What takes a dinner out to the next level?
Every place is different, so you could easily come up with a thousand different answers, but for me, at Aloft, the answer was simple.
It took me a while to get there, I’d tried a couple of times but it hadn’t worked out. But this time, with grit and determination and a refusal to let anything get in the way, Donna and I scheduled a Saturday night, first sitting degustation at Aloft. And we made it.
“And as we sip, the food begins its performance, like a play in 7 acts.”
Aloft hovers at the top of the Brooke Street Pier, and has been designed well, to take in the view, and deliver efficiency for the staff. Walk in, and the big U-shaped bar curls around an open kitchen and grill area, anchoring the action in the centre of the space. Banquettes line the walls, but all eyes are drawn to the watery landscape in front. The view is gorgeous. Hobart at its best.
Glenn Byrnes heads the kitchen – in control, calm and organized. He also manages to chat and discuss the food and anything else you may want to talk about while he’s cooking and controlling his team. His team? They seem happy, and all flows as it should. Heiki Stanley who runs the bar and floor, knows her business. And a very good business it is.
Our waiter brings us a couple of cocktails to start – why not? We say. We’d ordered the Aperol Spritz, $16, and the Yuzushu Spritz, $20. Ahhhhh – memories of Japan and the wonderful flavour of Yuzushu, a sake that’s made from steeped yuzu, a kind of bitter citrus. Not unlike limoncello, but with its own taste palette.
From there, I was gone. Had to move on to the Umeshu Spritz, at $22 not cheap, but I just love Japan’s plum sake, and the ume, or plummy flavour is spectacular. And as we sip, the food begins its performance, like a play in 7 acts. The banquet menu is $75 a head, and for us, felt incredibly good value.
We’re also sitting next to a couple from Sydney, who are very quickly becoming our new best friends, and delight us with their happy chat and tales of their visit to Tassie. We compare dishes – we love the pig’s ear, with prickly ash that leads the charge, but Hayley adores the grilled prawn with a sliver of apple on a turmeric wafer, like a very upmarket taco. And Donna thinks it’s the best prawn she’s ever eaten – bar none.
“How on earth am I going to batter up for the next course?”
The steamed oyster with kimchi and sesame were fabulous, and not just one as expected, but three separate little courses, each perfect in its own right, and then we’re looking at the ‘drunken chicken wings’ dipped in buttermilk and a very fine seasoning. Delicious, and a fresh take on a pub staple. Glenn is chatting us through the development of each dish, as somehow we’re presented with gyoza, or tiny dumplings with a sweet soy sauce. We marvel at the pleasure he takes in playing and twisting with old favourites. It’s fun.
We pause a little, but soon enough out comes the yellow fish curry with beetroot and fennel – a fusion if ever there was one, but the fish is impeccably fresh, the curry has depth and tang, and the fennel, just works, somehow. By this time I’m almost two cocktails and five (or was that eight?) courses down, and feeling very sated. How on earth am I going to batter up for the next course?
But I do, and out comes the chargrilled koji beef, with miso and eggplant which according to Hayley was the best beef dish she’d ever had. A deeply smoky eggplant puree matched the richness of the beef, and charred kale just gave a crunch and lightness that, well, did make it pretty much a star dish. The quality of all the ingredients shone through, and as Glenn walks us through the process of just getting this one dish and all its elements on to our plates, Hayley almost breaks into song as she finishes the last mouthful.
A note here: Glenn really excels at providing each dish with excitement, yet a balance of flavour and texture that is rare to see. They are complex yet the elements are never lost in the blending – to achieve this level of delivery takes huge knowledge and talent.
By this time, I’m wondering if I’m ever going to want to eat again, and Glenn asks us if we’d mind moving to the other side of the bar so the next sitting can take our place. Of course! We are surprised that two hours have passed since we sat, and it’s good to get up and move around and expend about 3 calories so I can fit in dessert.
So we, and our new bff’s, move sides and continue our chatting and excitement over Tassie and the superb food. Donna thinks she could finish with a bubbles, and I ask why not? Stupidly, as the condensed milk ice cream with a sablé and coffee came out and an extra to try with tiny meringues dotting a quenelle of a lime/apple sorbet so delicate that it set the bar.
Condensed milk ice cream? My mind dashed back to my mother’s mother, mama, who was an incredible cook, and could feed an army of cane cutters on their huge sugar cane property, on next to nothing. Condensed milk ice cream was always in her freezer, as she’d take it out of the aluminium ice-cube trays and beat it again with the Mixmaster for its final freezing. If I was very good, I got to lick the bowl.
By this time, I’m done. Really done. I can’t even finish my bubbles! Heiki chats to us as we sit, pondering the beauty of the food, the experience and the whole night. I decide then, that although the food really was spectacular, and Glenn, Heiki and their team are popping those goals on a daily basis, on what made this night so special? The interaction. Just that took Aloft to next level.
And why ‘the interaction’? Because it’s such a treat to be able to sit and watch the show, the theatre of the kitchen, and interact with the staff and head chef in a way that’s still so rare. And while they were very busy, coping with two full sittings on a Saturday night, they still made time to chat and for us, to feel their complete obsession with fine food, and the dining experience. I don’t know about you, but I’m at the bar – that’s not just dinner out, that’s an experience. And isn’t that what life’s all about?
Aloft / Top Floor, Brooke Street Pier, Hobart TAS 7000 / Ph: 03 6223 1619 / Open Tuesday – Saturday for dinner from 6pm / $$$ / www.aloftrestaurant.com