My car door swings open and I’m met with a chorus of Wattlebirds, geese, kookaburras and goats- greeting me with a cacophony of country charm. They confirm I’m out of central Hobart, but only by 45 minutes of pleasant driving.
I’ve heard much about the Agrarian Kitchen- so much so that I’ve been desperately looking forward to wearing my own Agrarian apron. In many respects this seems at odds for someone who only recently ‘googled’ how long it takes to hard-boil an egg.
Yet, I was determined to find out if a day with Rodney Dunn might tip me into the realm of serving up something special. It certainly did. You see before my class, I never saw ricotta as much more than a tub-purchase at the supermarket.
I’d never dreamt of making my own. Nor had I tinkered with the idea of milking a goat to make it. My, did Rodney have plans for me…
You could call the Agrarian experience hands on, but it’s more than that. It’s better described as ‘get your gumboots on, come pull some heirloom goodness from the earth, tug on a goats teat and let’s have some fun.’
It’s an education, and a full immersion of all that’s paddock-to-plate. I found this particularly special- a cooking school housed in the original schoolhouse of Lachlan. Built in 1887, the beautiful building is still true to its earlier form and breathes a sense of learning, long engrained in her walls.
But, where schoolbooks were awaiting those little Lachlan locals, today we are met with a warm Rodney welcome complete with coffee or tea, flavoured with delights from beyond the backdoor. My new friend opts for a ‘surprise tea from the garden.’
Next, there’s goats like Pretty Girl to meet, peas that go by the name of Lacy Ladies and 50 varieties of heirloom tomato to decide between. There’s garlic from Bulgaria, three vibrant colours of sage, a marshmallow plant and Hyssop- a meat herb that rates a mention or two in the bible.
But our first stop is the goat’s milk. In a perfect play on history, the four-legged ‘kids’ hang out in the front paddock that used to serve as a playground for those little Lachlan kids mentioned back in the 1900s.
Oaks and Elm trees planted here were done so by the youngsters, marking Federation Day back in 1901. It seems the new kids are equally delighted with their lot, right next door to the wallowing Wessex pigs.
Our baskets swell as we make our way through the garden, collecting lovage (a relative of celery) for a salad, plucking radishes from lush soil, tasting far too many berries, collecting eggs from gaggling chickens as well as red and yellow chard for our exciting three-course meal.
Back inside, we’re encouraged to join with a partner and pick one of four menu items. My very eager and lovely partner opts for the ‘pancetta, goat’s milk ricotta and baby chard rotolo.’ My eyes grow big. The name alone spells kitchen disaster for someone who struggles with an egg. I smile politely and agree it’s an excellent choice. And so it begins.
I read through the steps. Chop an onion. I can cope with that. Finely chop some garlic, yes, that’s doable. And before I know it, I’m separating curds from whey, pressing ricotta through a fine sieve and partaking in the creation of what’s to be one of the tastiest treats I’ve had.
There’s pasta to make, chard to blanch, rosemary and garlic butter to prepare….but so far it’s coming together nicely. Between my more than capable comrade and the calm, wisdom-filled words of Rodney it all runs smoothly.
After a good three hours in the kitchen and nearly two in the garden, we sit down to our first course, our ricotta rotolo creation. I’ve never had such a charming response to anything I’ve had a kitchen-hand in. It is worthy of the hug we share!
Through the entire meal, Rodney’s delightful wife Severine hovers in the background, ensuring your water never drops below the full mark, clearing plates and making you feel like you’re in a private home while Rodney serves meticulously-matched Tasmanian wines.
Next on the menu is chargrilled quail with nettle and lovage sauce. The quail, cooking away on the outdoor barbecue fuelled by large logs, sends wafts of deliciousness through the back door. And in Agrarian style the quail comes from just up the road.
Served alongside quinoa with roast root vegetables and tahini yoghurt as well as pea, roasted shallot and asparagus salad it took all our effort to leave room for dessert. Those who were able were well rewarded.
The ‘oooohs and ahhhhs’ coming from around the table could easily be translated into a delectable ‘yes’ from all 8 judges. This was no Masterchef competition, but most found it deep in themselves to enjoy the generously-sized rhubarb, elderflower and frangipane tartlet in full.
I sit back with a baffled half-smile, wondering how I pulled off something delicious in the kitchen. It might have been my ‘other half’ and her kitchen rigour, or that lingering ability to learn like those 1900s school children of Lachlan.
After all, on the trip home speaking to my father, it turns out my great grandfather was the Headmaster of the school. So, for now I will credit him with my brief kitchen flair. And I’ll serve this fact up with a good dose of Rodney’s superb advice along the way.
Visit the Agrarian Kitchen or find them on Facebook
*Please note prior to reading that Lionhart operates only online now.
This new addition to the Hampden Road streetscape is the type of secret treasure we love. Step inside and you’ll be greeted with anything from an old-fashioned travel iron through to the finest wares being created by local hands.
Why the name LIONHART? HART is a mature male deer. A LION with antlers…quite the hip, bold statement!
For owners Nancy and Peter, sourcing their ‘new and old’ finds is a passion that can easily be recognised when you meet them in store. Nancy, a French Canadian with a background in film production and Peter, a returned Tasmanian and IT guru, made the instinctive decision to swing open LIONHART’s doors just two weeks after floating the idea of opening a shop together.
And should they be proud now! Within days this little space has lured in curious locals and impressed tourists by the dozens. It may be small, but already its little lion roar is being heard across Hobart. So much so, they are quite certain that expansion into the back room will happen much sooner than anticipated.
As I begin the interview, a man walks in armed with a collection of beautiful tutu’s handmade by his wife (not the manliest armful, but stunning nonetheless). No sooner has he popped them on the counter, a delighted Battery Point resident can’t help but snap up two ‘Hung Up On Agnes’ tutu’s for her grand daughters.
“The craft in Tasmania is just lovely,” explains Nancy with a smile. “I remember writing down the name Ruby Victoria in a notebook many years ago and today I have her letterpress prints in store. We have work by Marley & Lockyer too, and are coming across new and exciting products all the time.”
Nancy has put her own stamp on LIONHART also, up-cycling a beautiful old locker and both Peter and Nancy may create their own wares in time, so keep an eye out for what this clever pair create.
And for the boys, don’t just think this is your typical, girly gift shop. Peter has put his creative flare to work, and there’s a stylish, masculine element that permeates the store- particularly evident in the string of Stonemen’s creative men’s underwear on the back wall!
“When I was living in Sydney I came across these fantastic underpants, and I like that they’re a bit unusual,” says Peter. “They’ve been so popular we have ladies styles on their way. Plus our headphones are super cool. They are from LA and offer great sound; we’re currently the only Tassie stockists. People enjoy plugging in their phones and having a play.”
When not in store, Peter busily scouts out plenty of ‘old’ treasures to add to LIONHART’s lair. You’ll find classic typewriters, Polaroid cameras, and one very trendy old transistor radio on the front window ledge.
Head into the side room, and from bold ropes hang an old school-boy favourite- the ruck sack. These classics are made by Whillas & Gunn, an Australian family business since 1972. And in typical LIONHART fashion, they hang proudly above little walruses that cleverly double as bottle openers….of course.
So come step inside and prepare to be delighted. Small in space but big on experience, exploring LIONHART is half the fun. Finding that something special for your special someone will simply be an added bonus. And don’t expect them to have it already… LIONHART pride themselves on sourcing all things different. Enjoy the journey!
*opposite Prince of Wales, Hampden Road and beside glorious Pollen Tea.
Visit LIONHART (full website to come)
Roll through the gates of this exquisite estate and you’ll know you have arrived somewhere special. For us, it takes but a few steps across the white-pebbled car park to be greeted by a grand door sweeping open just for us, matched with a welcoming smile.
One could be forgiven for feeling you’d slipped into Europe just 15 minutes from Hobart, but there are plenty of cues to remind you that you’re still nestled in Tasmania. The grounds of Villa Howden tumble into the shores of sparkling North West Bay and grand windows frame the classic Tasmanian backdrop. It’s secluded. And it’s terribly romantic.
Cushioned in luxury, this is the type of experience that simply makes you feel special. The type that reminds you to treat yourself or spoil another, and celebrate life’s little pleasures. On this Sunday afternoon, it’s all about the joy of High Tea.
“We have your complimentary Tasmanian Pirie sparkling on its way,” explains the cheerful waitress as she lays our linen napkins across our laps, causing us to exchange spoilt grins.
No sooner had she disappeared from the glorious light-filled dining room, she was back with two flutes of crisp bubbles and wait for it, a three-tiered delivery of seasonal High Tea delights.
It was difficult to know where to start; the traditional fluffy scones with rich Tasmanian cream and Kate’s Berry Farm jam taking the lofty heights of level one? The warm savoury treats on the lower level accompanied with ribbon sandwiches? Or the mid-plate, where my eyes grew large at the sweet, sweet treasures.
As it turns out, it doesn’t matter where you start, any way you go will lead you to three empty tiers. But it’s not just what’s on the plate that lures people down here. There’s so much more to absorb.
There’s a certain pleasure that comes with escaping the masses; High Tea promises a personal touch. There’s a grace in its tradition. There’s a warmth in feeling as if you’ve been invited into a private country home. And there’s an elegance in the soft tunes of the baby grand, punctuated by the hum of polite chatter.
And really, at $35 per head, you don’t have to be Queen Elizabeth to enjoy a fancy High Tea party! Plus, it doesn’t even have to be fancy, bring a picnic rug and enjoy yours by the water. Villa Howden are generous in their servings, and you’re sure to feel slightly over-indulged by the time your plates are bare. At this point, it’s the perfect time to wander out to the landscaped gardens or even strike up a game of lawn croquet.
It’s not easy rolling back out those distinguished gates that signal immersion and a retreat from the bustle of life. But not all is lost. You’re not thrown straight into the cityscape, but instead have the chance to discover more rural and very real Tasmanian experiences….the Huon Valley or the enchanting Channel are just around the bend.
*Of course you too can enjoy a free $12 glass of Tassie Pirie when you book through December and mention Tailored Tasmania.
Your launch pad for exploring Tasmania like a local.