I’ve decided to move my blog but please give my latest post a read here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I came home to Burnie for a few days of comfort last week and visiting one of my favourite local cafés was a must.
Hot Mother Lounge is fantastic. It’s what every regional city needs. Caroline Mulder, the café’s ‘Hot Mother’ is one of those locals that everyone knows. Her son was a ballet dancing, representative prop in Tassie’s high school rugby team. I’ve always thought it spoke volumes about the kind of person she was, to produce a bloke like that.
She’s set something up that really fits in with everything Burnie can be and should be. It allows the city’s workers somewhere to go for fabulous coffee and homely treats and it allows those that otherwise might not have tried a barley and beef soup to feel that it’s something they could have a go at. The lunch bar has built a solid reputation from filling that hole in your belly no matter how big or small. I’ve generally gone for the egg and bacon tart or the chicken foccacia. Now I know what you’re thinking – “That sounds like nothing special. In fact, I could get that anywhere. Who cares? That’s not interesting food. That’s just takeaway toasties.” But I beg to differ.
It is about homely food, like you wished your mother could make – an affordable lunch in a cosy room with two waitresses that are best friends and will happily partake in some banter, if you’re game. It’s not fine dining, and it’s not going to be for you if you’re after a lot of personal space when having your morning cup of coffee. It’s not pokey, but cosy. The art on the walls can be a bit odd. One day there’ll be some Lisa Garland photos – her evocative gelatin prints of characters with their collections and next time, it’s poorly drawn flower people but hey, it’s supporting local art and I’m all for that. I’ve participated in my fair share of questionable regional productions, and that’s the way it should be – having a crack should definitely be celebrated.
The recycled bus bench seats are, at times, a little uncomfortable. However, I think one of the things Hot Mother does best, and other places around Tassie could follow this model, is that it doesn’t pretend to be something it is not. Take a Launcestonian friend of mine who visited the coast and Hot Mother one afternoon. He couldn’t quite believe the friendliness of the staff and the quality of the fare. I try to avoid being parochial, but Hot Mother proves that Burnie is not the final frontier; and if it is, it’s still a place where you can get some damn fine food and coffee. Eliza churns out espresso guaranteed to impress with its accuracy of temperature and reliability of flavour. I’m yet to have a coffee I didn’t enjoy at this little place on Wilson St and I’ll be surprised if Hot Mother doesn’t continue to do what its been doing for the past 5 years or so.
So, if you’re feeling like visiting the Coast, Hot Mother Lounge should be a high priority. It’s up there with Cradle Mountain and Boat Harbour Beach as far as I’m concerned – do all three, you’ll have a splendid day. Caroline and her team are selling quality food and impressive coffee. It wouldn’t be out of place in a Melbourne laneway but for those us that venture north more regularly than for a weekend after a few episodes of Masterchef, Hot Mother Lounge continues to provide the proof that there’s more here than most would realise. Give it a go, after all, even though it’s uphill all the way from Hobart, it’s downhill all the way back.
It’s a quick little trip when you have gems like this at the destination.
A week or so ago I had the delightful opportunity of being taken to Pigeon Hole, on West Hobart’s Goulburn St, for lunch. Pigeon Hole has been my haunt of choice since I first came across it through my older brother in 2009. It’s the sort of place where you can set yourself for a good couple of hours, pick your way through your meal, enjoy the reliably flavoursome coffee and take in the cosiness of the setting in the foothills of ‘the mountain’.
On this particular Saturday, Hobart was subjected to it’s infamous penetrating icey wind, and I was hoping to get a seat inside. However, my timing was poor and outside it was. Not that it really matters, the communal dining makes any visit enjoyable. A very dapper 40-something gent sat next to us with his bright orange pullover looking well at ease in the blowy Autumn surrounds. It’s part of Pigeon Hole’s charm – the community feel, the welcoming smile of Emma working the machine and Jay out the back in the galley kitchen. Management have done a superb job of selecting their staff – always conscientious, without slipping into annoying, something easy to do.
We ordered a soup each – chorizo, cabbage and potato – and a roast chicken, aioli, capers and italian parsley panini to share. The soup was a surprise. I was expecting a thick, hearty, creamy type soup but the dish delivered was more of a broth. Not that I see a problem with that. The chorizo was subtle and the potato a welcome addition. Patey’s stoneground whole-meal provided some extra fill to an otherwise light yet satisfying snack.
The panini was, as always, exceptional. I hadn’t taken note of the capers on the blackboard menu but I would argue they made this particular combination. This is what Pigeon Hole does best. It gets it’s customers to try something a little bit new in a different setting and make it all the more accessible. The paninis have really cemented Pigeon Hole amongst Hobart’s best, and most lauded, eateries. (Mention must be given to the eggs en cocotte – a superb dish.) As noted in an earlier post, Jay and Emma, the duo behind Pigeon Hole, have recently expanded with Pigeon Hole Bakers, which can only be a welcome addition to Hobart’s culinary scene.
Finally, the coffee. Two lattes were always going to please nursing a weary head. So, obviously, Pigeon Hole is a delight. A must see for any visitor to Hobart interested not only in food and coffee but also those that want to enjoy their day just a little bit more.
I look forward to many more afternoons at Pigeon, it’s a fine little place that has quickly become a local institution. Let’s hope they stay small and cosy – as that’s the way to enjoy it.