Always an interesting place, the Tamanian capital of Hobart is now also a great gourmet destination, reports travel editor Winsor Dobbin.
Hobart has a colourful history dating back to 1803 and is a long-time magnet for visitors who enjoy its busy waterfront, historic stone buildings and rich colonial and convict heritage.
The city has undergone a remarkable transformation from sleepy to energised over the past five years, emerging as a delightful destination with a busy year-round cultural scene, myriad of restaurant and bar options, gourmet delis and a range of festivals.
The city has been transformed from dowager to hipster in no time at all.
Hobart’s renaissance as a tourist destination has resulted in a small, easy-to-traverse city noteworthy for its whisky, wine and cider bars; hip restaurants (with a focus on the superb cool-climate wines and local Tasmanian produce) and the arrival of new hotels, with a number more in the planning stage.
The major reason for the uplift in Hobart’s heartbeat was the arrival in early 2011 of MONA, the spectacular and divisive privately-owned Museum of Old and New Art in the city’s northern suburbs.
The creation of eccentric, gambling multi-millionaire David Walsh, the sprawling MONA campus at Berriedale is the venue for festivals in both summer and winter (MONA FOMA and Dark MOFO) as well as hosting regular music concerts and markets.
Downtown Hobart, once a quaint relic, is now a great walking city with attractions ranging from the reborn Tasmanian Art Gallery and Museum and dozens of hip cafés, bars and eateries overlooking the working waterfront and its many fishing vessels. The cruise ship wharf is now visited by as many as 30 ships each season.
From French to South American, Thai to Middle Eastern, Hobart offers a wide range of dining experiences for a city with just 220,000 people.
The area around Salamanca Place is dotted with interesting eating establishments including Smolt and Maldini, while the area around Sullivan’s Cove and North Hobart are other popular dining precincts.
Hobart is also surrounded by vineyards; the Derwent Valley to the north, Coal River Valley to the east and the Huon Valley to the south. The city has wine bars, a smattering of whisky joints and traditional pubs in the British style: including The Whaler, the Shipwright’s Arms and the Customs House Hotel. The Republic Bar in North Hobart is great for live music.
Here are some of the best places to eat and drink:
Located in what used to be part of the Hobart Mercury newspaper building, industrial-chic Franklin is the new home for the talents of former Peppermint Bay chef David Moyle, whose dishes from an open kitchen are both innovative and artistic. The contemporary menu changes daily and the wine list showcases ‘natural’ wines.
A recent arrival from the team behind long-time favourite Smolt, Frank specialises in flavours of Argentina and Peru; from steaks with chimichuri sauce and salsa picante to empanadas or ceviche. A bustling spot that tends to stay open late and focuses on red wines from Chile and Argentina.
A classy but tiny European-style bistro from a polished and experienced team, casual Templo is Hobart’s current dining darling du jour. The blackboard menu changes daily depending on what is fresh and available and may include local octopus with nduja sausage, or a gnocchi with broccoli and chilli.
Hobart’s beautiful people and savvy visitors hang out at the end of Brooke Street Pier, sipping on cocktails and sampling Asian-inspired share plates that feature “organic vegetables from farmers, soft sheep milk cheeses and oysters plucked from the Southern Ocean”.
For the best Cantonese food in the state and knowledgeable, gracious service, head to the inner beach suburb of Sandy Bay, where you’ll find Me Wah in a dull-looking shopping centre. Think white tablecloths, swish wines and impressive dishes like Sichuan duck or five-spice squid.
Overlooking the River Derwent on the Brooke Street Pier, Aloft has food to match the views; chefs Glenn Byrnes and Christian Ryan craft an eclectic and innovative selection of dishes in an open kitchen; think shiitake dumplings, or crispy deep-fried quail with lime and pepperberry.
You’ll find a cheerful after-work crowd comprised mainly of locals and hospitality industry workers at this lively wine bar on the North Hobart restaurant strip. There is a good selection of interesting wines from both Tasmania and around the globe, and some enticing snacks.
Bill Lark is the godfather of modern whisky distilling in Tasmania, re-starting the art after 150 years. His cellar, just a few steps from the Hobart waterfront, offers tastings of various whiskies and other spirits in a clubby atmosphere – with live music on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The Shipwright’s Arms
If you love a traditional English-style pub, head down a couple of back streets in Battery Point and you’ll find the The Shipwright’s Arms, where you can enjoy a pint of lager or Guinness, a good choice of wines and no poker machines or disco tunes. The premises date back to 1846.
There is a Spanish accent to this new wine bar and casual eatery owned by Naser and Cheryl Daci, who also operate up-market bakery Daci & Daci. As the name suggests, Jamon Iberico shares top tapas billing, with a nifty list of wines from Tasmania and Spain by the glass.
The New Sydney Hotel
Pubs don’t get much more casual than the slightly-dated ambience of the New Sydney, which serves a wide selection of craft beers on tap and in bottle, a choice of ciders and whole-hearted pub grub. There is a roaring fire on winter evenings and a warm welcome from the staff.
Where to Stay
While Hobart’s hotels of choice have long been the Henry Jones Art Hotel on Sullivan’s Cove and The Islington on the fringes of town, Somerset on the Pier is a perfectly located apartment hotel on the waterfront.
This stunning property occupies the first floor of a wooden wharf building, Elizabeth Street Pier, that dates back to the 1930s. The beautifully renovated pier faces the River Derwent.
Loft-style apartments, on two levels, enjoy stunning views of not only the river but also luxury yachts and fishing vessels. They are fun and functional rather than luxurious, with modern bathrooms, writing desks, air-conditioning and kitchenettes – the vibe is old-world charm mixed with contemporary style.
There are 56 one-bedroom and family-style smoke-free apartments in all, with free wi-fi throughout the building and a quiet library/lounge, should you wish to borrow a book
or print out a boarding pass.
As for location, it couldn’t be better. The building is shared by T42 tavern and restaurant, an Asian eatery and the rather excellent Fish Frenzy fish and chippery.
The many restaurants and bars of Salamanca are a five-minute stroll away. On Saturdays, the Salamanca Markets are on your doorstep, and there are many cafés and art galleries from which to choose.
It is a real treat to be able to walk out of your apartment and stroll around the waterfront with its many leisure craft, fishing fleets, old wooden boats and Antarctic exploration vessels.
The apartments at Somerset on the Pier are on two levels with a bathroom, kitchenette and lounge/office downstairs and a bedroom upstairs. Each apartment has an electronic safe.
The service is excellent and there is free overnight parking available, as well as a free selection of daily newspapers. A DVD library is available should you wish to spend the night in (as is room service from T42)
Prices start from a very reasonable $149 per night for bookings of two nights or more.
Somerset on the Pier, Elizabeth St Pier, Hobart. Call 1800 766 377, www.the-ascott.com.
For an in-depth guide to Hobart, see www.travel-associates.com.au/destinations/hobart
For those on a budget; check out Montacute and the Alabama Hotel.