Tuesday, 20 December 2016

2016. What a year this has been.....


As I have been using my Facebook Rita's Bite page, as well as the Tasmanian Food Establishments page, all year for posting my random thoughts and reviews of restaurants and food, I feel this original Rita's Bite blog has become somewhat superfluous. But re-reading many of the older posts still provides me with so much pleasure, amusement and reminiscing that I will never delete it, so here we are.....just summing up the year 2016.

It has been a big year for hospitality. So many new places have opened up, but also many have found the going extremely tough, and either sold or closed down (for instance, Ethos). Many businesses are just treading water, hoping and praying that this coming summer season will earn them enough to tide them through the very long, lean winter period ahead. I probably should also make note of the huge number of food vans that have magically appeared all over the city. A brilliant concept, and one I hope continues for eternity.

This is a huge generalisation, but I find the baton has been passed down to the new generation of up and coming drinkers, with so many venues opening which feature boutique alcohol of some kind (cider, beer, gin, whiskey, cocktails) with accompanying tapas style food or pizza to soak up the liquid of choice.

That's not a judgment. It's merely interesting to me that the focus now seems to be more on the drinking aspect of a meal out, with the food as an added bonus. The meal styles have veered away from the old silver service, heavy cream-based sauces and kow-towing waiter style of haute cuisine for that special meal out, to a more light hearted nibbles, ribs, BBQ everything and drinkies type of evening out.

As was predicted over 10 years ago, not least by this experienced and hardened clairvoyant (!!), we are now in the grip of a severe and urgent lack/dearth of experienced, keen and enthusiastic hospitality workers of all denominations (chefs, kitchen hands, apprentices, waitstaff etc) with staying power, right across the state. Derrrr! Don't get me started on this subject! The effects of shoddy, slapdash employment practices and (lack of) staff training are evident almost every day, and I have gone way past banging my head on the wall in frustration about the shortsightedness of all involved in the administration of the local hospitality industry.

As for dining out, I've enjoyed some amazingly stunning food this year, and equally had some of the most disgusting food ever as well. Right up there, for absolute gastronomic pleasure, I'd have to nominate Phuong's Vietnamese at Electrona for simple, cheap, honest, straightforward Vietnamese food (particularly pho) cooked extremely well; Pearl & Co (in the Mures complex) for that special meal cooked with love and attention to all the finer details of great food; Miss Jane (the former Flathead restaurant in South Hobart) for a more casual but excellent standard of food; Saigon Express in Elizabeth St, North Hobart for great Asian food; Frogmore at Cambridge - it naturally goes without saying that chef Ruben Koopman is right up there for precision work, perfection and creativity in the kitchen; Aloft on Brooke St Pier is my go-to for that top food and service experience you want to have every time you go out to eat; Smolt Kitchen has proven my downfall financially, as their weekly changing $55 "all you can eat" specials menu arrives every Tuesday in my email Inbox, and I vow to ignore my desire to go there and devour magnificent food, and proceed to do the exact opposite!

Then there's my old favourite for the past 25 years, Le Provencal. All the things I've said many times over the years on this blog about the good old peppered steak there still holds true for me. It was reinforced last week again. Yes it's a French restaurant, and yes, the menu reads "Filet de boeuf grille" in true French fashion, but translated into boring old English, it's still the world's best peppered steak, salad and chips, and excellent value for $39.

As I've aged, and got more soured by a lifetime of bad service experiences, I have found myself being that rude customer you always detested coming into your workplace. I'm OK with that. I've always been Ms Polite Person, don't upset anyone, be tactful in your implied criticism. No longer. I'm Ms "Did you just ask if we enjoyed the meal? Well, since you ask, actually, no we didn't.....x,y & z were wrong with it". So, restaurants be warned. I'm not sugar coating it any longer. As my daughter says, "Shit's about to get real"!

Have a fabulous Christmas and New Year. Eat, drink, make merry, play fair, be safe, spend lots of money dining out to help boost our local economy. I have done MY bit, so I need you to do yours.
Happy eating in 2017.


Posted on by Rita
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Sunday, 27 December 2015

2015

It's been a while since I last wrote here on my blog. For that, I sincerely apologise.

2015 has been a very interesting year on the restaurant scene in Hobart and surrounds, the most noteworthy being the number and calibre of higher end places opening up, thus adding to the choices of general dining out experiences, and providing us with even higher expectations.

The Sunday drive destinations are varied and classy, no matter which direction you decide to drive in. Bangor at Dunalley, Coal Valley Farm and Frogmore at Richmond, Stefano Lubiana's winery/restaurant at Granton, Villa Howden at Howden, and the newly reopened (following last year's disastrous fire) Red Velvet Lounge at Cygnet to name but a few.

Noteworthy new arrivals on the scene are my two current favourites: The Glass House, and Aloft, both on Brooke St Pier. Two others are on my radar but as I like to draw out the excitement of trying new places, am leaving them to try till early 2016. Those are Templo, on the site of the former Chulo in Patrick St, and Urban Greek, which is on the site of the former Garagistes. Both have had rave reviews from people whose judgements I trust implicitly.

The preponderance of food vans and trucks has also been a breath of fresh air for a city that was crying out for something different in the way of additional choices such as are available on the mainland.

Burgers have become the 'thing', with The Standard in Liverpool Street being my go-to burger place.

A few other little gems I have discovered or re-discovered this year include Vanidols in South Hobart (or Soho, for short, to differentiate it from the North Hobart Vanidols, which is owned and run by totally different people, and has no affiliation at all to the Soho Vanidols) and ties with Saigon Express in Claremont as having, in my opinion, the best Thai beef salad in town, Salamanca Inn for the stunning $12.50 daily lunch special, Phuongs Vietnamese in Electrona (past Margate) for the best beef pho ($12 a bowl! best and tastiest bargain ever!), Ganges in Argyle St for the best naan and beef curries, Melt on Warwick for the best crepes and other goodies, then my most consistent favorite Three Japanese which has relocated from its original site in Elizabeth Street to Waterloo Crescent, Battery Point (the old Mummy's Coffee Shop) and is now serving fabulous breakfasts (both Japanese and Australian), as well as lunch and dinner.

Pho at Phuongs


I hope you give at least a few of these wonderful places and dishes a try in the coming year.

I wish you all a very happy Christmas and New Year, and trust that 2016 brings copious amounts of fine food, wine and great meals to you.


Posted on by Rita
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Tuesday, 28 July 2015

The Glass House, July 2015

Hugely enjoyed a very long lunch recently at The Glass House on Brooke St Pier.
First impressions: light, spectacular views  of the waterfront and water, expensive well designed and carried out restaurant fitout.

This is most definitely not the restaurant/bar for your average suburban $10 pub meal fan! It exudes an elegant, exclusive air as the waitstaff competently glide around you doing their jobs.

The food menu comprises only the first page of the weighty menu you are handed. The following six (?) pages are beverages of every conceivable type you could imagine or want. Whiskies, cocktails, wines.....you name it and it's most probably there!

My wine of choice, had I been rich enough, was a 1998 Chateau d'yquem  dessert sauterne priced at $700 (a steal if you compare it to some of the wine on offer at Me Wah!).

So to the food. There were three of us, so anything we requested that comprised only two in the serving, we were given three, to ensure we all got to taste a good cross section of the small plate menu they offer.

Our waiter explained that the plates were designed to be shared by all at the table, and that worked very well for us.

We had:
Baby octopus (steamed) with kimchi salad ($13)
New seasons Tassie scallops in a beer tempura batter, with yuzu mayo, green tea salt ($18)
Steamed Spring Bay Mussels in sake broth ($22)
Yakitori chicken ($12)
Gyoza chicken wings ($18)
Cape Grim eye fillet bulgogi bao, pickled carrot and daikon ($14)
Okonomiyaki Japanese pancake ($10)
Scallop sashimi in coconut vinegar (a special for that day. Not sure of the price, sorry)
Panna cotta of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf ($9)
Champagne chiboust, yuzu, lemon curd ($11)

My absolute top four on the gastronomic charts (of this meal) were the tempura battered scallops, gyoza chicken wings, and the two desserts.

I have never tasted scallops as fresh as these. How many heavily battered and boring deep fried scallops have I eaten in my 66 years? Thousands, because I'm a sucker for a scallop of any kind. Glass House's offering was unbelievably pure, clean, light and fresh tasting.

The gyoza chicken wings were everything  you want your stuffed, crumbed and deep fried wings to be! Crunchy, finger licking perfection!

The octopus and kimchi dish I found a bit bland, with the virtually tasteless octopus deflecting attention from the tangy kimchi. My least favourite dish I think.

The mussel dish surprised me because we got such a huge serving of mussels. The sake broth was stunning, but as I frequently buy and poach a kilo of Spring Bay Mussels myself, these weren't too far away from the flavours I usually add to mine, so this particular dish didn't knock my socks off hugely, despite my overall enjoyment of the dish.

The special of sashimi scallop was perfectly executed and bought forth with clarity the beauty of the scallop flavour.

The yakitori chicken sticks were a lovely tasty snack but essentially just two decent sized bits of marinated chicken meat on a stick!

The baos were the only dish I didn't try but my friends assured me they were excellent.

The two desserts were chalk and cheese in flavours, but complemented each other perfectly. I'd never heard of a 'chiboust' before, but Wikipedia quickly told me it was a creme patissiere (pastry cream) lightened with stiffly beaten egg whites. In appearance it resembled one of those pastry cream filled matchsticks, with a brûlée style burned top.

The panna cotta too was indescribably wonderful. Not too sweet, with the kaffir lime leaf and lemongrass flavours clearly predominant on your palate. Both desserts were exquisite. The best finales to a meal ever!

Sipping our lattes (and massaging our now bloated tummies!) afterwards, we dissected and rated the meal. It earned 8/10 from all of us. Would we hurry back? Hell yeah!





Saturday, 28 March 2015

Hallam's Waterfront Seafood Restaurant, Launceston, March 2015

A rainy, cold day in Launceston required lunch in the good company of like-minded foodophiles (I just made that word up!) coupled with the hospitable atmosphere of a reliable restaurant. I got all those requirements in spades at Hallam's.

Served by two diligent waitresses, our drinks were constantly topped up, our every need attended to, and our opinions of each course enquired about and checked on.

I was eating with well known Launceston restaurant and café identity, and food photographer extraordinaire, Cathryn Gibson, and her long suffering husband Neil. I say Neil is long suffering because every time they eat out, the poor guy has to sit patiently and watch all the food go cold as Cathryn takes artistic shots, from many angles, of all the food!

The menu is reasonably all encompassing but obviously predominantly seafood.

We chose what we judged to be a good cross section of food in order that we all might taste a variety of the dishes on offer.

Entrée was a tasting plate (for three), priced at $33, which we all agreed was excellent, except for the octopus which could have been a bit less chewy. I gather the contents of this dish vary, but ours contained three natural oysters topped with finely diced cucumber and a light (possibly ponzu) dressing, seared tuna, the aforementioned seared octopus and salmon on thinly sliced toast. Due to a mix up, we ended up getting three more natural oysters topped with a pomegranate sorbet, which we were absolutely delighted about as they turned out to be the best component of the tasting plate.

For her main course, Cathryn selected the grilled harissa calamari and banana prawns, rustic guacamole, grilled summer vegetables and coriander and paprika oil. Neil had the Spring Bay blue lip mussels steamed open in a saffron broth ($32), and I opted for the seafood chowder ($24) which contained an assortment of white fish and Spring Bay mussels and came with toasted bread.

All dishes were unbelievably good. Being a cold, wet day, I thought my choice of the chowder was a winner, but the other two meals were close to being up there.

We shared a dessert - a vanilla bean and cardamom panna cotta with honeycomb and stewed rhubarb ($13.50).

I think we could easily have sat there all afternoon, in the very pleasant ambience of this light and airy restaurant, drinking and chatting of all things food related, but I was only in Launceston for the day, and needed to return to Hobart so unfortunately our time was cut short. I thoroughly recommend a visit to Hallam's if you want a top class seafood meal in Launceston.

They're at:
13 Park Street
Launceston
Phone: 03 6334 0554

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