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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Jackman & McRoss: World beaters.

I’ve been putting off writing this for sometime. I’m not entirely sure why – probably a combination of some trepidation at getting it right and doing this wonderful Hobart group of eateries justice whilst remaining honest about what to expect.  Along with Pigeon Hole, there are few places I have spent more time. The flagship Battery Point Jackman & McRoss is always mentioned when high profile bloggers and reviewers come to Tasmania to do their stock-standard whirlwind trip. I get it: Battery Point is easily Hobart’s most picturesque suburb with its sweeping river views from the banks of the mighty Derwent to the frosted clichéd Instagram shot of a snow dusted Mt. Wellington. It is undoubtedly a wonderful haven in the biting winter of Hobart.

City Jackman & McRoss Lunch

The Battery Point Jackman can get very, very busy. Arrive after 10am on the weekend and you can almost guarantee that there won’t be any of their croissants left (which, to be honest, should always be your first breakfast choice). J&M croissants are hard to overrate – they’re big and buttery served with a seasonal jam, usually raspberry. A friend and I went to the Hobart launch of the Movida Guide to Barcelona last year with Melbourne chef Frank Camorra and his writer, Richard Cornish. Afterwards, we approached Cornish to talk about the book, and during our conversation, we asked him about the best spots he had been to in the Island State. His response, of course, included Peppermint Bay, Garagistes, ethos, etc etc. However, he became particularly animated when discussing the delectable treats on offer at Jackman. The croissants, he said, were world beaters. Unrivalled even in their Parisian patisserie home – surely the spiritual Mecca for all lovers of pastry.

It’s hard for me to sum up the best things on offer at Jackman & McRoss, because as always, a bakery café of this type is always going to disappoint if you go in expecting the wrong thing. It is not fine dining, but something much more casual and relaxed. I must have been there hundreds of times, and whether it is nipping down for a seedy Sunday debrief over a flat white or a half time pie run on a Saturday afternoon, J&M has never provided the same experience. And I don’t say that as a bad thing, necessarily. The staff are a different breed. They’re tight knit and Nerida McRoss, if you have the pleasure of having her serve you, will quiz you on your choice or perhaps provide some insight into the current position of her beloved Hawthorn ‘Tassie’ Hawks.

There is an obvious downside to its popularity . A forty minute wait for lunch service on a busy day is not uncommon, and on a Sunday morning that can stretch well into the hour. I’ve never been fussed by that. My opinion is that the staff are clearly working hard, they’re probably doing 50 covers an hour which a normal Hobart eatery would hope to do in a sitting and they, generally, do it with good humour and enthusiasm.  Some struggle to handle the lack of pandering that they might be used to at the lacklustre Metz, but I’m a fan of service with a bit of attitude. Some personality is certainly better than none.

Finally,  Jackman & McRoss manages to stay honest to its roots as a local bakehouse providing great food at a very reasonable price. It is adventurous – ranging from braised rabbit to confit duck to lamb shanks wrapped in buttery pastry goodness – while remaining cheap – rarely does a dish cost over $15. It’s easy to have a great lunch with a number of friends and get a bit raucous after a night suffering the sometimes stagnant nightlife.

The city outlet of J&M – just up from Fullers Bookshop – is a little more serious with a price hike of a couple of dollars to pay for the service, whilst the New Town café can be quieter and may allow for a lazier time. Jackman & McRoss is always enjoyable – just don’t go in expecting restaurant service, but embrace its sometimes chaotic atmosphere and the best baked goods in Hobart.

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