First I fell in love with the boy, and then I fell in love with his hometown. Hobart is just so cute and charming and, yes, cheap compared to Sydney. We were just in Hobart a few weeks ago, but unfortunately not under pleasant circumstances... Michael's dad had a stroke. Even though we spent our time in the hospital, we did get out for a walk or a coffee and we relished the fresh air and friendliness of the locals. (And yes, it's been quiet around here lately partly because of sudden frantic travel). Every time we visit, we wonder whether we could make the move down to that tiny southern island. For now, though, I'll have to be content writing about it for the likes of Conde Nast Traveller, where this story appeared in the Middle East edition. Here's my personal highlights of things to do when in Hobart.
Despite its rough beginnings as a penal colony on Australia’s island state of Tasmania, Hobart spent the next couple of hundred years as a pretty quiet kind of place—charming, but far from cool; unspoiled but uninspired. Mainland Australians mocked the tiny island, or worse, they dismissed it. And then, in 2011, came the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) (03 6277 9900, mona.net.au), the daring and downright breathtaking private museum founded by local eccentric David Walsh from a fortune amassed though gambling. The subversive, subterranean space, a wild labyrinth of ideas expressed through classic antiquities and contemporary art, was so radical it immediately put Hobart on the map for culture vultures who began jetting down the Derwent River on camouflage-covered ferries to see its wacky exhibitions. Slick new restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels soon began to take the place of staid establishments in a movement locals call the ‘MONA effect’; what started as a trickle of new businesses—often started by urbane mainlanders seduced by Hobart’s charms—has now, five years later, turned into a flood. The surprise ascendancy of Hobart received the final stamp of approval when the city was selected to host the finale of Tourism Australia’s showcase of the country’s food culture in November, a $1.5 million feast for culinary luminaries from around the world, including Heston Blumenthal and Alice Waters. And where did they all sit down for dinner? MONA, of course.
Fortunately, good food isn’t just a one off in Hobart, where an unaffected culinary culture—based on the island’s abundance of quality seafood, hormone-free beef, truffles and artisanal practices—has long been a major draw card. The Taste of Tasmania festival (thetasteoftasmania.com.au) draws foodies every December to Salamanca Wharf, where they feast on local delicacies like buttered pink-eye potatoes, freshly-shucked oysters and some of the finest pinot noirs in the world. Throughout the year, producers and locals wade through seasonal, local produce and artisanal foods at the bustling Farmgate Market (farmgatemarket.com.au) every Sunday on Bathurst Street.
An influx of hip and innovative openings that pay homage to Tasmanian produce while bringing a 21st century aesthetic to food prep has added to those long-time local favourites. Central Hobart has seen a surge of new foodie magnets; Garagistes (03 6231 0558, garagistes.com.au) on Murray Street was one of the first of the new guard to win foodies over. The minimally elegant restaurant and bar in an old mechanic’s garage helped the city shed its dowdy image with dishes from Noma-trained chef Luke Burgess like poached spanner crab with lacy lady peas, lovage oil, sea lettuce and shaved kombu. Several newer additions are following Garagistes innovative lead: On nearby Elizabeth Street, a mini empire is forming led by chef Iain Todd, and his partner Chloe Proud, whose innovative Ethos Eat Drink (03 6231 1165, ethoseatdrink.com) a fine dining restaurant housed in one of Hobart’s oldest buildings, has been joined by sister establishments Vita Nature & Culture (03 6231 1165) a natural frozen yogurt and juice bar, the slick bar Ash & Bester (03 6231 1165) which exclusively serves local spirits, wines, beers and cider, and Providore (03 6231 1165) a stylish lunch spot serving unique salads and fresh sandwiches to hungry Hobartians – all on the same block. Over on Liverpool Street, the moody modern café Property of Pilgrim (03 6231 1999)—an impressive offshoot of a coffee bar around the corner—serves an experimental breakfast and lunch menu packed with unusual and local ingredients (think: Tasmanian mushrooms with soft polenta, gremolata, buckwheat, hazelnut and rye). And yet another food precinct is forming on Argyle Street, where local chef David Moyle and his cohort head up the sophisticated Franklin Restaurant & Bar (03 6234 3375, franklinhobart.com.au) fun and funky café Betsey (03 6234 3375) and Pigeon Whole Bakers (pigeonwholebakers.com.au) selling malt and linseed rounds, sourdough donuts, and rye and rhubarb galettes from a tiny window at the back of the bakery.