Rita's Bite incorporating Hobart Food for Thought

Welcome to my website

Rita's Bite started originally in 2006 as Hobart Food for Thought. It has evolved over the years into what you see now - a forum for those interested in (or passionate about) food, produce, eating out and hospitality generally. It is read by many industry members, as well as people who are, for lack of a better descriptor, frequently called 'foodies'.

If you want to find a past post, I encourage you to use the Search function on the top right hand side of this Home page. Type in your key word, and it will bring up all posts which have used that word in them.

I also have a Facebook page, to be found under the title of Rita's Bite, so pop in and say 'hi' next time you're surfing the net!

Recent Posts

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What a wait(er)!

Everyone these days is a food ‘expert’ (or critic). They photograph their food, they express their opinions freely, publicly and vocally and have no qualms about castigating somewhere that didn’t measure up to their expectations. Conversely, they rave about great gastronomic experiences, service and venues.

However it renders sites like my restaurant review blog, Hobart Food for Thought, which I have been penning for 8 years, superfluous.

So, with my passion for hospitality, food and dining out, I thought I would write a series of articles on a food-related subject: some different personalities currently working in the hospitality industry in Hobart, and try to paint for you a slightly different picture of this unique world of hospitality.

I decided to capture an average cross section of staff, so picked a waiter, a couple who own a pub, and a chef. None of them were/are my personal friends so no conflict of interest was involved.

I wanted to basically gauge the current temperature, as it were, of today’s world of hospitality and see what various participants are thinking. Get into their heads. Examine their day-to-day highs and lows.

All were asked roughly the same questions, and permitted to wander off on a tangent if that’s where the conversation took us!

My first ‘victim’ is a waiter who prefers to remain anonymous, and so he shall. I’ll name him Sam.

Sam is 28 years old, and a uni student. He is doing what so many students do – work their way through uni. His degree is in journalism and sociology, and he will finish uni next year. Despite the waiting work being a means to an end, he wouldn’t mind staying on in the industry following his degree, but not in the service side.

In his observations of the industry, he believes that some business owners shoot themselves in the foot whilst trying to shave costs and make money. Raising the menu prices means cutting out many of the younger diners who simply won’t put their money to a meal with hugely inflated prices (and possibly not offering that much more value). They compare places, and they know exactly what they like, and realise there are plenty more venues in Hobart to choose to spend their money in.

I asked about pet peeves, and funnily enough got the same response from 3 of my personalities! This hugely annoying issue is people who arrive at a venue, with over 4 people in the group, and with no booking, and who then get very angry that the restaurant can’t accommodate them. This is particularly annoying on a Friday night when it’s frantically busy in both front of house and back of house.

He also hates people who call into the restaurant at any time of the day or night to drop off their resume. FYI - these resumes get binned immediately! I asked what the best scenario for someone wanting work in his workplace would be. He suggests coming in with their resume at around 5.30 to drop it off. The restaurant opens at 6.00 so this is a reasonable time to come in, and shows an acknowledgement of the fact that they are serious about their jobseeking but also respectful of the fact that the business is a busy place of work and not concerned at that time of day with hiring anyone.

If you’re doing a shift on trial, he suggests using your initiative, and not just standing there awaiting instructions from busy staff. Watch and do, is his advice. There is always some cleaning, or clearing back a table, to do.

He derives immense satisfaction from having completed a good night at work, where all the customers leave happy.

Working in such a tightly knit team means your workmates become your second family, with staff developing an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality in regard to the customers.

He pointed out that generally the staff just want to make their customers happy. You can never please everyone, and there will always be some customers who are unhappy with aspects of their experience no matter what you do.

When you post a bad review online on a site like Eating Out in Tassie, you can really damage a business. You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about complaining. If you have a problem with something, raise it immediately with staff.

He related a story to me of a man who complained that his $32 spatchcock was too juicy and had run into his polenta. He was in a party of three people, and demanded all three meals be provided free of charge. He was also angry because his name had been mispronounced! Needless to say, no money was refunded and no meals were provided free! A juicy spatchcock is most definitely not grounds for complaint for any reasonable human being!

I enquired where his favourite places to eat were, when he had a night or day off. He named Ginger Brown, Pligrim, CafĂ© Kara, Solo and Berta. He considers the guys at Pilgrim to be Hobart’s biggest movers and shakers, as they cover lots of bases with their food and drinks. He also predicts food trucks as the next big thing for Hobart, and can’t understand Hobart City Council’s hard line policies which make it nearly impossible to get a venture like this up and running. “You’d think they’d encourage food trucks round the city to attract people” into the central area.

To sum up my chat with Sam, he mostly loves his work which admittedly is a stepping stone in his life. His observations on eating out in Hobart at the moment are that the $10 bar meals, cheap parmys and burgers are really meals for those on a budget, and hence not really deserving of the huge amount of online reviews they get.

I came away with a sense of hope and happiness that the world of waiting was still in very safe hands in this young generation of waitstaff. I loved Sam’s passion for, and interest in, his workplace and current career.

Thank you Sam for sharing.

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Monday, June 16, 2014

No, I'm not dead!

 Yes, alright! It has been many months since I last posted a review here. For that, I offer my most humble of apologies. Being on Facebook daily, it was very simple to create a Facebook page (Rita's Bite) and add my ramblings to that page instead of returning to my familiar old blog with my restaurant reviews (and occasional grouches). But I promise to keep writing here, even if it is more sporadically than previously.

I hope you are all eating well, and not letting the bastards get you down!

And one final word for my most faithful of readers - Sir Grumpy.......I miss you Sir G!
Cornelian Bay Boathouse Oct 2013

Absolutely stunning dish of slow cooked lamb at Frogmore Creek (ex Meadowbank), May 2014


Spring in Stanley, Producers Lunch at Old Cable Station, Sunday 13th October 2013

The Cable Station in Stanley is a (relatively) historic old building in the midst of beautiful, picturesque surroundings. It was originally built in the 1930’s to house the headquarters of Tasmania’s first cable telephone link, which was laid beneath Bass Strait, with the mainland. Still in situ (in the cottage accommodation) is the original switchboard, complete with the 20 lines connecting to major exchanges of Hobart, Launceston, NW coast towns, Triabunna, Marrawah, and all capital cities of Australia (although obviously not functional nowadays!). It was in this gracious setting that we attended the Old Cable Station’s 24th Producers Lunch, a seasonal lunch, held, obviously, four times a year and featuring a degustation menu of seven courses highlighting the amazing array of products grown, caught and produced in that region, complete with many of the growers, producers and fishermen present to explain how they got into their trades, how they produce what they do and what the highs and lows in their respective businesses are.

The North West coast of Tasmania is a veritable treasure trove of small and large producers and growers and fishermen all capitalizing on the richness of the chocolate-red soil, the pristine deep waters of Bass Strait and the West Coast, and an amazing amount of originality of ideas and concepts embracing all-round sustainability. Whilst these people would probably spit at me if I dared to call them “greenies”,  I think that in their own unique way, they are in fact their own type of greenie!

For the first time in 23 lunches, the last Producers (winter) Lunch was cooked not by owner/chef Charlotte Brown as per previous custom, but a guest chef in the form of John T Bailey (ex owner/chef of The Banc at Swansea). This worked so well, they decided to continue this way, so this time it was the turn of brilliant Hobart-based chef Paul Foreman, currently Executive Chef for the Kalis Group (pub owners of Beltana, Black Buffalo, Cooleys, Kingston pub, Margate Tavern, Beachside Bicheno, Mornington, and others). Paul has a glittering history in the cheffing world of Hobart, and I for one can testify as to his unique skills in the kitchen, having been a Foreman groupie for over 20 years!

There were 50 guests present, and the large, round, heavy duty ex cable reels served as tables for 10 people, so there were 5 tables.

The menu was inspirational and capitalized on all the farming aspects of the northern part of the state brilliantly. Being a degustation, all courses were served with a matching wine from Port Sorell winery Ghost Rock, and a Spreyton cider served with second course.

We started with wood fired ciabatta (there is a wood fired oven in one corner of the restaurant) with churned butter, then progressed on to Spring Bay mussels with leek, saffron, fennel and cider, This was a magnificently delicate and fully flavoured soup served in a shot glass. As a preview to the meal to come, this was a ripper, but I was upset we were only given a shot glass of it, although I did manage to make up for it later in the evening when I wandered out to the kitchen at Cable Station and found half a vat of it still left, so what could a girl do but slurp down a decent sized soup bowl of it!
Mussel soup
Petuna ocean trout with white miso, shima wasabi, samphire and trout crackling followed. Everyone at our table ooh-ed and aah-ed at the taste and originality of thought of the trout crackling, which was indeed beautiful. Clearly it wasn’t common fare for some guests. Out of all the courses, this one was probably my least favourite, as I found the fish a bit dry, but not so much as to cause me to complain about this small criticism to anyone, although I did mention it to Paul later. The meal presented, I feel, the best of all the courses, with the samphire and crackling being the jewels of the dish.
Ocean trout
Next came the pulled and pressed Black Ridge Farm pork, sticky sauce, coriander congee and puffed rice. Sounds weird but it all truly worked well together.
Wood fired Black Ridge Farm spring lamb belly, green pea crunch, Jerusalem artichoke porridge and Meyer lemon sherbet followed the pork. This dish too reads like it might be a mish-mash of odd flavours but all was fine. I am a particular fan of both lamb and Jerusalem artichokes, so this dish pleased me no end. The artichokes had been blended with oats, so had an artichoke-y, porridge-y taste and consistency.

12 hour Robbins Island wagyu oyster blade, honey brown mushroom ‘marrow’ and new seasons pink eye potatoes was next up, and was a corker too. The meat cooked slowly to utter perfection, the mushroom marrow was innovative and delicious, and was well complemented by the pink eyes.
Oyster blade
Then came what I call the crazy course! Because it was tulip festival time up there, tulips are currently everywhere to be seen, from planter boxes in the main streets of towns, to huge fields striped with various hues of purple, white, red, yellow and orange tulips. Absolutely breathtaking to look at, so obviously Paul got a bit too much of the fresh country air and decided to incorporate the tulips in his menu, so we ate fresh tulip with Yondover (local cheese maker) goats cheese, nasturtium crumbs and Ghost Rock pinot noir treacle. It was actually surprisingly good, but took my palate by surprise, not knowing if it was a savoury or sweet course. It was in fact neither!
Tulip dish
We ended on the most stupendous high ever. Eucalyptus smoked white chocolate and Blue Hills honey manuka mousse, macadamia dacquoise, raspberry jelly and toffee popcorn. What else can I say but ‘orgasmic’! All components of this dish worked so well together and bought the whole meal home as the resounding success it truly was.
Honey mousse
The event was compered by Don, Charlotte’s partner (and, to be perfectly upfront, my ex-husband). He interspersed the courses with getting various producers, who were present eating lunch, to get up and speak about their products and give us some background information. As well, at every table were a number of local farmers and business people whose products maybe hadn’t been used in this particular meal but were still interested in participating in a lovely meal such as we partook of, and were more than happy to informally chat over the food and wine about their businesses. I sat next to Carolyn Nichols (Nichols Poultry, and Hill Farm products), and opposite Mr and Mrs Hardy who are the sources of the fabulous octopus which Don and Charlotte serve in their restaurant, and sell from their food van at various festivals like Taste of Tasmania, and Festivale.

It was so interesting to sit and chat with the people in a normal scenario, across the dinner table. There was no ego or attitude amongst everyone at our table, and all the producers who spoke publicly to us between courses were totally natural and relaxed, and not reading from a prepared script, or stammering, or hesitating. No bullshit amongst this group!

All in all, it was a most inspirational event, and one which I hope they hold again for summer, and which I see as obligatory to attend. I haven’t been to any such meal down south but then again I don’t generally socialize too much so maybe we have had events like this and I haven’t experienced them.

If you’re any kind of self-professed ‘foodie’ (I hate that term but can’t think of another descriptor) or someone who truly cares about the provenance of their food, this seasonal event is one not to be missed.


Monday, August 19, 2013

White Sands Estate

We drove what felt like an epic five million miles to get to White Sands Estate, just outside Scamander, last week. It’s two hours to Swansea (if you stick to the proscribed speed limits). We would be staying in Swansea the night before going to White Sands, so when I booked, I asked the receptionist how long it would take to drive from Swansea to White Sands. She replied, “An hour” and added that it was about half an hour past Bicheno. So, taking her at her word, I took my powerful daily diuretic tablet (prescribed to make this human body loose fluid by urinating frequently!) before we left, in the full knowledge that it takes approximately one hour to kick in, so I had that travelling time up my sleeve as a grace period requiring little or no toilet usage!

Unfortunately, after ¾ hour, I was about to explode all over the interior of the car, and we were nowhere near Bicheno, let alone past it (Bec was driving and sticking to her 80 kph speed limit)! So we stopped at a roadside stall and they kindly let me use the facilities. We then progressed onwards for another ¾ hour, with me frantically holding on yet again! You have no idea how pleased I was when we eventually arrived there!

On first observations, this seemed like a potential goldmine. Situated in the most ideal spot right next to their own private beach, and having a putting green, swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball court, cinema, canoe lake, trout lake, children’s play area, BBQ area, games room and a variety of accommodation choices, as well as the HUGE dining room (restaurant called, most unoriginally, “Le Blanc” ‘blanc’ being the French word for white!), and Iron House Brewery. They also have conference rooms and a huge function centre so are ideally placed to cater for a wedding, in this idyllic setting, booking out all the accommodation for the wedding guests, with the function room having enough space to hold easily 100-200 people and activities aplenty for all those bored souls.

We were shown to our table, to find ourselves, in the midst of this large, high ceiling-ed gymnasium-type room (painted all white!) only one of three tables dining. I was surprised at the scarcity of diners on such a lovely sunny Sunday lunch time at this beautiful spot.

I could well understand it after we’d finished entrees and mains. Descriptive words that spring to mind include disappointing, unadventurous, ‘safe’ menu and mediocre food. Don’t get me wrong. The food was acceptable, and I couldn’t justifiably returning it to the kitchen saying it wasn’t up to my expectations, but it simply wasn’t.

Apart from bold notations on menu items which contained their various Iron House Brewery products (lager, porter, pale ale, wheat beer), there was absolutely no reference as to the origins of any other menu ingredients, which I expect from somewhere that boasts that they have “a menu that includes the freshest regional produce Tasmania has to offer”, put together by their “talented chefs”.

As starters, we had herb and garlic bread ($6), salt and pepper squid with a garden salad and aioli ($17) and confit duck leg with caramelized fennel and an orange butter sauce ($19).

For mains, slow braised lamb shoulder with crispy potato, honey roasted carrots and baby spinach ($28) and Iron House beef burger with caramelized onion, bacon, lettuce, pickle, cheese and a house made relish ($18).

Those “talented chefs” may well be qualified, professional chefs, but they will never get any further advanced in their career if they churn out tasteless food like they did on Sunday. The slow braised lamb shoulder had not one iota of garnish of any sort on it, and was the biggest hunk of meat I have seen anywhere. They could quite easily third that serving and sell it at the same price. It was, as advertised, slow braised so was tender and juicy. Unfortunately it looked so unappetizing plonked there in the middle of the plate that just its appearance turned me off. You know they always say we eat with our eyes – and I do, and this dish simply wasn’t doing it for me.

The herb/garlic bread was just ordinary slices of a French stick with herb/garlic butter on one side. That’s it. Not char grilled, not oiled, not cut thickly, not over-endowed with dripping, warm, flavoured butter or oil. Just that. If I were a chef, and had some pride in my work, I’d be ashamed to send that out.

The salt and pepper squid was cut too thickly, and the oil wasn’t hot enough when they fried it, because it was slightly soggy. It didn’t taste at all spicy either.

The service was fine, as you’d expect it to be, as the two other tables present when we arrived, departed as we were served our entrees, so the waitress only had one table to look after.

I would venture to suggest that they get a consultant in to advise on ways they can improve the whole operation, but I fear that if this is their concept of “relaxed modern dining at its best”, then getting a professional in (David Quon or Paul Foreman for instance) would be a wasted effort.

All in all, a wasted day, really. We should have just gone along to the Swansea Bark Mill, or Swansea RSL and would have enjoyed ourselves just as much, if not more.

In summation, White Sands Estate is, in my opinion, merely a white elephant!