What's The Most Exciting Meal You've Eaten in the Last Year?

For me, it has to be this one, from extraordinary wine bar and restaurant Garagistes in Hobart. I've eaten hundreds of lip-smacking meals this past year, but this one was by far the most exciting. Why? Well, for a start, other than the egg yolk (duck, free-range) how many of the other ingredients on the plate do you even recognize?  There were grilled spring onions topped with shaved kohlrabi ribbons, nettle sauce, lovage and toasted quinoa. A sensation of tastes and textures.

Chef Luke Burgess (ex Tetsuya's, Sydney and Noma, Copenhagen) and partners Katrina Birchmeier and Kirk Richardson 'celebrate produce sourced from many local growers, fishermen and farmers', including wild and native Australian ingredients sourced very locally and cooked in combinations of flavour and texture that will have you applauding their harmony. 

I read about Garagistes some months ago and mentally filed it away for future reference, not thinking for a second I would get there from Shanghai. Then a Christmas invitation to Bruny Island turned up and a flight scheduling glitch just before New Year meant we had a whole free evening to ourselves in Hobart - clearly, it was a meal that was meant to be!

Arriving at the airy converted garage space, we took the last seats at one of four long communal heavy wooden tables and waited to see what had been prepared for the night - the menu varies according to what's good, local, fresh and tasty. 

The meal began with an exquisite flower-scattered potato crostini with braised onion, smoked potato mousse, and herbs and flowers - shiso leaves, and a tiny spray of fennel leaves. The aniseed flavour of the fennel with the smoky potato, combined with the fragile crunch of the crisp potato crostini was a delightful start to the meal.

At Garagistes they do all their own curing and smoking, like the slivers of eel in this dish of quivering quail eggs, onion fondue, crispbread and potato, with oxalis leaves. I had no idea the oxalis leaves, something growing in every Australian backyard, had the most intense lemon flavour, a great contrast to the rich smoky oiliness of the eel. 

All the dishes are designed to be part of a shared meal, communal style, so you can choose five or six dishes (or seven or eight!) and enjoy a taste, a glass, a carafe or bottle of wine from the exhaustive list of natural and organic wines from Tasmania and beyond. Not a wine drinker? There's a whole lot of interesting sake to choose from. The only small disappointment of the night was the lack of non-alcoholic drinks for the non-drinkers and younger diners. 

The next dish, a salad of raw bonito, salted courgettes, sea urchin and pinenut emulsion with plump sweet currants, had a deep briney flavour lent by the sea-urchin emulsion.

And this plate. It fills me with vegetable delight! A forest of baby heirloom carrots with fresh young almonds, wild olives, saffron, and caramelised yoghurt. Have you ever seen anything so beautiful? The caramelised yoghurt was sensational, rich and creamy, with a slick of olive oil and the soft crunch of the sweet white almonds.  

At the recommendation of our waiter we also tried the daily special, a dish of the most spankingly fresh grilled flathead tails served simply with pesto. Salty, sweet, with crunchy grilled skin, it was so fresh it must have presented itself straight from the ocean to the door of Garagiste's kitchen. There's no photograph because the fish was already gone before the plate hit the table.

Desert can sometimes be a disappointment when the menu runs to only two choices, but at Garagistes we had already had so much spectacular food we trusted the deserts would be equally good. We ordered both. The first to arrive was a melange of kunzea (an Australian native plant) ice cream, strawberries, raspberries, pepper meringue, and lemon basil cream. It sounds like a mash-up but there was a beatiful symphony between the lemon basil ice-cream and the slight peppery, minty flavour of the kunzea.

The last dish to arrive was the absolute standout of the night. Burnt cream, buttery shortcake, citrus meringue, rhubarb granita and gooseberry jelly with tiny leaves and flowers. The sharp shards of the rhubarb granita melted instantly in the mouth with a burst of rhubarb acidity, along with the soft, sweet and sour gooseberry jelly. It was wonderful. I have an intense taste memory of this dish and I hope to get the chance to eat it again someday. To me, it tasted of Tasmania's summer.

In short, Garagistes was everything an exciting meal should be. The service, relaxed and attentive, meant all your senses could focus on the food, with its sublime combinations, innovative wild ingredients and contrasting textures. It's worth a trip to Tasmania to eat there. 

Where did you eat your most exciting meal of the last year? Details!


103 Murray Street

Phone +61 3 6231 0558

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