Shortly after arriving in Tasmania and familiarising myself with the capital’s culinary offering, I was invited to dinner at Franklin, a new restaurant on Argyle Street.
I’d already had my ear bent by excitable locals who confirmed to me its excellence, announcing that it was just the sort of place Hobart needed.
Local chef David Moyle, previously of The Stackings at Peppermint Bay, focuses on local produce and ingredients, advertising and manipulating them and pushing Tassie produce to prominence.
Despite a late-night weekday visit, the restaurant was full. The building is spacious and sparsely decorated in an industrial Scandinavian-style décor that might divide opinion. I found the minimalism rather cool and charming. A lack of hung art and table clothes forces you to admire the scarce Scandi-design, before turning full attention to the kitchen, and to David, and to the food.
The restaurant is housed in the old Mercury’s printing press building and has an open-plan floor with the majority of tables and seating spread liberally. There is an open kitchen with barstool seating, revealing a wood-roasting oven, and the full display of shiny surfaces and service stations.
I took a ringside seat at the kitchen table. It isn’t the prized seat in the house like a lot of restaurants, which flog you the best position from which you gain access to the kitchen and can fulfil your voyeuristic intrigue of what a chef looks like and how they chop a courgette. Instead, the floor plan is designed so that the open kitchen is on display for all.
The confidence and skill it takes to cook in an open kitchen is extraordinary. You’re on full display; a performer for paying and expecting punters. Every movement, twitch, and decision is scrutinised by people who think they know better, but don’t. And I mean this when I say, that very few people can pull-off what David Moyle is doing.
This is some of the best food I’ve eaten. And it’s in Hobart. Where? Tasmania. Where’s that? Australia. Really? Yes. And while in Tassie, I didn’t visit a bad restaurant. Stefano Lubiana Osteria, Ethos, Garagistes, and Small-Fry all produced the goods. I found food in the most unlikely of places, like finding Pippa Middleton in Primark.
Much of the menu reads like a pharmacy checklist, with unusual sounding herbal and medicinal recommendations. Take nasturtium, wakame, and lovage. It reads like a witch doctor’s potion list. Then you pick-out grilled octopus with paprika & fennel, roasted sweetbreads with olive & rhubarb, and wood roasted whiting with lemon leaves & urchin. Combinations that both excite and fill you with intrigue.
The first two starters on the menu are just the sort of things first-daters can get excited about. Oysters and sea urchin are perhaps the two sexiest of ingredients. They’re knicker-dropping starters, starters that sweaty-palmed men on a first date want to see on a menu; the pushy aphrodisiac morsels that’ll bolster their chances of post-meal hanky-panky.
The Pacific oysters are three-dollars each and are big and sweet. They have a good two-to-three centimetres on oysters back home, and contain more meat for your buck. The sea urchin comes with leek and the aforementioned nasturtium, a plant species and part of the cabbage family. It’s a simple plate with a piquancy of the sea. The nasturtium I feel adds nothing but a flourish of pretty green decoration.
This is followed by abalone wrapped in bull kelp that is fried and served with a dry oyster. Abalone has a soft but rubbery texture, much like calamari, and is rarely seen or served on UK shores. It’s a dish that will sky rocket the bill, priced at 86 dollars (around £41.50), and is there one imagines, for the pleasure of the Asian force and to please restaurant accountants, rather than its ability to wow on a culinary level. Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy abalone, and went diving for some in Port Lincoln off the south coast of Australia, but much of its demand by restaurants and punters is rooted in its rarity, not its taste.
The menu changes daily, with daring dishes driven by what’s in-season. Liver parfait on rye bread is rich and creamy. It’s the sort of thing I could have on toast for breakfast for the rest of my life. Smoked bone marrow rice with raw celeriac was outstanding, and reminded me of St. John’s infamous bone marrow and parsley salad – a fine comparison indeed. And a side order of pink eye potatoes with sour cream and alexanders toasted wakame salad had a nutty crunch, while like many of the other dishes, held flavours of the sea through the addition of the sea-farmed wakame.
There was a whole roasting pigeon being prepared for the wood oven, and I watched with intrigue as Moyle prepped the bird and popped a small piece of butter in the cavity. It looked incredible, but I was four mains deep by now, and swollen-belly-itis had set-in.
Dessert would help, and a lemon and bay leaf ice cream was the perfect remedy for my rapacious neutralisation. Its cooling citrus tang was a welcome relief and a delicious closure to an exceptional meal.
Franklin, 28 Argyle St, Hobart, Tasmania. Tel: +61 3 6234 3375. Website.
Photography by Cherrie Eisemann.