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The island state has become a serious cultural and culinary destination.

HOBART has long been the first port of call for tourists keen to immerse themselves in Tasmania’s pristine wilderness and stunning coastal areas. But there is a new breed of tourist arriving in the city in search of an altogether different type of adventure – an escapade of the cultural and epicurean kind.

Five years ago, few would have thought Hobart would become a hot spot of some of the most vaunted restaurants in Australia.

Sure, the quality of Tasmanian produce – notably its cheese, salmon and oysters – has long been revered. But in the past year, the emergence of hip new wine bars and restaurants has immeasurably raised Hobart’s estimation in the eyes of food lovers and critics.

The newcomers include Garagistes, which opened in September last year and whose head chef, Luke Burgess – an acolyte of Sydney’s Tetsuya Wakuda – was named best new talent by Gourmet Traveller in August.

Housed in a former mechanic’s warehouse in Murray Street, North Hobart, with exposed beams, distressed brick walls, sleek communal tables and a long, wooden sweep of a bar, Garagistes would not look out of place in Flinders Lane or Gertrude Street. It has even borrowed the no-bookings policy that is the mainstay of Melbourne’s most fashionable restaurants (although bookings are essential for Garagistes’ four-course Sunday lunch).

In short, it’s the kind of place that would rile food critic and part-time Hobart resident Leo Schofield, who has complained that Tasmania suffers from too much Melbourne influence.

The great thing about Garagistes, though, is that even with its no-bookings policy, it’s still possible to be seated almost immediately on a Thursday evening if you arrive for the second sitting, at 8.30pm, as we did. Try that at a ”no-bookings” Melbourne restaurant.

Saturdays are a trickier affair, however, and a wait at the bar is inevitable. The good news is that the organic, preservative-free wines served here can be drunk in greater quantities with fewer debilitating after-effects.

The food is worth the wait: surprising, inventive and delicately sensational, such as the steamed Bruny Island oysters, gliding in a fabulously creamy emulsion of apple cider, hazelnut oil and chervil, or an astonishingly textured, marshmallow-like soft-boiled duck egg, served with broad beans and toasted grains of quinoa, spelt and buckwheat.
Ethos in Hobart.

A deconstructed dessert of burnt cream, shortcake, citrus meringue, rhubarb granita and oxalis jelly is a revelation.

Hot on Garagistes’ heels was Ethos Eat Drink, which opened in March and quickly built a reputation and a following – not just for its innovative dishes, inspired by locally and ethically sourced ingredients, but also for its evocative location in a heritage-listed, 19th-century stable, reached via a promisingly mysterious, arched laneway off Elizabeth Street in the city.

The lane was a former carriageway, blocked off for 100 years …

Meanwhile, David Moyle, a ”Melbourne born-and-bred” chef whose credits include stints at Circa and the Pacific Dining Room in Byron Bay, has been busy relaunching the Stackings restaurant in the idyllic Peppermint Bay venue, a 30-minute drive from Hobart in the rural village of Woodbridge, which has spectacular water views.

Speaking about Hobart is impossible these days without mentioning David Walsh and his Museum of Old and New Art, an $80 million, river-hugging fortress that has raised the city’s cultural cachet and tourism appeal.

MONA opened in January and has become Tasmania’s top tourist attraction, drawing to the capital the sort of visitor that tourism bodies define as urbane, sophisticated and culturally aware; in other words, the type who is happy to spend not only at the museum but also at the new-style eateries springing up in the city and surrounds.

Not that Walsh professes to care all that much about who eats where. Rumours about MONA’s mystifying, eccentric owner abound, so the story I’m about to tell may or may not be true. Reportedly, during MONA’s lavish opening at the start of the year, some starry-eyed, interstate Walsh fans eagerly approached the man to ask for tips on where to eat in his home town. They were blessed with a bona fide Walsh-ian reply: ”I don’t give a f—.”

An earlier view of MONA: The Sound of good shiraz, liberally poured!x

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