Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Hobart, Part I

Over the Easter long weekend, I abandoned all responsibility and escaped for a few days to Hobart, Tasmania. Although various people had tried to prepare me for the chill (and kept reminding me to pack warmly), I didn't quite believe them when they said it would be cold. I was also bemoaning the limited size of my sports bag, which was one third full when I threw in my towel - so regrettably I couldn't bring any of my fluffy marshmallow socks! Fortunately, I survived the biting cold, strong winds, and occasional rain, thanks to my favourite woollen winter coat and trusted scarlet umbrella.

Mures Lower Deck

Arriving in Hobart on a public holiday meant that no retailers were open and that our food choices were limited. As it took longer than expected sorting out the car rental, it was way past lunch time and we were starving. This meant finding food was our number one priority, which was quite an arduous task, what with interpreting the GPS's garbled messages and navigating through the various one-way roads. We happened to come across the 200-over-year-old Victoria Dock, home to numerous fishing boats and fish and chip vendors that were actually feeding the hungry.

My full bladder demanded that we eat somewhere with indoor plumbing, so we retreated into Mures Lower Deck, a cafeteria style eatery with a fancier component on the upper deck. Mures Lower Deck is family and group friendly, with large tables, stuffed toy souvenirs, and ice cream for the kids. As a random note, I thought the water dispensers were peculiarly sophisticated, with chilled and room temperature options.

 Ordering is at the counter and they give you a buzzer, just like in a food court. I won't elaborate too much on the food - it's standard fish and chips, except pretty fresh. Also, I was ravenous at the time and all I remember was devouring my share in an absolute frenzy.

Fisherman's basket: $14.90 (snack), $19.90 (meal)
Breadcrumbed scallops: $11.90 (snack)
Greek salad: $7.90 (small)
Battered fish: $14.90 (2 pieces)

Shark/ fish heads and stuffed animals.

Mure's Lower Deck on Urbanspoon

Next on our agenda was grocery shopping! With technology what it is, we whipped out Google Maps and looked up our nearest Woolies, which was an easy 10 minutes' walk from Victoria Dock. Having paid for 2 hours of parking, we had plenty of time to walk over to Woolies to pick up a few necessities and walk back.

Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens
 It was evening by the time we settled into our temporary home and we figured there was time to squeeze in a bit of sightseeing. We decided on the botanical gardens, as its website stated that it's open all year round. Being the last day of March, we were fortunate enough to have until 6.30pm instead of 5.30pm to look around. I have to say that the gardens were pretty impressive. Though smaller than Sydney's botanic gardens, each exhibit was carefully designed to suit a particular theme. I also really appreciated the considerable variety of plants and flowers. Sadly, I didn't get to see the whole garden because we ran out of time, but there was an arbour of rose plants that reminded me of smaller scale European gardens.

Entry fee: Gold coin donations
Opening hours: 8am to 5.00pm, 5.30pm or 6.30pm, depending on the time of the year
Time spent: approximately 2 hours (you could spend half a day there easily)

  Prince of Wales Hotel
 We decided to head to Battery Point for dinner, which was interesting to look at as a suburb. The houses were cottage-style and had so much character. Battery Point also had a vintage-looking independent petrol station and a convenience store that charged exorbitant amounts for their biscuits.

Cool petrol station!

Prince of Wales Hotel (I keep nearly typing out the word hospital) is located on 55 Hampden Road. The restaurant is located further inside, past the area with locals on bar stools catching up with each other on beers.

I ordered a whole-baked rainbow trout stuffed with herbs and lemon. It came with a side of mango salad and thinly sliced rosemary potatoes. I was actually not expecting much from this meal - simple but hearty pub food, perhaps, but nothing that tasted as good as what was actually served.

The trout was pretty bony, but the flesh flaked off easily, and it was quite easy to avoid any unpleasant stabs to the mouth as long as you avoided the head of the fish. They added just the right amount of lemon to the stuffing inside - a good amount of acidity to kill any fishiness, but not so much as to make you pucker your lips in distaste.

The rosemary potatoes were sliced thinly as if in a gratin, but baked until golden and crunchy. The mango salad was moist from the generosity of the dressing, and it tasted light and tangy from the mixture of mango, spinach leaves, capsicum and french onion.

Rainbow trout ($22.50)
Below is what my travel companions had:

Seafood chowder
The seafood chowder came out burnt (you could smell it from across the table), but they replaced it without a fuss. The garlic bread was lovely and soft.
Cheese platter
 The calamari came drizzled in coriander and lime aioli and served with vegetables.

Panko rubbed calamari

Tasmanian scotch fillet steak

Prince of Wales Hotel on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Sydney Madang & N2 Extreme Gelato, CBD/ Chinatown

Eating out is always a bit of a situation where you have a friend with life-threatening nut allergies. After a while you get a sense of which cuisines are generally safe, which cuisines are big no-nos, and which ones require you to interrogate the targeted restaurant. In the case of my friend, Japanese is the failproof choice, as there is minimal risk of cross-contamination. However, on our most recent excursion I really didn't feel like eating Japanese and thought, 'Hey wait a minute, there are no nuts in Korean bbq!' and proceeded to drag my friends around the city looking for a place where we could eat bulgogi.

We entered the alleyway leading to Sydney Madang and saw there was no line (it was 6pm on a Friday night, so all the other diners must have been busy having their pre-dinner drinks elsewhere. Once we left around 8, there was quite a long queue.). Ever the opportunists, the four of us snagged the last free table upstairs. We should probably have asked whether they use peanut oil in their cooking (my friend can't eat any nuts, but the slightest particle of peanut will send her to hospital). Alas, we neglected to do so and my friend is still alive, which is a pretty good sign.

Sydney Madang gives you your usual condiments - accompanying sauces, kim chi, fish cakes, seaweed and that really yummy cold potato. Unfortunately, rice isn't included so we had to order that separately. For four of us, two bowls worked out just nicely.

Our pork belly arrived first, with plenty of fat to go around. It positively melted and oozed around the hot plate, creating a lovely mess of grease. Not exactly the most appetising description to read, but fat is always a great ingredient ;) They were less generous with the raw garlic and lettuce (about 5 thin slices of garlic and one handful of lettuce), so I didn't bother eating it the authentic way and just shovelled pork, rice and bbq'ed garlic into my mouth.

Pork belly ($15.00)
Midway through cooking the pork belly, our Korean seafood pancake was laid in front of us. In most Korean places I've been to, the pancake is either crispy but not tasty, or tasty but soggy. Much to my delight, Sydney Madang made it both crunchy and delicious. Inside were the usual seafood pancake ingredients - octopus, shallots, chives, etc. While ordering, we had been tossing up between the small and the large, and I'm glad we decided on the large, as I smuggled slice after slice onto my plate. It also provided a nice carby alternative to rice to balance out all that meat on the bbq.

Seafood Korean pancake, Large ($22.00)
Finally, the main event was delivered - the meat platter containing a little bit of everything - mussels, prawns, octopus, marinated pork, marinated chicken, marinated beef and bulgogi! The meat was fresh, and it was all flavoured beautifully. However, I think my favourite on that platter was that bulgogi beef in the centre - tender, succulent and marinated nicely.

Meat platter ($53.00)

I had my doubts about whether we had ordered enough, but at the end of the night, I was almost uncomfortably full. It was probably also best to have ordered three dishes for the size of the table we had - there would have been no space for a 4th!

And, of course, you know you've had a great meal when you exit the restaurant smelling like barbecued

Sydney Madang on Urbanspoon

N2 Extreme Gelato

As Sydney Madang only has a bit of ice-cream for dessert, we decided to pass on having it there and ventured to N2 Extreme Gelato in Chinatown. I'd heard good things about it, but looking back on it now, I think the experience is more theatrical than anything - it's pretty cool to see smoke, beakers and people making ice-cream in lab coats.

The ordering system is slightly confusing, as patrons tend to crowd around the cash register even when they have finished ordering. Then again, that's like typical food court behaviour, so you just end up asking tonnes of people whether they are in the queue.

Their range of flavours on each visit is limited, and there is a lot of risk involved. One of my friends selected the "Salty Jesus Juice", a bright red sorbet-like concoction, containing salted coke and red wine sorbet. It was quite unpleasant to eat - though it tasted like sour, bitter coke (which matches the description), there was something quite jarring about the flavours. She ended up throwing it out after a few scoops.

I was quite content with mine - a "Strawberry Blonde Geisha", consisting of green tea and bits of strawberry. The consistency was creamy and these particular flavours mixed well. Nevertheless, I don't think it'll be top on the list the next time I feel like gelato - I much prefer Messina, with its larger range and milkier/ creamier textures. And to be honest, at $6.00 a scoop, I'd rather go to Coles and pick up a tub of Connoisseur.

1 scoop ($6.00)

N2 Extreme Gelato on Urbanspoon