Mary McNeill – Gourmania Food Tours

Mary McNeill – Gourmania Food Tours

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Photos: Gourmania Food Tours

Hobart in Tasmania is filled with scrumptious delights. Sixth generation Tasmanian Mary McNeill grew up in Hobart and has lived and worked in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney, New York City and Cleveland, Ohio. An artist turned pastry chef (McNeill studied at the French Culinary Institute), she worked in restaurants and bakeries in USA, France and Australia before starting up Gourmania Food Tours in Hobart.

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Gourmania offers food-based walking tours of Hobart where visitors can discover gastronomic hotspots while soaking up city sights. From an espresso bar with a cult following to the best place to buy a cook book, a Gourmania tour is a great way learn Hobart’s culinary secrets. To whet your appetite, here are some tips from Mary McNeill.

What inspired you to form Gourmania?

It’s an idea I originally discovered when visiting New York on a holiday. I got the idea after going on a food and cultural tour of Greenwich Village.

At the time, I thought such a tour would be a great thing for Hobart with its mix of food, history, culture and a walk itself through a compelling urban environment.

I had no idea I would be the one to start walking food tours in Hobart.  I launched Gourmania in 2011.

Is Hobart a great spot for foodies?

Hobart is a very exciting place to be right now for foodies.

On my walking tours I am able to share with visitors my passion for my home town and the local industry. I provide them with a diverse and delicious range of tasting experiences.

We visit memorable small businesses showcasing only the best of local produce. Many spots are tucked away in the city and off the tourist trail.

Hobart restaurants

Our easy city strolls or market explorations allow my groups to get an insiders perspective of the city as we meet with industry professionals and get a feel for what makes Hobart tick, whilst discovering why Tasmanian produce is so good.  

My drive as a parochial local is to give all visitors the absolute best experiences possible in town. I don’t want them to waste a single moment of their time here!  

In addition to any recommendations shared on tour, I provide an e-guide to all the good things in town for my guests.

My guests leave me having tasted amazing local products, having met some impressive local industry greats, and with a feel for this beautiful small city and the exciting experiences it offers.

Describe a typical day in your life

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I always savour my first coffee of the day. I use Villino’s Synergy blend beans and I am the proud owner of an Atomic stove-top espresso machine.  I have a very large soy latte each morning.  

I have a quick breakfast of either my own home-made cold ferment spelt bread or sourdough spelt from Pigeon Whole Bakery.  

I have a cupboard full of delicious preserves either made by me (cumquat marmalade or apricot jam) or by Joanna’s Jams (find at Salamanca Market) or any host of CWA or farmers’ market jam makers. Or I have oats with juice and yoghurt and piles of local Hazelbrae lightly roasted hazelnuts or Coaldale Walnuts.   

Hobart restaurants

I then gather my tour bag and my child (who I drop off at school en-route) and do a last-minute weather check to make sure I have all the necessary equipment for the tour.   

I walk down to the tour starting point, re-confirm all my arrangements with my venues and then meet my guests.  

While on tour I share tips and tales as we taste our way around town.

After bidding my happy group farewell, I check work emails and post on social media before heading back to collect the aforementioned child and go back to my home office up on the hill in south Hobart.  

There is normally at least an hour or two of office work before dinner preparations.  

As a former pastry chef does your life still revolve around food?

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Well, by this point I am normally sipping on a divine Tasmanian aromatic white wine (perhaps something like a Milton 2013 Guwurztraminer or a Kelvedon 2012 Chardonnay) or maybe I have put together a gin and tonic (with William McHenry’s Classic Dry Gin and loads of fresh lemon or lime).  

My son is a cheese lover and we usually have something delicious from Bruny Island Cheese, Tongola or Fowler’s Bay of Fires whilst dinner is on the way. Food obsessed?  Me?

What food should every visitor to Hobart try?   

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Dairy, meat and seafood are our top food exports.  

Tasmanian milk and cream are of premium quality and produce excellent cheese and butter. The best butter is the house-churned butter at Ethos Eat Drink. It is made from cultured Ashgrove cream and comes out softly whipped with a sprinkling of seasoned salt.  

Beef is our number two export (powdered milk is number one) and if you are self-catering you can’t go wrong with a Cape Grim rib-eye on the bone from Wursthaus Kitchen.

Equally stunning is Tasmanian lamb.  Try the lamb-rump at Frank or the whole lamb shoulder at Peacock & Jones.

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Free-range pork is also enjoying the spotlight, with Wessex-Saddleback and Berkshire the breeds of choice. Try the chorizo from Mount Gnomon Farm, available at the Farm Gate Market on Sundays or visit the farm itself if you are driving up to Tasmania’s Northwest.

Of course we also have local wallaby, which is perhaps best enjoyed as a burrito from Pacha Mama at Salamanca Market.  

Seafood is of course amazing from our island state.  The number one primary industry is Salmonid farming.  I love to make my own gravlax with Tassal sashimi-grade fillets – they are simply the freshest available and they have gravlax mixes available in their shop to make things easy. But if you want someone to prepare your fish for you, head up to Smolt Kitchen in west Hobart for a whole baby ocean trout or purchase hot-smoked salmon fillets produced by Bruny Island Smokehouse Wholesalers (available from local delis).  

Our Pacific oysters are plump and briny. You can get them freshly shucked at Get Shucked on Bruny Island or in town at Smolt. Or if you are driving towards the Tasman Peninsula, call into the Bangor Wine & Oyster Shed.  

Abalone and Southern Rock Lobster are our big-ticket items.  They are not as easy to get your hands on but sometimes you will find abalone on the menu at Franklin or more regularly at Blue Eye. For lobster (also called crayfish) try Mee Wah in Sandy Bay.  On local menus also look out for octopus, calamari, scallops and our king of the deep sea fish, the Blue Eye Cod (also called Trevalla).

Where’s the best place for coffee in Hobart?

Coffee?  I can recommend so many places!  You would actually be hard pressed to find a bad coffee in Hobart these days.   

My personal favourites are Ecru in Criterion Street and Capulus Espresso in north Hobart, for both their spot-on coffee and on-the-street ambience.  

Solid barista skills and quality beans are available at cafes such as Pilgrim Coffee, Yellow Bernard, Villino, Parklane Espresso, Sash coffee, Zimmah Coffee, Island Espresso, Room for a Pony, Criterion Street Café and Doctor Coffee.  

I do have a soft spot for Yellow Bernard for their espresso bar feel and friendly staff. They also have amazing macarons.

What are the best desserts in Hobart?  

The best desserts at restaurants I’ve dined at recently were the olive oil parfait at Franklin and the prune and honey cake with burnt honey ice-cream at Peacock & Jones.

best breakfast in Hobart

What about the best sweet treats?  

Pigeon Whole Bakery for delectable croissants, morning buns and Eccles cakes. Excellent cannele and amaretti are coming out of the kitchen at Property of: Pilgrim under the guiding hand of Cameron Perry.

At the cute-as-a-button Little Missy Patisserie everything is good. We are also spoilt for choice with delicious things at Jackman & McRoss, Daci & Daci, Summer Kitchen, Sweet Envy.  

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We are starting to see more and more good ice-cream around too. There’s the classic crème anglaise small-batch production from Black Mountain Larder and Smolt restaurant has a constantly changing house-made selection.  

Also donuts are the “in” thing here in Hobart. The most coveted are the sourdough donuts from Lady Hester found at the Farm Gate Market on Sundays.

If you want some gluten-free treats, Jackman & McRoss and Nicolatte have the classic orange and almond cake. The unassuming Nicolatte has amazing gluten-free brownies too.  

Where’s the best place in Hobart on a rainy day?

TMAG (Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery).  Take your time wandering the galleries checking out colonial art and the culture of the indigenous Tasmanians.  

If you fancy a tipple or something good to eat it is an easy dash across to Lark Distillery or the old Mercury building housing Tasmanian Juice Press, Pigeon Whole Bakers and Franklin or coffee at Pilgrim.  

Alternatively head up to north Hobart and grab a glass of wine and head into a movie at the State Cinema. They have a good bookshop to browse and Dick Bett Gallery, which has a great selection of work from contemporary local artists, is nearby.  

What should visitors buy to take home with them?

You can take almost anything home with you as we are the clean, green state! The exception is raw honey but if you have any doubts check the Domestic Quarantine website.  

I would recommend you should take home with you:

-Something made from Tasmania’s fine wool (warm and elegant)

-Something made from malted barley (you’ve gotta have some award-winning whisky)

-Something made from cool climate grapes (maybe ship this one or just grab a delightful dessert Riesling which will easily fit in your carry-on).

-Something made from local seasonal fruit (small jars of jam or chutneys are easy to fit in your bag and last well to re-visit your holiday memories back home).

-Something made from local timber (rolling pins and wooden spoons are beautiful, practical and enduring).

Many local small businesses can also ship premium wine, gin, olive oil and cheese so the sky is the limit really.   

You may like to check out Ashbolt, Bruny Island Cheese, William McHenry & Sons and visit any number of cellar doors or drop in to Cool Wine in the city.

best breakfast in Hobart

Where do you go in Hobart to relax?  

I like to visit my favourite cafes and read the paper for a quick break. Or take a bike ride in Linear Park with my son and head to the movies.  

I also like to walk along Sandy Bay beach (without a mobile phone).  

One of my favourite time-out activities is sitting in my backyard reading a novel – this is absolute luxury for me.  

Where would you take Mum on a road trip?  

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My mum likes easily accessible scenery and tasty food and wine.  

We normally holiday at Bruny Island so for a change of scenery, I’d head up to the north and North West of the state. I would head straight up the highway with a stop in Campbelltown and a visit to Lake Leather shoe shop Redbridge for coffee.  

In Launceston I would eat at Black Cow or Stillwater and grab a coffee at Amelia Espresso, beer at St John Craft Beer Bar and cider at Red Brick Road Ciderhouse.  

Around the Tamar Valley and Pipers Brook areas, wineries on my list to visit would be Velo, Jansz and Sinapius.  And if I’m in town on a Saturday morning, I would head to the Harvest Launceston Community Farmers’ Market.  

From here there would be two ways to go, I’d either head towards Devonport and Penguin or to Cradle Mountain.

In Devonport, Mrs Jones at the surf club has great food and water views.

In Penguin, I would drop in for coffee and a snack at Letterbox café then drive up into the hills to visit Mount Gnomon Farm for a farm tour and lunch (on Saturday or Sunday).  

From here I would go on to explore more of Tasmania’s North West (if you do this make sure to pick up a guide to the Cradle to Coast Tasting Trail before you set off).

Alternatively I would drive to Cradle Mountain for some spectacular scenery and easy walks. I would also take advantage of the Waldheim Spa!  Keep a look out for cheeses, berries and ice-cream en-route to Elizabeth Town.

Heading back to Hobart I would make stops through the midlands firstly at the historic town of Oatlands with a visit to the Callington Mill.  Then on to Bothwell and the picturesque Nant Distillery with an overnight stay at Ratho Farm.  

I would then come back via the Derwent Valley and make stops in New Norfolk for a spot of antique shopping and a last cellar door visit at Stefano Lubiana along with a lovely lunch at their Osteria before returning to Hobart.  

My last tip is to call ahead to check opening hours and availability as things can change seasonally in Tasmania, especially when there are festivals and special events.

What are your favourite restaurants in Tassie?

My favourite restaurants at the moment (keeping in mind it has been a year since I’ve been up north) are Templo, Smolt Kitchen, Black Cow and Mrs Jones.

The food scene is super exciting at the moment.  Never before have we had so many choices in the cities and more regional areas are popping up real gems.  

A bunch of young local chefs and entrepreneurs are pursuing their culinary passions and we are the lucky beneficiaries!  Fresh local produce is being utilised like never before.

Describe the best meal you’ve ever had

That is a hard question. Everything must come together to make it memorable.  

I’d say the best overall experience I have had in recent times was at Frank. On this particular night everything did.  They had only been open a few months when we visited. We had really good cocktails, tasty starters, and delicious lamb with veggie sides, amazing cornbread and caramel dessert. Good service.  Good company. Fabulous experience.

Also last summer, I finally got to eat the best fish and chips in Tasmania at Dunalley Fish Market with a group of family and friends after a camping trip. We ate superb fresh fish for $10 a person.  

You just get whatever they have available.  What a bargain for best meal hey! We made it minutes before closing time and ate at one of the outdoor super-rustic tables and felt like the cats that got the cream. This was truly memorable.

If you were going to live somewhere else in Tasmania where would you go?

I live in South Hobart. If I had to move, it would be to the centre of town. I love to visit the natural environment, explore small country towns or holiday at the beach but in the everyday I need the urban environment to be happy.  

Most romantic place in Tasmania is…

Cradle Mountain in the snow.  It is so beautiful up there and for me even more beautiful to hike through the snow with the pleasure of returning to a cosy cabin, banishing the cold.

Mary McNeill runs Gourmania Food Tours in Hobart.

Discover Tasmania

Here are Mary McNeill’s 10 tips for visitors to Tasmania.

Visiting Hobart in winter? Here are 20 ways to warm up.

For more things to do in Hobart see Discover Tasmania

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