HOBART, Tasmania — There’s a special kind of easygoing pleasure in eating your way through Tasmania’s capital city these days, a sense that this is the exact right place and the exact right time for maximum 2019 deliciousness.
The ingredients that create that impression are numerous. Hobart’s compact size makes it manageable and walkable, while its hills-cascading-into-the-river beauty makes those walks especially lovely. Its architecture, much of it constructed from hefty convict-cut stone, creates many opportunities for spaces that feel like hidy-hole secrets — small, warm rooms concealed behind hulking old facades. The invigorated arts scene, thanks mainly to the innovative Museum of Old and New Art, has inspired a thriving culture of creativity. And the still (comparatively) reasonable rents have drawn an enthusiastic group of fresh-faced chefs and restaurateurs, eager to showcase the island state’s unparalleled natural bounty.
This confluence of prime dining conditions has not gone unnoticed by national and international media, and I’m almost certainly not the first person to tell you that Hobart is where it’s at. Critical darlings have been anointed, most notably Analeise Gregory, the chef at Franklin, who not only serves sea urchin roe draped around linguine with wild fennel, but also dives for the spiny beasts herself. I’ve had wonderful meals at Franklin, and at the duly lauded Templo, and delicious but slightly fraught experiences at the Agrarian Kitchen, just out of town.
But the most vivid impressions — enough to jolt me out of my pleasant Hobart eating reverie and into much more interesting territory — are the meals I’ve had at Dier Makr.
Though the restaurant has had its fair share of attention, it is often lumped in with other exciting Hobart restaurants, the fourth or fifth spot mentioned in a pack of favorites. Still, there’s something going on in this odd little establishment that’s especially exciting.
Dier Makr is buried in the belly of an imposing gray building; a small sign in the front hallway encourages that “you’re going the right way.” In an interior room you’ll find a small collection of tables, a counter that faces the kitchen and a glassed-in wine room. “Kitchen” is a bit of a misnomer: The chef, Kobi Ruzicka, and his staff cook on a collection of hot plates and small portable grills.
When he opened Dier Makr in late 2016 with Sarah Fitzsimmons, a co-owner, they lacked the money for a proper kitchen. Mr. Ruzicka does not let his improvised cooking arrangement hold him back. (Ms. Fitzsimmons recently departed the business.) There’s a particular bent to Mr. Ruzicka’s culinary style, a layering of related but divergent flavors that borders on profound.
During my first meal at Dier Makr, more than a year ago, I was knocked sideways by a dish that presented cauliflower in various states — puréed, in steamed florets and in lightly pickled slivers — along with raclette and hazelnuts. The pungent, gooey cheese brought out the vegetal funk of the cauliflower, each element amplifying the others. All of the good things about cauliflower were put in a new light, one so much bolder than any I’d experienced before.
The fixed price for a seven-course meal was $65, which seemed incredibly cheap. The owners must have come to the same conclusion: Over the last 18 months the price went up incrementally, and is now $85.
What you get for that $85 continues to thrill. A recent meal began with a shallow bowl of creamy mascarpone, topped with soft diced potatoes confited in butter. Ultrathin purple potato chips came alongside, with the instruction to treat the dish as a dip. It played out like a loaded baked potato that had been reimagined and deconstructed — familiar and comforting, but elemental and original.
A decent portion of the meal is dedicated to snacking, the chips and dip followed by tiny tarts of tomatillo topped with creamy kingfish brandade, then raw carrots and radishes alongside a pool of labneh topped with an umami-rich paste made from fermented crickets and charred allium.
Further into the evening, a bowl of dashi appeared, dotted with mysterious dark parcels, some of which turned out to be zucchini, others dumplings made from leek and mussels. I’d expected to be wooed by the latter, but the dumpling wrappers were a little tough and clumsy. The revelation came with the zucchini, which was so soft it collapsed in on itself and revealed a plush, luxurious quality I’d never known in zucchini before.
The glassed-in wine room plays a refreshingly interactive part in your meal: Rather than refer to a list, you’re invited to peruse the room the way you would a wine shop. A waiter will accompany you and help as much as is needed, or you can take your time and rely on the tasting notes written on cards hung round each bottle’s neck. It’s not a huge collection, but it is very well chosen, showcasing the most interesting things happening in Australian winemaking alongside smaller producers from Europe.
Wine has been a focus for Mr. Ruzicka and Ms. Fitzsimmons all along, and in November they opened a wine bar called Lucinda in a street-facing space in the front of the building. Lucinda’s menu is, on its face, more straightforward than Dier Makr’s, with dishes like mozzarella panzanela, or roast potatoes with gribiche. But here, too, Mr. Ruzicka finds ways to make you sit up and take notice: mustard greens dressed in an XO sauce that is boldly pungent with fermented seafood; pickled rhubarb on a cheese plate that sings with acidic personality.
Mr. Ruzicka moved to Hobart from his hometown, Melbourne, almost on a whim; he says Dier Makr could never have come about back there. This is the promise of Hobart: that the next generation of talented chefs is able to spin its own weird and beautiful stories here without too much compromise.
Thank the low rents, thank the beauty, thank the art museum, thank the amazing produce, thank the creative community that flourishes here. But however you spin it, it’s Melbourne’s loss.
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