What: The cold, pristine, nutrient-rich waters of the Tasman Sea provide ideal conditions for high-quality wild blacklip and greenlip abalone—large edible sea snails. In fact, many Tasmanian aboriginals tell stories of their matriarchal ancestors diving in grass skirts to great depths for this delicious shellfish. But it is rarely found on menus: Despite Tasmania being one of the largest sources of abalone in the world, strong global demand (it’s especially prized in Asia) and a high price mean that abalone is found only in Hobart’s finest of restaurants.
There are many ways to prepare abalone, yet great care is needed to prevent its delicate flesh from becoming rubbery and tasteless. Some like it raw; others prefer to quickly pan-fry it in a little butter. Simplicity is key, and in the hands of a great chef this delicacy can be a sublime Tasmanian dining experience, with a freshness you won’t get anywhere else in Australia. If you have the opportunity and the means to try this while in Tasmania, it’s a very special thing.
Where: The perfect example of this exquisite ingredient can be found at Franklin (28-30 Argyle St., map), in central Hobart. Acclaimed as one of Australia’s top 10 restaurants, head chef David Moyle and his team strive to showcase the very best Tasmanian seafood with respect, innovation, and exceptional talent. It’s fine dining at its best, with a distinctly Tasmanian approach.
When: Tues-Sat, come for snacks (8:30am till late), lunch (11:30am-2:30pm; last seating 1:15pm), or dinner (6pm till late; last seating 8:45pm).
Order: The signature dish here is wood-roasted abalone (AU$80). Steamed whole in its shell for more than an hour, then cleaned and thinly sliced, the large mollusk is returned to its shell, wrapped in kelp, and roasted in the wood-fire oven, with a house-made dried-oyster sauce to finish. It’s a delicate, tender, delicious show-stopper of a dish.
The menu changes with the seasons, but also keep an eye out for the raw fallow deer with crispy Jerusalem artichoke ($20) or the striped trumpeter with broccoli greens and buckwheat miso ($38), as they’re both highly recommended across the board. Wines are all-natural at Franklin, and there’s an excellent range of orange/amber varieties (i.e., white wines fermented naturally with skins and seeds still attached, resulting in a robust, tannin-heavy, often sour flavor profile). This approach may be unconventional, but it will reward the adventurous.
Or, if you are looking to explore the Tasman Peninsula, it is well worth stopping at the Bangor Wine and Oyster Shed in Dunalley (20 Blackman Bay Rd., map). Abalone comes and goes from the menu depending on the season and their availability, but even if it isn’t available, the locally harvested oysters there are divine.
Photo courtesy of Franklin restaurant