The Museum of Old and New Art has shocked and delighted visitors worldwide but, asks Angeline Nicholas, can its cuisine do the same?
A vessel emerges menacingly on the horizon at Hobart’s waterfront. Decked out in Navy camouflage, it quietly skims over the jet-black water. My ride to lunch has arrived. To be fair I was expecting a commuter catamaran with a friendly bearded captain, not a military invasion.
The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is the crown jewel in millionaire David Walsh’s self-built estate. Infamous for its controversial exhibits on sex, death, bodily functions and nudity; be warned, this place is no Disneyland.
I’m offloaded and follow the signs to The Source restaurant, passing odd sculptures and two car spots, one marked ‘Reserved for God’ and the other ‘Reserved for God’s Mistress’. They are, in case you’re wondering, both empty.
The Source is a beautiful aquarium of a room with sweeping views of the harbour and mountains. I’m shown my seat by the maître d’ who explains I can have three, five, seven or nine courses. I start with five, having been warned that seven and above are for the truly hungry.
The first course arrives. Tasmanian green beans and late season figs, dotted with flaked almonds and frothy mounds of almond milk foam. It’s beautifully presented, a lovely combination of vibrant greens and soft purples, but nutty almond milk aside, the flavours are nothing terribly out of the ordinary.
Then my heart quickens. A smooth black disc is deposited in front of me. “Spanner crab,” the maître d’ announces. Delicate white crab meat has been lightly cooked with crunchy pink shallots and piled into a perfect white mound. A smoked Bruny Island oyster lies languidly on one side, while a sliver of Pedro Ximénez gelée slides down on the other – a soft, tart ribbon of sweetness. Dollops of oyster emulsion and playful triangles of foie gras complete the scene. The foie gras is subtle but its creamy richness provides a lovely smooth contrast to the textured seafood.
The next course appears to be three gargantuan scallops. “Are they scallops on steroids?” I cheekily enquire. No, the creamy coloured mounds are gnocchi, flavoured with scallop finished with ponzu foam. I bite into one and am rewarded with a silky, custard-like texture, the salty ponzu contrasting beautifully with a bittersweet yuxu paste below.
Head chef Philippe Leban is French born and Australian bred, but his cooking displays a strong Japanese influence – like the slow-cooked, honey-glazed duck with apple miso sauce followed by the green tea-inspired dessert.
Cross-cultural food is a beautiful thing, I muse, breaking through a perfect cylinder of green tea crystalline to find a soft, velvety lime mousse beneath. It brings together different walks of life to create something new and unexpected. Not too dissimilar to MONA’s approach to art, really.
Well-executed food and flawless service. Just don’t assume the restaurant will shock and awe like the MONA exhibits.
The creativity of the kitchen and their willingness to please.
Larger servings of the pastes and sauces would have been a bonus.
Museum of Old and New Art, 655 Main Road Berriedale, Hobart, Tasmania
The degustation menu for three, five, seven or nine courses will set you back $75, $115, $145 and $175 respectively. Matching wines are also an option.
The fast ferry leaves from Hobart’s Brooke St Wharf and costs $20 return. $50 will buy you tickets to the ‘posh pit’ where complimentary drinks and canapés are served. Other transport options include seaplane, helicopter, bike hire or chauffeured Audi.
03 6277 9904; mona.net.au/mona/restaurant