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Eating and drinking in Tasmania’s Coal Valley

Last month I submitted an entry into a food writing competition being conducted by Victorian-based DM Produce.  It called for budding food writers to submit any topic they wished about food. Well that was the basic premise.

Frogmore Creek, Coal Valley region, TasmaniaFrogmore Creek cellar door. Photo taken January 2011, prior to the deck extension.

Living in Tasmania’s Coal Valley, I immediately thought of our region’s local winery restaurants and set to work researching the three eating options along Richmond Road: Coal Valley Vineyard; Frogmore Creek and Puddleduck.

The first port of call was the Coal Valley Vineyard.  Their restaurant is currently leased and owners Gill Christian and her husband Todd will retake the reigns in the near future.  I had a delightful few hours talking with Gill about the future of the restaurant, which sounds fantastic. We also talked wine and Gill took me for a wander through their Cabernet vineyard, almost ready for picking.

I tasted the grapes and also had a demonstration of how they were squeezed and the sugars analysed to see if they were ready for winemaking. Additionally, Gill opened a bottle of their wonderful 2013 Cabernet Merlot so I could have the full taste experience – from grape to wine.  (She then offered me the bottle of wine we’d tasted. I wasn’t going to say not to that and my husband and I enjoyed it with our dinner that evening.)

I also had the absolute pleasure of not only meeting with chef Ruben Koopman of Frogmore Creek, but being treated to a range of dishes being produced from the restaurant’s kitchens and laboratory.  In fact, when I met with Ruben he asked if I’d join him in a glass of wine before querying whether I’d eaten in the restaurant.  “Not for a couple of years,” I admitted.  He then asked if I’d like to try the food. “Oh okay, that’d be great.”

What came next was completely unexpected.  More than seven stunningly beautiful plates came, one or two at a time. At times I wondered if Heston Blumenthal was in the kitchen – I was not just eating food, I was experiencing it.  Visually sensational, sublime flavours and textures – all skilfully executed and demonstrating the Michelin star level of experience Ruben has introduced to Frogmore Creek.

Ruben also let me in on some great new plans the company has underway for next year involving a city-based restaurant experience. I’m definitely going to keep tuned for updates on that as it sounds fantastic and is going to play its part in what is making Hobart rather a cool and bohemian mover and shaker in the food and arts scene.

Further to this, I also spoke with Jackie Brown at Puddleduck, which offers a third quirky option down the road, but which didn’t make the final piece.  Puddleduck has recently undergone a huge extension and has transformed its cellar door and eating rooms. Although the venue doesn’t have a kitchen, it offers a Reverse BYO, which is where you bring your own picnic to eat with Puddleduck wines purchased on site.  It’s a great idea and has quite a following.

Here are links to the three places I visited, which is by no means an exhaustive list of the fabulous wineries in Tasmania’s Coal Valley region:

Coal Valley Vineyard
Frogmore Creek
Puddleduck

Or you can check out more about Tasmanian winery routes at Wine Tasmania.

Without further adieu, here is my competition entry as it was submitted.  There are so many more pages of notes I could have added, but it was a 700 word limit.  The photos weren’t submitted with my entry, but they work here to illustrate how wonderful everything is in Tasmania’s Coal Valley.

Coal Valley Tasmania from Frogmore Creek

Autumn sunsets in Tasmania’s Coal Valley are breathtaking.  Vineyards glow golden in the late afternoon light as dusk transforms them into Turner-esque landscape scenes.  Tall, silhouetted gums stand guard on hillsides against the evening sky. If you’re fortunate and sitting in a beautiful Coal Valley winery restaurant experiencing it, you’re probably in a state of bliss.

This region is known for its wine.  It also boasts great food and with two winery restaurants along the road to Richmond offering vastly different dining styles, it’s worth the short drive from Hobart.

Coal_Valley_Cab_Merlot_and_grapesThe first you’ll encounter as you turn from Cambridge towards Richmond is the Coal Valley Vineyard. It’s the result of 16 years’ effort by Hobart born Gill Christian and Canadian husband Todd.  When they started, it had just one acre of planted vineyard and a pine-lined barn that served basic meals at $7 per plate.  It’s now a vast space with stunning views from the currently leased restaurant.

With the lessees soon moving on, owner Gill is retaking the restaurant and cellar door reigns and engaging her former Head Chef, Clare Falconer, to make kitchen magic. Gill’s vision for the restaurant is clear: polished, rustic, homely, warm.

A sneak peek at the planned menu sees a goat cheese and date pie on rocket and orange salad.  “It’s something Clare is known for and does brilliantly,” enthused Gill.

She waxed lyrical about braised octopus, served simply with olive oil and lemon; and rustic Torta Verde using vegetables sourced fresh from their own gardens; to sensational homegrown pears poached in Coal Valley Vineyard sparkling wine.

Reflecting on their beginnings to where they stand now, Gill noted the biggest change is in their confidence.  “That’s what experience brings,” she mused.

“Clarity of vision involves producing the right food and great wines and sharing the ongoing passion with people who walk through our door.  It’s an adventure”.

And so it is that just down the road at Frogmore Creek there’s a gastronomic food adventure being created under the brilliant guidance of its extraordinarily talented Head Chef, Ruben Koopman.

In just under two years, the Dutch-born chef has elevated Frogmore Creek’s restaurant to soaring heights.  The winery now boasts two eating areas: the new, relaxed Deck alongside its experience-based restaurant, creating skilfully plated food posing as edible art.

Smell_the_rosesTake Smell the Roses.  It’s a flower on a plate.  Simple?  Hardly.  Skilfully formed petals are softly cured Tasmanian salmon with a centre of kohlrabi salad.  From a gherkin elastic stem grow lightly salted, gently crisp, perfectly placed, soy glass leaves.  It’s a shame to eat them, but someone has to do it.  The graceful curves extend from a garden of red cabbage salad, which is lightly dressed. It’s a meal for the senses – complete with a puff of rose-scented water.

Deconstructed Quail-Frogmore CreekTo swoon is to allow Ruben and his team choose for you.  I am next presented with quail, which is deconstructed and cooked three ways, with sweet-savoury Pedro Ximenez jus and crispy salsify. Stunning presentation, flavours and textures.

Simplicity_and_beautyThen there’s beautiful, elegant, lightly cold-smoked tuna with dots of honey-soy-ginger gel, plated with tender veal medallions, giant miso-dusted cous cous and delectable kimchi, topped with a flattened egg yolk.  I don’t know how it’s done, but whether you eat it in parts or as mixed forkfuls, it’s wow food.

Desserts are equally adventurous. My Kings and Queens offers the chance to either eat or play. Liquorice and vanilla panna cotta chess pieces are placed artfully across a tangy beetroot sherbet checkerboard, with freeze-dried raspberries, crumbled praline and sensational cardamom ice cream for kick.

Kings and Queens dessert-Frogmorecreek

Although Ruben gives full credit to his team, it’s clear he has introduced new standards of high to Frogmore Creek.  His passion is palpable and his great vision, to replace standard three-course menus with an array of elegant and fantastical plates, served with a hint of whimsy, is clear and exciting.

With plans to open a new atmospheric venue on Hobart’s waterfront next year, Frogmore Creek is pacing steadily to greatness.

But regardless of whether your style is homely and rustic or polished like a Michelin star, if you have the Coal Valley view from you kitchen window, you can’t help but be inspired.

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