We assumed that the roads would be dead quiet due to it being a Sunday, and they were - however most of the roads near our house were blocked off due to the City To Casino fun-run. We were unable to get into Battery Point to drop the clean linen back at work and were forced to join the Midlands Highway via Old Beach.
Once we had cleared the vast road works at Brighton it was smooth sailing with barely any traffic and not a cloud in the sky. We pulled in to Perth, south of Launceston just in time for the breakfast menu at Ut Si, a cafe located in a lovely old church and owned/operated by fellow-blogger Colette. The church is pearly white both inside and out and filled with the most stunning timber furniture constructed from recycled bits of railway bridge. The only disappointing thing was that the long shared table was so packed with gossiping, latte-swilling ladies that we could not see the polished top in its full glory.
The outside of Ut Si
The wonderful dining room
Ut Si's pride and joy is their little wood-fired oven located just outside the back door in the middle of their kitchen garden. We ordered juice and coffee while we waited for our food to come out of the tiny open kitchen tucked into a corner of the building.
The menu is comprised of eight or so creative café-style dishes ranging from three-grain porridge to a duck-egg omelet. We, however, opted to try the sardines on toast and the baked eggs with Black Forrest Smallgoods venison chorizo. We also couldn't go past the Pyengana Real Milk and vanilla ice cream milkshake.
Food arrived, it was beautifully presented - the eggs just set and crispy edged in a heavy cast iron ramekin with some of their hand-made and wood-fired grainy bread on the side. The sardines were also stylish, served still in their tin with the lid peeled half way back and most of the oil drained off, with spoonfuls of black olive tapenade and a sweet/sour green tomato relish.
Eggs, baked with chorizo and chick peas
The sardines presentation
The eggs half eaten
Soft and lovely sardines
And the tastes? Wonderful! The whites were soft and glassy, yolks heated just enough to thicken them but not to cook them, the chorizo added a meatiness and chewiness and ‘tomatoey’ chick peas rounded out and moistened the dish, which stayed hot for a very long time due to its thickly-walled cast iron home. The sardines were of course fantastic - fishy and oily, cut perfectly by the accompaniments and smeared onto slices of grainy buttered toast.
We lingered over the food for far too long enjoying every little bit and finishing our milkshakes before catching up with Colette and getting a tour of the wood oven from her noisy motorcycle-riding leather jacket-wearing father, who told us it was him who lights the logs each morning to allow the stones to heat up enough for the bread to bake. Even though the coals had been swept from the oven hours ago, it was still holding a temperature of around 160 degrees. Walking back to the car we realised that milkshakes are probably a bit much for our grown up tummys but thoroughly enjoyed our breakfast and were looking forward to the remainder of the weekend.
Next we headed to Josef Chromy to taste some of their current vintage wines. We were surprised to see that the only available parking was now out on the road alongside a friendly brown horse because of the number of cars already packing the little car park. The building is a special one, an old colonial farmhouse with very well-kept gardens. The place was packed! We approached the tasting bar, which doubles as the reservations area for the restaurant where we could see a glimpse of the gleaming new kitchen amidst bustling waiters.
Joseph Chromy and its garden
Realising that it probably wasn’t the best time to do a wine tasting we wandered out determined to come back at a quieter time and see for ourselves what draws so many people there.
As usually happens to us on these trips the next thing we did was to get lost. No technology to blame this time, as we did not bring the GPS, but we decided to try and skirt around the side of Launceston and effortlessly join up to the East Tamar Highway to the City's north and then visit some more vineyards. And lost we got, -but after over an hour and 10km of dirt roads later we joined the elusive highway just south of Lilydale.
The experience wasn't a total loss however, with no appointments or deadlines to meet it was a lovely opportunity to see some of Tasmania’s lesser-used roads that are fun to drive on one of the most beautiful Autumn days in the history of the world. Not a breath of wind, or a cloud to be seen. it became very obvious to us how different the northern Tasmanian summer had been to the one we enjoyed in the south.
Pastures were glossy and green, cattle and sheep were plump, birds and insects filled the air and many, many brown furry critters had met an untimely demise along the roadsides - in comparison to the south where pasture is yellow, stock are boney and there is rarely a critter to be seen.
Gleaming threads of spiders’ web drifted through the still air illuminated by the lowering sun as we pulled up to the first of our cellar door stops at Delamere just near the Batman Bridge on the eastern side of the Tamar. They are one of our favourites for their sparklings. We tasted the range and particularly enjoyed the 2007 Pinot Noir and 2008 chardonnay. We talked at length to the cellar hand who was busily hand labeling bottles and admired the flock of around 20 or so tasty-looking guinea fowl who were expectantly looking through the door of the cellar apparently asking to be fed for the third time that day.
The path in to Delamere
Heading south again the next stop was Dalrymple vineyard. Its new owners have installed lovely heavy timber gates and re-routed the winding driveway to now slice through the vineyard itsself rather than the straight gravel road as it once was. Only two wines to taste here but both were lovely - a young and zippysavignon blanc and a toasty pinot noir.
The driveway at Dalrymple
Further south to the imposing building of Pipers Brook where we again tasted the full range but without any real stand-outs from the current releases, but a couple of impressive back-vintages of the Cabenet/merlot blend that they no longer make after grafting the old rootstock. Pipers Brook has just completed their first organic vintage, signifying what will hopefully be a positive new direction for the winery.
Pipers Brook avenue driveway
A couple of hundred metres down the driveway is Jansz. The sparkling-only producer simply makes a non-vintage brut and a non-vintage rose. They then do some more serious vintage and late-disgorged versions. We tend to steer away from Jansz at restaurants and bottle shops because it's always so consistent and we tend to favour more interesting bottles. The simple non -intage though, was an absolute knock-out it was dry, fruity and spicy, well-balanced and simply stunning. Well done Jansz, we will give it a second look in future.
Iain doing his "Jansz dance"
The flock of plump geese at Janz
This is the subtle sign that marks the entrance to Pipers and Jansz on the highway
The sun was setting rapidly as we drove up to our final stop for the day Brook Eden Vineyard. One of our favourites, this very small vineyard is run by a couple who live on site and produce some lovely wines. A cracking rich, dry-style rose and a nicely balanced chardonnay that was treated with wood but in a very restrained way.
Now nearly dark as we approached Launceston we had been driving for 7 hours and now looking forward to lighting a fire and opening the bottle of 2002 late disgorged Jansz we had bought. Thyme Cottage, just past the park was where we had booked to stay. A very sweet little terrace house with lovely old furniture, a claw-footed bathtub and thick downy doonas on the bed where we had stayed a few years previously. We lit the fire and got it roaring while we enjoyed the sparkles and relaxed for half an hour before we had to get ready and embark on the 10 minute walk to Black Cow Bistro for dinner.
The courtyard at Thyme Cottage
Some of the brekky stuff
Black Cow, run by the team responsible for the famous Stillwater plus some vigorous new blood, was the main reason for our trip north because we had heard so many good things about it. It did not disappoint.
We started with a dozen oysters prepared in four ways. Natural; with a shallot and red wine vinaigrette; pickled ginger and yellow rock sugar; and a cheese gratinated - cheddar and hollandaise. We don't normally like cooked oysters so were a bit reluctant to try the gratin, however on tasting it, the oyster was not cooked but warmed, the fatty layer of cheese insulating it from the heat of the grill. It was beautiful - fatty, cheesey, salty and interesting a real stand-out.
Black Cow oysters
Next we shared jamon serano with wild olives and crisp chibatta. The ham was good, unfortunately a couple of slices still had chewy rind but this was of little concern. Tangled up with the ham were small. good-quality cherry tomatoes that had been pickled during tomato season to preserve them. The tomatoes and olives served to cut the richness of the dried ham and contributed some different textures. We lingered over this dish (served on a plank that had been removed from a Penfold's Grange crate), while we finished our pinot in preparation for zinfandel with the beef course.
We should pause here and tell those who haven't been to Black Cow what it's all about. Located in Lucks Corner in the CBD of Launceston, this little restaurant has been laid out just as you would expect a Bistro to be. Bench seating the length of one wall and small tables clothed with the obligatory paper laid over the top. The chairs are timber and the floor is also bare with a shiny finish. The walls are pasted with commissioned artworks, featuring (you guessed it) black cows in the style you might normally associate with ancient French cave paintings. The floor staff are in black bibbed aprons that cross at the back over a startling white shirt - classic style. The menu is comprised, as you also might expect, mainly of beef in varying sizes, cuts and styles from different producers and butchers with little else (plus a couple of entree options). You get beef... cooked perfectly and a modern version of pommes duchesse. Everything else you are free to add as you choose.
Our beef arrived, A vast rib-eye and a not so vast but superb scotch fillet. we supplemented these with horseradish, demi glase, truffled bernaise, baked mushrooms, cauliflower gratin, and shredded iceberg lettuce with pickled shallots. A bit piggy you are thinking... yes... yes it was but we were so keen to see as much of the menu as we could. We tried valiantly to finish it all but it could simply not be done. Both pieces of beef were pink, juicy and tasty, with charred bar markings on their exteriors -simply perfect. The sides were interesting and also cooked with skill.
Black Cow sides
All in all, taking the unobtrusive well-informed and helpful service, Black Cow is a force to be reckoned with. Far beyond anything we would call a steak house here in Hobart. The Stillwater team have executed the concept with style and ease.
The walk back to Thyme Cottage was a lot colder and somewhat slower and less directed, but we were pleased to find the fire still glowing so we loaded it up and flopped onto the soft bed.
Day two again started early with a brisk and very cold walk up to the top of Charles Street to Tant Pour Tant. A must-visit when in Launceston, this tiny patisserie serves up good European-style bread and pastries, and a big selection of slick-looking cakes and gateaux.
We looked over the breakfast menu that has moved beyond the old eggs of your choice with your choice of accompaniments. We chose soft polenta with truffle and poached eggs and Black Forest Smallgoods streaky bacon with gruyere in a soft panini. Again Launceston delivered interesting, tasty food. We left the shop with a box of treats and headed up the Tamar again, but this time on the western bank.
Panini with bacon and silky scrambled eggs
Polenta - yum yum
Our treats, pain au chocolat, brioche with jam and creme patisserie, chocolate eclair, and "le Framboise" which just picked up top gold at the 2010 Dairy Industry Awards
First stop was Velo. We love these wines and were looking forward to seeing their origins. The best part of visiting cellar doors at this time of year, after the tourists have disappeared, is that most of the time, its the wine maker who is pouring the tastes. You get all the inside information on each wine and we were privileged to hear the ins-and-outs of the 2010 vintage that was fermenting just behind us at several of the sheds we visited.
At Velo we were very impressed, as we have been with past vintages, with the shiraz. We know what you're thinking, "Tasmanian shiraz, no thanks" but this is consistently ripe, rich and big so we suggest giving it a go if you see it on a list somewhere.
Next stop was the spectacularly-vistaed Goaty Hill. Looking out over the valley and the Tamar Ridge factory, this is one of the largest privately-owned vineyards in Tasmania. Its well worth looking out for chardonnay and Riesling, and if you are up that way a sit on the balcony looking at that view would make the drive worthwhile.
Moores Hill, famous for their riesling was to be our final stop before lunch. The riesling is a lovely one and the cabernet blend is also worth a look.
Moores Hill cellar door
Moores Hill winery dog - very friendly
The one thing we have gathered from the many wine makers and owners we spoke to was that the 2010 vintage was a difficult one. Unlike the southern vineyards that remained hot and dry, the north was devastated by a week of rain just before picking. Rot and mildew combined with wasps (this year in plague proportions) made everyone remember that wine-making and vineyards is simply glorified farming and that the un-controllable elements can be very damaging. We hope the 2010 vintage while low-yielding is a cracker.
Lunch, back towards Launceston, was at Daniel Alps's Strathlyn. A very small and simple menu offered pork belly with peppery roquette and a classic osso bucco with mashed potatoes. The dining room was quiet so we had barely tucked into crusty bread rolls when the food arrived: rustic, simple, and cooked skillfully. Great ingredients combine to produce something that should be available everywhere but, sadly, is not, was a real treat. It’s not modern by any stretch but it doesn’t claim to be, Great comfort food, superb ingredients and a view to die for.
Strathlyn's oaky entrance
The pork belly with organic roquette
Now full of rich food and good wine from this great Tasmanian region we were ready to head home via the newly opened Red Bridge Cafe and Providore in Campbell Town. The building, a huge sandstone warehouse, used to be an antique shop until quite recently and Red Bridge has only been open for about 12 weeks. The interior of the building is decked out with a lot of old furniture, and vegies are displayed in vintage apple crates and copper pans of all shapes, sizes and ages that hang from the ceiling. The triumph however is an ancient chemists' chest of drawers mounted height on the wall behind the counter. 72 individually labeled drawers with a golden patina and cut glass knobs. Very beautiful.
The shop itself stocks locally-grown fruit and vegies as well as wine and deli type nibbles. Around the corner in another wing of the barn is a cafe. Again decked out with old tables and chairs, including both polished oak and scrubbed Huon Pine, to pick out just a couple. It is warm from the fire crackling in one corner and still displays the whitewashed timber rafters and braces that support the high roof.
Well worth a look - Red Bridge and their copper pans
Still full from lunch we didn't stop for anything to eat, but did raid the shop for ingredients to cook dinner. We will be back for lunch though. Well worth a look next time you head through Campbell Town - lets hope the locals support it!
Despite the loss of Fee & Me and Don Cameron's departure form Stillwater Launceston's food/wine seems to be moving long just fine with great things happening and still worth the drive.