instructions on where ‘multimedia’ can be used, at the designated media table, and why – it distracts from those reading and concentrating on their tasting. Right. That’s all ok I guess – laptops can be annoying, but why not achieve the same end but more subtly by making power points only available at the prescribed space.  Further, no prams allowed. It’s a roasting house so if something went wrong they didn’t want to risk the baby’s life or something like that. I call bullshit. I think it’s more in line with wanting to attract Berlin’s upper culinary crust – those that have forgotten that the café was in fact, originally anyway, a place of chatter, of life and of heated debate in the great European cities (and probably also the not so great ones). One of the chief pleasures of being in a cafe is soaking in the warmth of the communal hum of conversation, the warmth of being surrounded by others. They are places where you can buy into, if only for a moment, a life outside your own. To make a café or ‘espresso bar’ that actively seeks to limit that bubble of chit-chat is a shame and, ultimately a mistake.

A shame in the sense that the staff are polite and professional, welcoming even when they heard my Australian drawl, and yet they’re confined to their bar where coffee is treated like a science, meticulously observed in all its detail, but not loved. Not done with touch, smell, sight and feeling – rather lacking in art. The coffee was explained with such precision and authority that a great swathe of people, at least back home, would be frightened away. They’re clearly trying something new for Berlin at The Barn – hence all the explanatory material provided, the year long search for a space and the architecturally designed interior. This has yielded some rewards the marinated ham and sundried tomato or brie and pear sandwiches on moist, fruity, nutty bread were delicious. The carrot cake just like the Country Womens’ Association might churn out at a baking competition and the croissants were as good as I’ve hard, bar Jackman & McRoss.

However, there can be no denying the quality of the coffee .  Consistent in both flavour, temperature and texture – the team working the machine clearly know their stuff. But, I just can’t get passed the attempted tone of the place.  Public cuppings as well as lectures on when and how to drink your chosen brew; if the approach were relaxed a little, some tunes and tables introduced, I’m sure The Barn’s trade would roar, the crowds would come, with lines out the door and all that effort would make more sense.

Antipodes


My father chanced upon this little delight just off Torstraße in the Berlin borough of Mitte while out on a stroll around the neighbourhood near where we were staying. There are a number of things that I’m sure attracted him: the quirky blackboard out of the front – ‘No, we don’t care about hobbits!’, to the name – Antipodes – which clearly strikes a nostalgic chord in any Australian or New Zealander venturing through the über chic rabbit warren of the centre of the German capital.

As an aside, quickly, I have decided, at least for the time being, in line with LA’s Jonathan Gold among others, that I will endeavour to visit places more than once before I write about my experiences.  On any given day a café or restaurant can be markedly different from the mood of the cook, to the awkwardness of the barista.  One thing slightly off key and the entire thing falls apart, like that note not quite reached in the finale of the school musical, a shadow cast across an entire show with the pimply pre-pubescent lead left to retreat, ashen faced to the dressing rooms forever.  With that in mind, I have made my way to Antipodes over half a dozen times with various company: just family, family and another, friends, people I have only just really met and alone.

Every single time, I was impressed.

Not a hint of disappointment in any of my companions, even when I’d spent the previous hour and a half waiting for the Saturday opening spruiking the much adored Eggs Benedict on offer.  (For those at home, in the geographical antipodes, hollandaise may seem pedestrian, boring even, but I guarantee when a forced departure from that buttery, eggy goodness is broken, nothing but pleasure and excitement can ensue.) Bear in mind that the success of this particular breakfast was heightened in importance in that we were sharing our time in Berlin with someone aiming for a top three tick in one day – KFC, the Swans winning a Premiership and Radiohead that night. Nothing could set the balance off otherwise catastrophe may follow and that friend robbed off his perfect day.

But this day, and all the others, Antipodes knows what it is and how to go about it.  Jane and Paul are talkative and interesting without being intrusive: if you want to chat about writing, food or literature, they’ll partake if time permits; if you’re scribbling overly emotive letters home they’ll leave you be.  It’s an art to know when and how to interrupt, when to talk, when to leave alone and when to bring over a magazine you might want to read.  I actually found myself becoming bitter at the prospect one of my companions was going to get in the way of a visit – take your needy negativity elsewhere please, I thought.  I am here for some respite, a little southern hemisphere hospitality, where, as their sign says, coffee tastes like coffee. I’m assuming the sign is meant as a contrast to the generally repulsive excuse for a cup of Joe served up.  It’s as if the coffee is some sort of penance with an energy kick.

Not so at Antipodes. The delicious Kings & Queens blend can satisfy any range of brews from a macchiato, to a cappuccino, to a double latté, the beans provide a strong and aromatic coffee that will only ever please. To me, as it is also made with real milk as opposed to the long life nonsense most other places serve over here, it tastes of cold Hobart mornings walking to Uni in full winter garb and cherishing that warmth as it hits the pit of my gut and the caffeine as it instantly soothes my addiction.

According to another review, a desire for a fresh start prompted the move North to Berlin for Jane and Paul, and for that I am ever so grateful.  Great food – simple breakfasts of soft boiled eggs, muesli served with fruit and honey or the moist and glossy scrambled eggs.  Or interesting and well made sandwiches that fill without making you groan from overeating.  But don’t just go for the food. The décor screams arty Wellington designer know-how with the bar made of old NZ apple crates recognisable enough for a Kiwi I had breakfast with to cease speaking as she was consumed with memories of home and friends missed.

Sometimes I find that’s all I want in a café: a place to sit, to chat, to reminisce, to meet, to read and to write.  A place where you don’t feel lonely, or awkwardly alone when you’re by yourself.   When they first opened Jane wrote letters to random New Zealanders in the old phone book as a way to pass the time of running a new, quiet café.  I wonder if those people know who was behind their surprises?

What a shame for them, I’m so glad I do.

Moritz

Olomouc is a small city in the Czech region of Moravia famous for its cobbled streets, UNESCO listed column, bizarre communist era astrological clock and most importantly, its micro breweries and pungent local cheese.

Having spent the day traipsing around the medieval city there was only one thing to do: we went in search of beer. Having failed to secure a table at the more central (and touristy) beer hall, our backup, Moritz, quickly made room for us, three starry eyed travellers. I think it is important to note that one of my companions was a journalism student from Taiwan who had never before consumed more than a single pint in a sitting. I was acutely aware that our surrounds must be all the more foreign to him. 

Down a spiral staircase off a quiet suburban street was one of the more inviting Czech drinking venues I’ve come across in terms of setting.  Moritz, the second of Olomouc’s more well-known micro-breweries, houses two dominating brass brewing kettles in the corner of the low ceilinged, warmly lit dining hall and bar.  The furnishings are all old posters of ads from a bygone era and various Moravian paraphernalia adorning the walls.  With the hum of forty of so Czechs escaping the drizzly Autumn afternoon, I felt as if we were encroaching on a local gem not used to accommodating the hassling students from nearby Brno. I was immediately nostalgic, even though it was my first visit.

The kettles

A quick ‘Ahoj’ and ‘pivo prosím’ and three of most delicious beers were on the way. Apparently no matter what other forms the rivalry between Czechs and their neighbours takes, all agree that the best beer emanates from this failed communist utopia.  As we drank, probably a little too quickly, my companions set about deciphering the menu while I intrusively took some photos of our delightful surrounds.

After half an hour of struggling with a menu that included boar stew and the ever present pork knuckle, the multilingual waiter presented us with English menus, pointing out that the menu we had was in fact for a celebration in a fortnight or so. A sigh of relief that we wouldn’t have to guess our way through another dinner was quickly halted by the realisation that we had yet another overseas dining faux pas to add to the list.

From the short ‘pub-food plus’ menu, we selected a couple of local staples – the Moravian cheese I mentioned earlier, and a regional take on steak tartare. I ordered a prime 250g slab of fillet steak whilst the other two settled on various preparations of pork and venison.

The cheese tasted like a ripe washed rind to me – thick and pungent that when mixed with the white onion rings and slightly aniseed bread formed a flavour that seemed to linger like the smell of your feet after a hard days bushwalking. Not necessarily unpleasant but certainly unmistakeable.  It was moreish without either of us necessarily being able to explain why we kept on putting it in our mouths.  There was definitely a moment of two where I felt like we looked like a trio of sows at the trough that have been starved for days. As a study into eating habits, I’m sure it would have been rather compelling if not a little concerning.

Tartare

The tartare was a definite highlight.  I would say probably the best of our travels so far.  Spicy, cold and full of garlic and pepper served with fried bread. The beef was obviously of a quality sufficient to pull of a dish that requires a real love of red meat and the flavours you can enjoy.  As I was contemplating our meal at Moritz and thinking on how much the local Czech cuisine concentrates on meat with such intensity that at times, I think besides some bread, cheese and potato, the people here are barely omnivores. As a friend of mine likes to say, to the horror of the vegetarians within earshot, salad is what food eats.  That certainly feels very much in tune with the Czech approach that can feel a little relentless at times.

Nevertheless, my steak was delicious.  Cooked to the rare side of medium rare, as requested, and seasoned well with a generous serve of buttery (yet typically waxy) potatoes and the sauce, which screamed cholesterol, but hey, who am I to turn down such a fine example of a green peppercorn sauce? The beer, the meat, the potatoes – it was ideal. As the meal wrapped up and the hum in the restaurant grew to a rosy gaggle, I was pleased with our choice.  Moritz isn’t refined, flashy or particularly interesting.  But on a cold night, with a couple of drinks under your belt, it is most welcome feast of gluttonous pleasure.

I will definitely be going back.

Yellow Bernard goes global

Last week I received a much appreciated and very generous package from the men from Yellow Bernard in Hobart. It is hard to know how to properly say thanks –aside from sending them a package of the Czech delicacy of pizza with a hot dog crust (truly disgusting, but in a deeply compelling way) – but this will have to suffice.

A welcome sight!

To provide a little context, a few weeks ago I returned back to my lodgings after a lengthy sit down in a Czech Republic micro-brewery to make the rookie error of logging into Facebook while intoxicated.  (At around $AU 1.50 a pint, the night can quickly get away from you. A bit like whipping cream: if you dare to stop concentrating and allow your mind to wander, you’ve been at it too long and it’s a lost cause.) So, in that beer induced golden hue, I posted, in some sort of colloquial jabber, on YBs Facebook page that the local ‘kavarnas’ had yet to live up to the heady heights of the Hobart scene, and that I though the price of posting some beans over here to Brno was worth it.  To further add to the disorderly conduct, when I revisited my post it appeared my light headed self had decided to throw in a couple of hashtags for good measure to really add some spice to my social networking.

Combine the time difference, a couple of comments and a like or two and the post was stuck.  No morning after cleaning up for me.

Needless to say, David, ever the professional, replied warmly and then emailed a couple of days later to organise the postage. I was chuffed that he was willing to go to the effort and excited at the prospect of having my culture shock soothed by the comfort and flavour of the Yellow Bernard house blend.

A week later, the package arrived with 500g of Gridlock’s finest; 250g of ground house blend and 250 g of the 7000 blend. Now, having procured, as advised, a little plunger for my shared room, I have now sat down to boost my caffeine levels, think of home and write a little post of gratitude and thanks. (I feel perhaps, by now, it goes without saying that the YB blends have travelled very well to my home for the next few months and will be enjoyed immensely by those who may be lucky enough to reach that particular level of friendship.)

Yellow Bernard continues to really impress me with their approach and commitment. Going above and beyond seems to be the standard of care that’s become everyday at that hole in the wall on Hobart’s Collins Street. The locals –  as I’m sure many do –  need to realise their luck at having such an establishment in our Southern home .

It really is something else.

Quartier Du Port

As you walk down the busy Rotterdam street in the sweet summer heat, Quartier Du Port is not immediately obvious. The quiet look of the façade, the menu sign out front as the traffic bustles past – it invites an escape to the busyness of Europe’s largest port.  Peering through the hotel lobby to the restaurant down the corridor, an inviting smell of the grill and the lights of a well-decorated dining hall. Low lights provide intimacy at the table without dominating and the dividers of low bench tops, greenery and the soft lights made the big space feel cosy and warm.

We had been recommended the restaurant by a local food critic chanced upon at the café we frequented in The Hague, Lola’s. It appeared my new friend Maarten had fine taste and had pointed us in the direction of something exciting and new. I was, and remain, envious of the guests at the hotel and all the residents of the surrounding area that can visit more regularly than my one visit on a day trip south from The Hague.

In my mind, the staff and the décor of the restaurant were near perfection. The maitre’d did a superb job, not only of handling my awkward attempt to book a table for three, but of also immediately making us feel welcome and at ease.  We were the only people seated inside, with the remaining twenty or so diners out on the lovely outdoor courtyard surrounded by lush green trees and a lovely garden, giving it a real sense of quiet and separateness.

The dinner consisted of a four course set menu with a couple of choices for each. I decided upon raw tuna (again) simply for the purpose of having some comparison for the wonders served up at Oker. Although the textures of the Oker tuna and caramel were superior ultimately, Quartier Du Port had a better dish with its delectable marinade and mango chutney.  It was far less innovative, but the kitchen took the simplicity to another level. The other entrée on offer was some asparagus spears with parmesan and morille sauce – a fine pair of starters to begin the evening.

Following some bread (it had rosemary through it and was served hot with butter, olive tapenade and salt) and drinks, the kitchen really hit its stride with the cocktail of beef stew, spinach and poached egg. We were glad we had ordered it: it wasn’t even a part of the main courses but was rather just an appetizer between entrée and mains. We were blown away. I hope that similar things trickle down to restaurants at home because the adventurous approach to put a dish that good as a side note on the menu spoke volumes about the confidence of the kitchen and the skills of the chef. The beef was tender and melted on the tongue and the delicately poached egg leaving the yolk oozing out between the spinach. 

The crispy grilled sea bream with fennel and red butter sauce that followed as my main was done well and executed with obvious talent and finesse.  The skin crunchy and easy to munch and the bream fell apart effortlessly. My companions enjoyed their duck breast with witlof, pommes dauphine and root foam but both were overshadowed by the beef stew and egg – but it was excellent nonetheless.

We had since been moved outside onto the courtyard and were able to enjoy the final hour or so of our meal in the fading sunlight. Crème brûlée, cheese and Degaldo Zuleta capped it off nicely.

Maarten had told us that Quartier Du Port was particularly amazing because the fare was provided at a cost far below that which could be charged for a similar quality.  I am in complete agreement: it was remarkable, and I would have happily paid much more for the experience.

Quartier Du Port know what they are, know how to guide you through an evening so that by the end, there’s no where you would rather have eaten. The staff are warm and friendly without encroaching on your night. It is a fine example of a really great restaurant. It’s just that simple.

Oker

A Mussel

A little over a fortnight ago I enjoyed what was one of the most wonderful meals out I’ve had for some time.

Oker Bar   

My Grandmother had ventured to Den Haag earlier in the year to visit my older brother and recommended Oker. Shirley was so impressed with her experience, which I gathered was largely due to an attentive and entertaining waiter, that she decided to sponsor our night there (never underestimate the effect of good service on the pleasure of a meal). With some of the financial burden removed you inevitably relax a little more and are more able to take it in and spoil yourself.

The night started with a couple of drinks at the long, hardwood bar – the first being a reasonably stiff gin and tonic. The gin, Bombay Sapphire, in my mind is a little too fruity. It lacks the smooth rolling flavour that you get from a Tanqueray, Millers or Hendriks. It probably would have better with more ice and a cucumber, but that’s probably being a little too picky given the bar is focused on beers and wine, with impressive results.

We moved to the table after ordering a beer from the relaxed and knowledgeable barman – ‘Just a second gents, it tastes better from a glass.’ It is reassuring to be served by a waiter who takes his job seriously enough to give you that little piece of advice. To me, it signified the beginning of what should be a special night out.

Oker specialises in that popular concept of ‘tapas’ or at least, small plates aimed at giving you a tasting of more of what the kitchen can produce. Tapas has struck me as being more about the idea of sharing a bite to eat over an afternoon drink, however, it has clearly grown to mean a fair bit more. The food was served to the three of us quickly and with appropriate basic explanations of what the dishes entailed in embarrassing excellent English (the Dutch are so multilingual!).

Tuna Sashimi

We had a tuna sashimi served with a ginger caramel crisp, garlic mussels and an ‘inside out omelette’ sushi. The sushi was fluffy and textured with a generous portioning. The mussels: nuanced and delicious. Garlic can so quickly become an overbearing flavour, and when mixed with parsley and butter, the delicate flavours of the mussels can often be found wanting, however, this was not the case. The tuna sashimi was the clear standout. It was simply delicious. The crispiness of the ginger caramel snap played off so nicely against the smoothness of the fish. I was excited, thrilled in fact. One side note though, the kitchen looked crazily quiet. The two chefs seemed desperately bored. I was always under the impression that no matter what there are things that can be done, and it adds so much to the atmosphere of the room if the kitchen looks lively, with a buzz of activity. I know it was a Tuesday, and I know it was not very busy, but still.

The second round consisted of quite a range – from veal to fried eggs to lime coconut soup with shitake mushrooms and tiger prawns. My veal was good – the meat certainly felt and tasted young. There was a delicate richness to the flavours. I was glad not to be disappointed by my decision given that veal, having worked on a dairy farm, is an active decision to eat a baby animal. With this dish it had been put to good use. The soup was apparently ‘amazing’. I was less impressed with it, but it still wasn’t bad, I just didn’t think it was anything to rave about. That being said, my companion is a fan of Asian inspired seafood dishes and tends to go weak at the knees around any sort of prawn, so I wasn’t surprised. The fried egg I thought was an interesting attempt at something a little more risky – taking something simple and trying to make it the ‘hero’ of the dish. But the splendidly velvety potatoes that had been parboiled, smashed a little and then baked to perfection overshadowed the egg. A definite standout with the potato, but I think it made the dish a little incoherent. It was just kind of like ‘ Let’s do something whack’ and that’s how it turned out. Simon didn’t find it incoherent, but then he ordered it, so something must’ve grabbed him. Apparently he thought it was innovative and interesting – a ‘delight’ if I remember correctly.  It just didn’t reach the same heights for me.

Inside Out Omelette Sushi

The final, heaviest dishes were tasty but all missed the mark a little. My scallops were cooked extremely well but were served with too much beetroot. I couldn’t taste the scallop when I tried the dish as a whole, which was a shame. The duck liver three ways was about the richest serving of food I have come across. It was just too much. Each portion: the parfait, the fried and the terrine, was suitably smooth and flavoursome. But in total, it was an uphill battle to get through to the end. Finally, the duck confit with pancakes was simple and delicious.  The ritual of rolling them up and putting them together added to the theatre of the dish but it didn’t necessarily make them better. Particularly given the mess poor old Simon made of himself. He says he managed to eat it with delicacy and grace. For any of you that know my older brother, delicacy and grace don’t readily spring to mind.

The night was finished some Pedro Ximinez and dessert. The cheese was presented well and explained without snobbery or indecipherable technicality. The choc fudge was a little too full on for the end of a long meal but the cheesecake went down a treat given the combination of the strawberry and champagne sorbet.

The quality of the service really can swing a meal, from mediocre to outstanding and back again. I feel as if Oker had done a quality

Oker

job in providing the sort of dynamic you want in a restaurant asking you to spend a little more than normal.  We were undeniably lucky given the small numbers in the restaurant, which allowed the banter to flow easily between the three of us and the two male waiters. We let the waiter choose our wine for us forgetting to check the price upon his suggestion. Thankfully after a momentary panic and check of the list, he had provided us with a bottle of Pinot down the bottom end of what was on offer.

I enjoyed my night out at Oker, it was fun and the food was great. I would definitely recommend it to anyone intent on having a special night out with great staff who are professional enough to not go for the up-sell shamelessly when you ask for some advice. The bonus of a chef pushing the envelope is that they might put together an exciting new way of presenting an old classic – such as the tuna sashimi. The memory of those delicious little morsels continues to linger.

Den Haag’s Lola Bikes & Coffee

The Netherlands is exactly as you imagine, almost to the point of parody. You round the bend on your rented bike to see an open wooden boat putting along a canal, waterbirds causing a ruckus on the banks and a windmill behind on a grassy knoll. You can ride for hours and not come across more than a mild incline.  It intrigues me that café culture appears to be so far behind Australia given that here there are more bicycles than people.  There’s something about cycling and coffee that just seems to work. Perhaps it’s the fact that bicycles make fantastic decor, or more simply that in order to pursue cycling as a sport you need some form of caffeinated reward at the end. There is, however, hope: Lola in the Hague provides a welcome respite from the rubbish attempts at coffee that I have suffered from other places. Lola makes coffee the right way – they care about how it looks and tastes.

Lola’s Barista

It seems the owners of Lola, a café and bike shop, have some serious ambitions about trying to promote good coffee. We’ve frequented them a few times over the past week, and although at times I think the staff forget the difference between types of coffee, say a double shot latté and a flat white, the flavour and technique is pleasing. My travelling companion has ended up with a little more caffeine than he bargained for on a couple of occasions, but when it’s done well those sorts of errors matter a great deal less. Lola feels welcoming and cool without pretentiousness from the staff, with bright colours and interesting design on the walls. I don’t have much knowledge about bikes,  but it is obvious that the ones on sale here are über chic (and expensive) with their matte finish frames, dynamo lights and leather finishing.

Yesterday as we sat and enjoyed the summer sun with a morning drop, the barista walked in finishing a phone call to a friend who he plans to compete with in the Dutch Coffee Championships. We got talking, and he told us that in the Netherlands the tradition of coffee being brewed through percolators into large steaming mugs of ‘tarmac’ had made the transition to more delicate, refined flavours has required some serious effort by café proprietors. There isn’t the same easy market as there is in Australia as most employers offer their staff free or incredibly cheap in-house coffee. The Dutch do not seem to have the same need or desire to step out and wander down the street to grab the morning or afternoon pick-me-up.  This adds up to an industry that doesn’t necessarily have the competition or the intensity that push cafés towards new heights. The barista told us in order to assist with the shift a great deal of explaining is required for the few locals that do decide to try something new.

Lola Bikes & Coffee

They do offer some sweet treats at Lola – we bought a generous serving of the carrot cake, walnutty with cream-cheese icing. It was a little undercooked, but I’ve always been a fan of mixture so I didn’t really mind. More broadly, I think Lola would do themselves a favour by improving the food given there is enough space available inside to provide something more than cake and croissants. Regardless, it was just the right starter before a 50km bike ride to Leiden and Katwijk beach.

It is always hard to say when you don’t know a place very well, but it seems Lola is an interesting and welcome addition to a café scene that doesn’t appear to be enjoying coffee in the same way we do in Australia.  I enjoyed having the chance to sit and read while listening to the sing-song Dutch conversations occur around me. If you’re ever making the hedonistic sojourn to Amsterdam, I would strongly recommend a day trip down to the Hague for a bike ride followed up by a coffee at Lola.

Childhood revisited at Red Velvet Lounge

Hobart was suffering through a brooding morning, so we decided to enjoy Bronnie’s last day before University resumed and went for a 1950s-esque Sunday drive down to Tinderbox and up through the Huon.  Travelling through the Huon is authentic Tasmaniana: a journey through foggy mist and sweeping apple orchards and the moment after, pouring rain as a doey eyed bovine looks on as it meanders through the thick green pasture.  It is idyllic and inherently peaceful, with beautiful cabins, and wooden boats and yachts floating on rippling rivers flowing into the D’Entrecastaux Channel.

On this particular day, Cygnet’s Red Velvet Lounge was our destination. A fortnight or so earlier, I travelled to Cygnet to visit Matthew Evans at his Fat Pig Farm, and on our way Sadie had suggested we visit Red Velvet Lounge. I wasn’t satisfied that one take away coffee was enough to do it justice, and so we returned.

Someone has some serious interior design skills – it feels like home.

It makes a difference to walk into a place and feel instantly welcome. The staff at Red Velvet Lounge are superb, so much so that I will definitely take the forty minute trip again just to see the friendliest, most helpful Ned Kelly look-a-like I have ever come across. He was erudite and professional- a welcome surprise. There’s something wonderful about walking inside, out of the rain, into a warmly lit, fire warmed café come restaurant in a place close enough to the forests for you to feel them. The softly spoken waiter with a thick European accent and a messy upper arm tattoo was attentive without being overbearing. It is a hard skill to master – the awkward “hurry up I want to go home” moment every waiter suffers at some point. Perhaps my own experience (and shocking tactics employed at times) have heightened my senses to any hints of being rushed. There was no rushing at Red Velvet Lounge. In fact, the warm glow from friendliness caused a rush of blood purchase of one of the etching prints out of the eclectic range hung on the walls.

The afternoon tea was exceptional. My upside down pear cake was moist with hints of brown sugar and cinnamon, reminiscent of apple crumble on a winter’s eve. Great food has the capacity to evoke nostalgia: the quietness of the cake put me in mind of memories of childhood family trips to a friend’s property beside the Huon River, looking down over the water. The place had the romance of the bush and the space of the river, the warmth of kitchen surrounded by the outside. Bron had a confit berry tart which wasn’t adventurous but pleasing enough. The custardy filling smooth and textured – if cookbooks are to be believed, when baking desserts, accuracy is important. That attention to detail was clear in the tart.  The flavour was sweet and verged on everyday, but when the everyday is made with fresh berries and is enjoyed in such a location, it is hard to fault. The success of our sojourn was that it was blessed with the comforts of the familiar. A warm cake or a little sweet tart on a chilly afternoon after a long drive.

‘PIzza Slices’

Both servings were provided with a quenelle of cream that was placed with such attention to detail that I felt bad eating it. Of course, cream must be eaten, and I enjoyed all of it. And I wanted more.  I love the feeling of being somewhere that is truly exciting; where the ingredients are fresh and prepared by someone who cares.

I had a pot of Russian Caravan tea which has a strong smokey and earthy flavour and puts you in mind of the pictures on the front of the tea boxes of camel trains. It’s dirty, like unshaven merchants, burly men sitting in the desert. I know that might not sound particularly appetising but I love it. Drinking tea is a ritual act that needs to happen slowly, and it is this ritual that makes choosing it over coffee worthwhile. A close friend and I recently had a disagreement about the point of providing the jug, and an empty cup  with a little pour of milk to do the mixing yourself. He thinks when you order tea, it should be a bag of Bushells in a mug. Nothing more. But he is clearly wrong: part of what makes food wonderful  is the ritual it involves. It is what makes going out for a meal an event, something to be savoured.

Red Velvet Lounge was the perfect way to spend the last afternoon before the stress and mundanity of assessments, exams and assignments. It should be visited on any trip down the Huon, and even for its own sake. Once you are  sitting in front of the fire, a belly full of deliciousness, you’ll be glad you did.

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