I’ve decided to move my blog but please give my latest post a read here.
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.
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.
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.
A little over a fortnight ago I enjoyed what was one of the most wonderful meals out I’ve had for some time.
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!).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Just a little teaser for an article to come soon. I spent some time with Matthew Evans at his new place at Glazier’s Bay, Fat Pig Farm, today.
I look forward to working through the notes and providing a better insight in the coming weeks but for now, this will suffice.
It’s been a long time coming and now it has finally arrived. Goodbye swotvac!
Ethos, on Hobart’s Elizabeth St, has been a favourite of mine for the past year that it’s been open.
Ethos will scare some people off – the menu is by no means normal. It is an exciting addition to the Australian food scene and more importantly, it is a drawcard for Tasmania as a destination.
I would argue that Ethos, in it’s intention, is on par with Garagiste, Pigeon Hole and perhaps even MONA in what it aims to achieve for Hobart. Certainly a positive development from the at times inaccessible Picalilly on Battery Point’s Hamden Rd (which closed down to make way for Iain Todd’s newer project).
The dish I thought I would concentrate on what a delicious $12 number of seared octopus. The octopus had a smokey, intensity to it that left me wondering how it had been achieved.
Arguably, there wasn’t much to it but that’s why I think it succeeded. Too many of the other dishes enjoyed were over the top. Too many flavours that hadn’t been pulled off as well as this delightfully simple dish.
Ethos should definitely continue to push the boundaries. All that needs to be remembered is that in doing so, sometimes they’ll fall short. I don’t think that’s any reason to be disappointed, it’s all part of the experience because when they get it right, they really nail it.
Written On Tea, in Hobart’s Sandy Bay is a popular dumpling house renowned for its peculiar service and dodgy layout. Upon telling a mate that we were heading down for dinner in a large group, he told a story of ordering grilled calamari with mixed veg and receiving four bits of rubbery mess on steamed rice with four sautéed onions crudely diced. Needless to say, notwithstanding the company, I wasn’t pumped.
I was however keen to compare the dumplings to North Hobart’s Midori. Midori crank out some pretttty sweet gyoza, a Japanese style dumpling, so they were going to be tough to beat. And they weren’t. Written On Tea did an ok job, just not outstanding.
Now that’s out of the way.
That all being said, Written On Tea do a number of things well, and for these reasons, are worth a look in.
1. They’re quite cheap and it’s easy to share, but it’s not forced upon you. Some places, such as Garagistes and Ethos, it is near impossible for those old school thinkers, who prefer their own meal and don’t wanna share it round, to be satisfied. At Written On, there’s something for everyone and it’s a great place for an introduction to Asian cuisine if you don’t wanna be pushed out of your comfort zone.
We shared two plates of pork dumplings (the first were definitely better having been fried a little more slowly), some steamed pork buns (kind of sloppy and not really worth it) and a chicken on the bone in a chilli and spud broth. The chicken was super tasty. Lots of spice and a fair bit of heat to warm things up. Lach chewed through one of the hot reds, and really paid the price. Certainly not for the faint-hearted.
2. The staff are a little odd at times, but clearly want to please and work really very hard. In hospitality, nothing beats the floor staff giving it a red hot go, even if they are a little bit shit. Maybe it’s just practise, or no clear boss.
3. It’s BYO with 3 buck corkage. For the ever present povo student, this is a massive plus. When you go out for dinner, nothing beats crackin’ a bottle of red and sharing it round. It’s a niche importantly filled in Hobart and particularly the Uni end of Sandy Bay.
And finally, it is busy. Like, always. I like a busy restaurant, with the hum of everyone chilling out at weeks end. Letting go and having a ball. That’s what dinner out should be. It should be fun. And fun it was.