“We can’t ripen grapes they said, but he could, so he did, and to the first wines of Jean Miguel we all dips our lid.”
A fanciful, marvelous trip through the wonderland of Tom Samek’s imagination and artistic vision, the “Flawed History” upstairs at Frogmore Creek is a must visit.
If you haven’t been there yet, then rectify immediately. The entire mezzanine floor swirls and trips with clever poetry and whimsical coloured jigsaw shapes detailing the history of the Tasmanian wine industry. It stars big characters, wild seas and boats, and a sensibility that has to be seen to be believed.
And then, when you’re sated with art, head downstairs for an almost perfect gustatory experience. My friends from Melbourne were over again to celebrate and being almost a year since their last visit, Frogmore was naturally on the radar.
Why, you might ask? Given that Hobart has had a plethora of new places opening these past twelve months, some of them hitting the right notes. Then I would say back to you, why not? For us as a group, Frogmore consistently delivers amazing food that is tasty, different and imaginative, and is still, I’m happy to say, art on a plate. With love.
The wine tasting at the front bar is in full swing, the gifts lining the entry are still first class, carefully curated and interesting, and the wait staff are fluid, happy and delightful. We sigh with pleasure as if visiting a beloved great aunt who can always be counted on to fuss and coddle and soothe our souls.
Ruben Koopman is busy at the new Frogmore Creek City – with The Lounge and their signature restaurant, Atmosphere at Maq01, but his presence is still felt in the entire dining area. The menu is on pointe, the dishes tantalise, and for me, seem to have stepped up another notch, if that were possible.
And there was one absolute standout dish that we ordered twice! Hey, isn’t that a song? New York was so good they named it twice? The ½ dozen tempura oysters with seaweed salad nestled in the curve of the shell, underneath hot, juicy, plump, briny oysters with a perfect thin crisp batter outside were oyster perfection. Topped with drops of potato and chive puree, wasabi mayonnaise and yuzu gel, at $23 one of the best dishes any of us has had for a long time.
We also chose ‘From the Sea’ the Roasted Pirates bay octopus, chorizo and feta, stuffed bell peppers with micro salad and mojo picon, $22. The last little item being a stuffed pepperdew which just topped off a deliciously different take on the these days ubiquitous octopus. We snaffled some enormous fresh oysters dipped into a delicious red wine and shallot vinegar (a wonderful combination and one I swore I’d try at home) 6 for $18; a smooth beef carpaccio with kalamata olives, capers, charred pickled onion, potato croutons, anchovy and parmesan dressing, $19. The last a really damned fine mix of beef and sea and land.
The smoked ham hock terrine with chicken liver parfait, pear and mustard crème, at $21, was served with fruit toast wafers, pickled chillies and it was generous. The smoked salmon with tzatziki, capers, baby herbs, potato crisp and bacon yuzu dressing, at $21 was an example of just how assured the kitchen is there. Thick cubes of salmon with a fresh smoky flavour melted in the mouth and made all other versions look tired.
We sampled the pulled pork croquettes, $23, smoked and served with truffled arancini, and a piccalilli mayonnaise – tasty, perfectly cooked, and the pork had a delicious smoky overlay. And from the garden – the crispy spinach and raisin gnocchi, with manchego capsicum marmalade, corn puree and bacon crisps hummed on the palate. $20
Having interviewed Ruben at length earlier this year, and had a tiny bit of insight into this chef who has had such an impact, I can’t help but feel that his genius should be further known. The dishes are always exciting, and somehow make other attempts elsewhere look, well, often meh!
His interviewing techniques to hire staff are different too. Resumes? Like many, he thinks they are overrated and a thing of the past. He has words that have been culled out of huge think tanks and represent the vision and ethos of Frogmore. How the applicants react to those words, becomes the telling field of whether they’re out, or in, and where they fit. Clever indeed.
We washed the food down with a bottle of 2016 Frogmore Creek Riesling, at $42, good value, but a little tart. For us, the next one, a 2017 42° South Pinot Grigio had the fruit and spark to match the food. $39, a bargain.
The desserts? We sailed into the chocolate and Frangelico mousse, $16, the rhubarb and white chocolate panna cotta, $16 and the poppy seed and citrus sponge with an orange ice-cream that made us yearn for a tub! Needless to say, all were spectacular, and finished off a lunch overlooking those wonderful water and vineyard views.
I keep saying that restaurants are incredibly complicated things, and Frogmore, more than most. The sheer variety and complexity of their dishes always make me feel humble and in awe. And to continue to push this standard out, at these prices, day in day out is a superhuman feat in itself.
The service waned a little, halfway through, which was unusual, we hoped a blip on the radar. It’s a big ask, to train staff in one venue, to suddenly go to three and open with a bang. The standards, and expectations are exceptionally high, let’s hope they just keep on doing what they do best. Because at the moment, for me, it’s pretty hard to fault.
Frogmore Creek Cellar Door and Restaurant / 699 Richmond Road, Cambridge TAS 7170 / Ph: 03 6274 5844 / Open 7 days / $$$