Thursday, 24 October 2013

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.


Anonymous said...

Rita, your blog is dying :(

is there a drysdale Christmas shop this year? Or did they cancel that along side everything else?

Anonymous said...

Rita, did you visit the taste this year? Thoughts?

Many stalls selling icecream...deep fried chips and burgers... why is it so smoky inside the hall? No extractor fans? Sea gulls everywhere? Inside and out..

$9 for a plastic cup of beer ... $5 for a small long black.. $6 for a handful of non Tasmanian chips... All the HCC and stall holders do is whine about overheads, yet all of the offerings are a bloody rip off?

Total turn off for families, sure it attracts visitors yet I cannot see why?

mures has a stall because? Their restaurant is stones throw away and miles cheaper

Rita said...

Sorry for the belated response Anon Dec 12. As far as I know there was no Drysdale xmas shop last Dec.
Anon Dec 31 - no I didn't make it along to Taste this year. I went down on the first day but couldn't get a parking place so gave up in disgust and went home! Hence I can't comment on any of your points, but many of my friends who went enjoyed it.
Interesting your point about places like Mures having a stall - I made this point many years ago now, and still believe it - when their businesses are right there on the docks anyway, why have a stall at Taste?
***By the way - if you want to see shorter reviews and comments on the food scene in Hobart, you would be better served checking out my Rita's Bite page on Facebook.