The Coal River Valley is fast becoming somewhat of a foodie’s Mecca these days!
And if that’s not enough, there are the lesser known, yet just as rewarding enterprises such as The Richmond Wood Fired Oven, Vintage Sugar and Lowdina Orchard, all of whom represent regularly at the Richmond Farmers and Makers Market of a Saturday morning.
Coal River Farm is the latest initiative to open its doors to the public, and it has been with the greatest of interest over the last 12 months that we’ve watched them turn a neglected piece of land into a wonderful showcase of the valley’s most delectable morsels!
Driving past Coal River Farm every morning on our way to and from work , it’s hard not to find yourself making the tiniest of emotional investments in their enterprise. Every week or so there has been a new development, some excavation, a slab, a frame…wondering how they were going to make the best use of the sensational views up and down the valley…even the appearance of a bright yellow field of sunflowers for a few weeks there!
Visiting a new venture such as this in only their first week of operation isn’t something we’d normally do, as it takes time to bed down and then refine the process of not only cooking for dozens at a time, but also juggling this with the logistics of running a fully fledged farm, cheesery and chocolate factory, sans Willy.
We couldn’t help ourselves; we’d waited far too long already!
I suspect that the exterior is going to polarise opinion. I love its clean, modern lines with a hint of Nordic minimalism, yet I could just as easily understand if some found the use of empty space to err on the side of impersonal. At first glance anyway; because once your attention is captured by the lipstick red beanbags thrown across the pooch-friendly patio and grassy slopes you’ll be absolutely sold!
As a not-so-closet pyromaniac, my eye also couldn’t help but be drawn to the portable fire pit…
And then are the views.
The weather couldn’t have been any better, with blue skies the backdrop to a crisp Coal Valley winter’s morning. It’s early days for the landscaping, however the potential is clear!
After passing the cheese manufacturing room on your left, on opening the doors to Coal River Farm you can’t help but succumb to the aroma of chocolate. It’s everywhere! To your right is a long window that opens up the whole chocolate making process to both children and the children-at-heart, while on your left are a number of tiny shelves in which rest bottles of their original, chilli and cinnamon hot chocolate powder (for sale!).
All still very austere, yet on turning the corner you are greeted by a sunny, warm and inviting restaurant space awash with the buzz of conversation, chef’s chatter and children laughing. A stark contrast to the exterior and most welcome, with the tall windows making the most of Tasmania’s wan winter sunlight.
We were promptly seated (we had a booking, something we definitely recommend as they were very busy!) and commenced our review of the lunch menu.
They themselves describe their food as:
…modern Australian cuisine with our own farmy twist…the best seasonal produce from the local Coal River Valley and…some modern takes on classic dishes
For such a small venue the menu was surprisingly comprehensive, presenting a number of really interesting and varied dishes. After a few minutes we were very keen to order, however there was somewhat of a delay while we waited for the wait staff to return.
I chose the open shepherds pie of slow roasted lamb in red wine, roasted leeks and green beans ($26) with an accompanying glass of local Pages Creek pinot ($8.5).
What can I say that can do this dish justice…
Firstly, the presentation shows off every single ingredient in the best way possible. How could you possibly NOT want to eat that?!
It was almost a shame to have to deconstruct such a thing of beauty. Until the first mouthful…
The lamb was exquisitely tender, but with those moreish little crunchy edges that everyone loves so much at the family roast. But you know what? While the potato bake was great and the beans provided a much needed al-dente crunch, it was actually the roasted leeks that stole the show. Deep and smokey where charred, yet sweet and uplifting through the pale. This had all the hallmarks of a very deft chef.
The only criticism I would make of this dish is that it was a little under seasoned for my liking. Salt and pepper were available at the table, but it’s never the same as getting it right first time.
For Karen it was the venison shank, slow roasted with port and mountain pepper, baby carrots and cauliflower gratin ($28).
While not quite reaching the heights of the shepherds pie, the venison shank had been roasted very nicely, falling off the bone and with just the right hint of gaminess. Unfortunately, considerable heat had been lost between removal from the pan and presentation on our table, resulting in a slightly lukewarm temperature to the shank. Karen also found some inconsistencies in texture across the carrots, with most cooked to perfection, but some being quite underdone. On the other hand, the cauliflower gratin got rave reviews, for both its fantastic flavour and light texture.
The desserts sounded very interesting, and so I chose the coconut milk panna cotta with raspberry sorbet, crumbled short bread, coconut and raspberry crisps ($12), while Karen had the pinot poached pear, frangipane tart and almond praline ice cream ($12). Similar to the entrée, it did take a little longer than expected for our orders to be taken.
Again, such immaculate presentation. I really need to find out where they’ve sourced those plates from as they are just stunning and frame the food perfectly.
It’s always a sign of a great panna cotta when you can see it wobbling from a distance! The texture was divine. Velvety smooth, subtle coconut undertones, and ultimately far too small a serving size (but I am a guts). The raspberry sorbet couldn’t have been a greater contrast, full of tarty sweetness that really sucked in the cheeks! And then we had the rich, buttery shortbread crumb to smooth over the palate…I clearly enjoyed this dessert! The only minor criticism I would make is that the thin slices of coconut atop the panna cotta were far too long and hard, making it extremely awkward to manoeuvre onto a spoon/fork and into your mouth while also preventing you from cutting them into smaller pieces.
As good as the panna cotta was, the poached pear was the pick of the desserts. The harmonious, neatly woven interplay of flavours made for one very luxurious and very satisfying dish that was just perfect on a cold winter’s day. And seriously, it’s only $12. I’d return for this dessert alone!
We finished with a couple of coffees, and while it was unfortunate that we finished on a sour note (my espresso can only be described as being closer to a medium-black and far too hot), I do believe they are currently trying to recruit a barista, so here’s hoping for significant improvement in this area. A reliable coffee stop on the way to work could be a very dangerous proposition!
I’m sure you can already tell how much we enjoyed this meal. Considering this was only their first week of operation I’m honestly astounded at the level of quality they have already achieved, and can only imagine what a sublime experience it could be with a little bit more time and experience under their belts. We will definitely return, if only to try their signature hot chocolate with handmade chocolate dipped marshmallow ($7)!!
We were hoping beyond all hope that Coal River Farm was going to be a winner, and they have certainly delivered! Throw in the relaxed outdoor options, opportunities for the children (and adults!) to go fruit and veg picking later in the season, gourmet chocolates and cheese (not yet available as they are currently ageing somewhere dark and musty), and their close proximity to Hobart, this not only going to be a prime tourist destination but also a go-to option for locals as well.
For more information you can drop by their website here: Coal River Farm Website
Alternatively, they have a strong presence on social media on Facebook here: Coal River Farm on Facebook
Their menu can be downloaded here, but just bear in mind there’s a small typo and they actually open at 9am: Coal River Farm Menu
Open 7 days a week from 9am – 6pm, breakfast is served from 9am – 11am, and lunch from 11:30am – 4pm.
You’ll find Coal River Farm at 634 Richmond Rd, on the way to Richmond just past Frogmore Creek. You can’t miss it, in more ways than one!