‘I intend to spend the entire weekend eating and drinking,’ I announce to my mum as we exit the plane, the cold slap of Tasmanian air assaulting my cheeks. I’ve spent the last week sending her emails with the names of restaurants I want to visit.
We’re here for more than the food of course; Hobart has been named one of Lonely Planet’s ‘Top 10 Cities for 2013’ for its natural beauty and for the arrival of the world-class MONA. Add that to the city’s historical centre with its myriad art galleries and bustling Saturday market, and Hobart has blossomed into one of the most popular cities for a weekend getaway in Australia.
Arriving on a chilly Friday evening in the middle of June, winter solstice is upon us and the city is celebrating with the inaugural Dark Mofo festival -- a festival of light, art and food that has brought interstate visitors here in droves.
Checking into our suite at Hotel Grand Chancellor Hobart, we take a minute to admire the harbour lights before stepping out again. It’s nearly 10pm and we’re starving. A quick call ahead to make sure it’s open and we find ourselves in the Ball & Chain Grill. It’s not one of the restaurants on my list but I’m pleasantly surprised by the cosy colonial atmosphere and the promise of charcoal-grilled steak, mash and unlimited salad from the salad bar that, weirdly enough, is a converted claw-foot bathtub.
Saturday morning dawns and the weather is perfect -- a far cry from the torrential rain my friends in Sydney are all complaining about on Facebook. It is six degrees outside despite the sun, so we layer up and head out in search of the first eatery on my list, Daci & Daci Bakers.
A rush of warm, bread-scented air rushes out to meet us as we open the door and squeeze in to the crowded shop front. One glance at the counter laden with giant meringues and every kind of pastry imaginable makes me think it will be worth the wait to get a table.
It is. The live band in this Parisian-style café adds the perfect touch to an extravagant breakfast. We order more than we can eat because we can’t decide on just one thing.
Full of pastry and hot coffee, we head across to Salamanca Place, where the Saturday-only Salamanca Markets are in full swing. Row upon row of stalls sell everything from woolly hats to handmade jewellery and fresh produce; an experience which is only slightly spoiled by the fact that I am so full from breakfast I can’t enjoy all the delicious samples on offer. We easily spend the rest of the day wandering through the stalls and visiting galleries at the Salamanca Arts Centre, before returning to the warmth of our suite to watch as the sun sets over the harbour.
Then it’s time to go to Garagistes, the restaurant that everyone (and I mean everyone) has suggested for dinner. We go early and put our names on the list since no reservations are allowed.
We’re in luck and score the last seats in the restaurant. It’s austere, functional and, from the number of people who keep tripping through the door to add their names to the list, very, very popular. We choose the 5-course set menu and a bottle of full-bodied French red which we sip as delicately plated dishes are served. Warm coastal greens, octopus in stinging nettle sauce, Flinders Island milk-fed lamb… I’m particularly fascinated by the final course, a dessert of parsnip burnt cream, walnut ice cream, salted walnuts, dried blackberry and saltbush.
Despite the growing waitlist, we’re not rushed by the staff and the experience is flawless.
Wandering back to the waterfront, the final night of the festival is in full swing, with crowds of people warming their hands around fire drums and engaging in friendly banter with strangers. The city’s Princes Pier has become a temporary food hall, crammed with people, long wooden tables, and stalls selling food and drink. I walk through in a haze, too full to even contemplate lining up for a chocolate-dipped strawberry or shot of locally brewed whisky.
We spend our final day visiting the city’s famous MONA. A must-see if you’re visiting Hobart, the museum is owned by local philanthropist David Walsh, who is partly responsible for Hobart’s makeover as a city of art. Get the ferry if you go; it comes decked out in naval camouflage and passengers can enjoy a hot breakfast and a glass of bubbly while chatting to the vessel’s charismatic first mate -- a colourful parrot that lives in a gilded cage on the upper deck.
Heading home, I realise my ‘to do in Hobart’ list has had more experiences added to it than I have managed to tick off. It’s a tiny city, but a weekend is far too short to sample all the delights it has to offer.