Thursday, 18 December 2014

Monty's on Montpelier

The acoustics are pretty bad at peak times at Monty’s on Montpelier, but I think that’s pretty well the only criticism I have of this gem of a place in Battery Point.

Dined there for the first time in around three years last night, and had one of this year’s best meals.

Searching back through the memory bank for that elusive flavour ‘hit’ from meals eaten in Tasmania this year, I can say only three places stand out for me.

These three are Pilgrim, Frogmore and Monty’s.

I ate hundreds of fabulous meals in 2014, as well some real shockers, but the above three stand head and shoulders above all others.

Price doesn’t come into it at all, but it seems, if you’re to take the above list as a given, you have to pay the higher bucks to get the better standard of food. Having said that, there are more times than I care to remember when I’ve (happily) paid top dollar for food which has ultimately been extremely disappointing, so price and standard of food don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

I am honoured to be a quarter of a group of enthusiastic food lovers and diner-outers who eat out approximately every two weeks. We rate our food, discuss all dishes thoroughly and comprehensively, select our next venue, then pay a quarter of the bill each (which includes a tip). There is no quibbling about who had an extra drink, or who didn’t have the garlic bread, or whatever. Just an extremely civilised pig-out! None of us have any food allergies, and all of us eat meat and fish, so that makes it very easy to find a menu full of choice for us.

Last night was Monty’s, and it surpassed all previous venues in service, menu and food standard.

Two of us decided on an entrée for entrée and another entrée for main, as we had perused the dessert menu and really loved the sound of the Peanut Butter Mousse. Along with some side dishes at main course time we were actually absolutely stuffed by the time dessert time arrived, so shared the one mousse. The menu description sounded way too good to leave it out of the equation.

So, our table feasted on the following:

Robbins Island scallops, squid ink, almonds, salted grapes, juniper ($20)

Huon Atlantic salmon, Dijon, keta (roe), cauliflower, pickles, rye ($19)

Apple Isle pork belly, braised octopus, cacciatore, granny smith apples ($19)

Kindred organic quinoa, smoked tofu, grilled asparagus, pickled mushroom, bbq sauce ($18)

Rump of Wild Clover lamb, celeriac puree, potato fondants, baby cos, black olives, salt bush ($27)

The three sides comprised mini roasted potatoes, heritage tomatoes and wilted greens.

The peanut butter mousse was $15, and I’d give my eye teeth to have another one served up to me this very minute!

Not to be too anal about it, but every one of the above mentioned dishes comprised so many elements, which, strangely, complemented each other perfectly. The dessert had nine elements to it – and you could distinguish every single one of them. I think chef Terry’s ingenuity, experience and skill in the kitchen proved, with every dish, what a master at his craft he really is.

(Remember, an element is not a single ingredient. It is something made from a few different ingredients, and blended together with other elements to result in a combination of textures and flavours which hopefully all work well when mixed together.)
There is a huge difference between a great meal (many of which I have been lucky to have had this year) and an outstanding one. This one was outstanding.

I need also to add a postscript about the exemplary service, mostly from Elysia Mannix who I was absolutely delighted to recognise at the door greeting me as I arrived. Elysia has extensive experience in the art of waiting and customer service, and it really shone through last night. She has previously waited on my tables at Henry Jones, Piccalilli and Ethos. I sincerely hope delightful mine host Lucy and chef Terry keep her on there, as she really knows her stuff, and has that uncanny ability to intuit exactly what is needed/expected from every table. Her cheerful, nothing’s-a-bother attitude is noteworthy and I salute her for her devotion to her craft.

I have already highly recommended Monty’s to several friends/readers who were curious about Monty’s. I recommend you, too, if you take eating seriously, to take the time to dine there. You’ll come back and thank me!

Posted on by Rita
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Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Food for thought

I inherited my absolute devotion to, and passionate love affair with food, from my father. Throughout my life of 65 years, my dad has cooked the meals at home. Not only has he cooked, but he has experimented with food of different types for as long as I can remember. I once took a wedge of imported camembert (you couldn't buy it at the time in Tasmania) to (Huonville Primary) school in my lunchbox and was taunted in the playground for having 'that stinky smelling cheese' for lunch! Yes, it was indeed way 'stinkier' than Kraft cheese, especially in Huonville in the 1960's!

We regularly ate wild duck marinated in red wine and fresh herbs, with buckshot an additional extra!

We were force fed wild oysters at Cockle Creek as Dad tried to indoctrinate us into loving oysters as he did. He could never understand the lack of appeal even just the appearance of the oyster had to us children, let alone the strong 'fishy' taste and texture. This was many years before oyster farming commenced in the Huon estuaries. The fact that I could now, as an adult, eat oysters every meal probably means his brainwashing ultimately worked, but at the time it felt like purgatory, being made to at least sample the oysters.

Dad was the original 'forager'. We were offered for meals, on various occasions, possum, rabbit, crayfish, scallops, snake, roo, native hen (the most disgusting thing you'll ever put in your mouth!), duck, many assorted varieties of fish, and swan (which I believe was, and still is, illegal to hunt!). He foraged not because he was a tight arse but because he wanted to catch, prepare and eat whatever it was, in the name of experimentation.

Dad is (was) an artist, and along with his two best hunting mates, fellow artists Steve Walker and George Davis, spent many weeks, hours and days in seek of whatever quarry they set their targets on.

They traversed the whole island of Tasmania in their fruitful pursuit for gastronomic experimentation and perfection, whilst at the same time gathering art 'supplies' for their various artworks. Dad sculpted in Huon Pine, and has made many noteworthy sculptures around Hobart, as well as nationally and internationally. If you ever catch a glimpse of a news item filmed in the Senate in Canberra, directly behind the Speakers Chair you will see Dad's Huon Pine Australian Coat of Arms on the wall. If you wander into Galleria in Salamanca and look directly up at the ceiling, you will see some wood swans dangling aimlessly in the breeze from the ceiling - that's Dad's work too. A large amount of the Huon Pine he used came directly from the West Coast, and was hand picked for possible future sculptures he envisaged. The Huon Pine scavenging always seemed to coincide with a fishing trip, or a roo hunt!

So my life has been inextricably linked between art and food.

Fast forward fifty years, and Dad is not travelling so well health-wise. All in all it's not looking too crash hot for the old boy, but amidst the misty fuzz of his dementia, he can still discern flavours in foods I have lovingly prepared and bought into the nursing home where he now languishes. He instantly recalls times in his life when he has caught, cooked on a fire on the beach, and eaten a crayfish, such as the one I took into him. He gobbled up the scallops, which I had very lightly pan fried simply in some butter (he is the original 'butter' man, having poo-pooed margarine when it was invented and became common in household use at the time) and fresh-off-my-tree lemon juice. I stuffed the scallops into my Thermos and had the huge satisfaction of watching him scoffing into them, then getting transported back to a time when I was a baby, with he and mum and I living in Middleton and Dad walking to buy a bucket of freshly caught and shucked scallops from a local fisherman for 2/- for the bucket full! I think that equates to approx. 40 cents!

I find it exceedingly interesting how tastes are evocative of memory exactly as music can be, and hope he can survive till Christmas to feast on another succulent bit of turkey with the trimmings. He deserves it after a lifetime of savouring excellent food!
Posted on by Rita
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Sunday, 14 December 2014

There's life in the old girl yet!

Welcome to the new look Hobart Food for Thought, or Rita's Bite as it has become better known.

As the new year of 2015 fast approaches (3 weeks away? OMG!), I felt it appropriate to fulfil a few of this year's New Years Resolutions, and getting this blog site in order was one of them!

The pre Christmas period starting round about 1st December is always a frenetic time of year but this year I have decided to relax into it, take a chill pill, and approach it all in a more simplified way.

The Christmas gift buying has been pared right back, and superfluous gift giving given the flick as I have just allocated books to children, and edibles to adults. That meant only one trip out of the house for the purpose of what constituted my Christmas shopping, as I had bought all my book gifts online, so they magically materialised at my house in due course a month ago.

The ultra sleek, edible gifts were all purchased at the wonderful one stop shop, Bottega Rotolo, in Bathurst Street. Their products are classy, look great and taste even better!

For the actual Christmas Day main meal, a marathon online perusal of my main food emporiums resulted in my placing a seafood order at Tasmanian Gourmet Seafood, and Hill Street Grocers, and that was the Christmas food catered for!

How much easier can this Christmas shopping lark be?

I wholeheartedly endorse this method of Christmas shopping. Christmas has come a long way since I was once, in a time too far back to remember, a young mother struggling to cope with life, especially at Christmas time.

I'm here to tell you that it does, in fact, get better and more manageable!

I hope you all have as wonderful quiet, or noisy, or busy or uneventful a Christmas as you desire, and I look forward to sharing food-related words of wisdom with you next year!
Posted on by Rita

Tuesday, 23 September 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, Café 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.
Posted on by Rita
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