Big things in a tiny place. A chef’s ride into the terrifying territory of ownership. Well done, Philippe Leban.
What does a chef do when he’s deliberately scaling down and he gets a booking for 12 on a Friday night? He steps up to the plate, that’s what.
We decided as a group, to sample the food of this recent addition to Hobart’s food cauldron. Philippe is known to a lot of Hobartians – he caters spectacular food at some arty functions (the scrambled egg topped with salmon roe in tiny vol-au-vents was a stand out). And he lived life for a while in the fast lane – as Executive Chef at Mona, overseeing several demanding and proud outlets – The Source being just one.
But now, Philippe has cried “Non!” to being a salaried slave-chef, and has decided to step into ownership, with a beautifully decorated space in Battery Point. Did he find it terrifying? “Oui!” And why did he take so long to make that plunge? Who knows, but the time was right, and Philippe opened A Tiny Place with his very talented Vietnamese wife, who paints with chalk, hence blackboard murals on the wall. Clever.
With just one very urbane Frenchman handling out front, we had a slick and satisfying trip into the Asian/French fusion cuisine that Philippe and his tiny brigade of two prepare.
Here, we have a chef who meticulously plans a small menu based on seasonal fare. Thank goodness. We sailed into two of the three options for entrée: Pickled Octopus with grapefruit and ‘potatos’ (sic) $19.50; and Steam Buns with Chinese Pork and black fungus $15.
Funny that no one chose the Pumpkin Soup with smoked Berkshire pork cream. Even with that kind of take on it, I find pumpkin soup – predictable, and sooo…. Pumpkin! Having made gallons of the stuff at Possums, my last big iconic restaurant in Brisbane, I hated it for a while. And very few of my staff avoided the slashing that accompanied cutting the pieces on their rocky, rolly skin instead of sitting them on the flat side as instructed.
The octopus was fine, with sharp grapefruit giving this rich dish a satisfying balance. And the potatoes worked well.
The steam buns, though, could have been better. Served in a little wooden box, they were a bit tough and sauceless. I asked, Manu Fiedel style, “where’s the sauce?” and soy was provided, but should have been a part of the dish.
Between us, we tried all three mains: The Jack Mackerel, $26.50; Aged Roasted pork rack, $31.50; and Aged Upperdale Scotch fillet, $36.00. I love the fact that meat definitely gets better with age, while we humans fall apart. Blah.
The pescos who had the mackerel loved it – the fennel and asparagus drizzled with a squid ink sauce worked well. The pork? With vinegared potato noodles, slippery jack and ginger dressing? Sublime. Perfectly cooked and executed, this dish was a standout.
I dived into the beef, and it was a wonderful, salty, meaty mouthful. The spinach mash, silverbeet and sorrel butter a foxtrot of green flavours, but the meat was almost cold. So the butter sat on top rather than melting deliciously into what would have otherwise been a spectacular dish.
I haven’t mentioned wine, because it was BYO, and we imbibed some Devil’s Corner Pinot Grigio by Brown Brothers, a fruity, consistently good drop, and some assorted reds that disappeared before I’d taken the usual photos. Ah well, my friends are with me because they love food and wine!
Desserts? By this time our party of 12 was noisy, seating was doing musical chairs, and desserts I remember were the ‘deconstructed lemon meringue pie” and a citrus shemozzle that I felt was too sweet, but Dani adored. The lemon thing was the only real quibble of the night. It just didn’t work.
Philippe does brunch and lunch during the week, and dinner only on weekends, which seems to work for him, and gives him a life. I’m all for that. On the whole? The food was good to great, and I’m betting that he’s just starting to hit his straps. But let’s hope he keeps things small and beautiful.
Yes, we will visit for lunch, or brunch, A Tiny Place beckons. The menu though, was a standout – small choice, but pleased most everyone. What’s your take on A Tiny Place, dear reader?